Embracing vulnerability as a leader with Michael Nitschke
We recently had the opportunity with Michael Nitschke, exploring the challenges and obstacles he has overcome in his career to date.
It’s more apparent than ever before that after 5 years as the selling Principal within his independent agency, Nitschke Real Estate, he has achieved a lot as an agent, leader, husband and father, and still has big targets in his sights on a personal and business level.
In this article
Michael hasn’t had what many would call an “ordinary” career in Real Estate. Working as a Sales Agent in the family business seemed like a path he was set to be on for many years, until the sudden passing of his father left him with some enormous decisions and newly found responsibilities.
The shift from prospecting, running listing presentations, and handling negotiations on property, to managing people, business finances, and maintaining client relations could have been too much for many to handle.
Today, Michael and his team at Nitschke Real Estate are enjoying life as part of their independent agency, deeply entrenched in the Adelaide Hills community, and looking to continue offering exceptional experiences to their clients when it comes to making one of their biggest life decisions; buying & selling their family home.
Having established themselves in their core market, and with a tech-enabled team at hand, Michael is well placed to discuss the next chapter for himself, his staff, and the business.
The start of the journey
In the midst of a busy week in all things property, Michael took time out of his day to chat with us about his journey in Real Estate to date.
He’s seen a huge amount of change in the industry, especially when it comes to all things technology, however, we wanted to start with the early days of his career to get an idea of how his day-to-day looked and where he saw his future at the time.
“So in 2006, I was 18… that feels like a lifetime ago. I started out in a Junior Sales Role in the business. Back then, my community, like potentially a lot of areas around the country, was quite traditional.
For our market, back then and the way I was trained, it was a lot of newspaper ads and traditional forms of marketing. We had things in our office like a duty roster where you would literally sit downstairs in reception, clients would walk in and ask you what properties you had available this week, and would ask if I’d be interested in coming and seeing them to sell their house. It doesn’t quite work like that anymore, but back then that’s how it was.
On the technology front, having everything online wasn’t as comprehensive as it is now.
New technology was emerging, this pretty cool thing called ‘the Internet’ was starting to do a few things, which we thought was pretty interesting. realestate.com.au was a fraction of the cost of it is today.
We didn’t have the freedom of mobile internet that we have today, not to mention AI and all those other things.
We had a very basic CRM that also ran our website. In that era, it was quite unique to have an independent website. We did actually have that.
For getting information into our CRM, we’d import contact details. When you ran an open home, you’d have a clipboard with a pen and paper, which had pretty good battery life. But that was about it, really.
In saying that, we would obviously have access to emails, we’d get inquiries and those sorts of things coming through. It was very traditional back then, there wasn’t a lot of tech at our disposal.”
This is very different to life in 2023, as Michael admits, “There’s pretty much not an aspect of our business that isn’t touched by technology today.”
Michael’s life as a Sales Agent was thrown into disarray when he unexpectedly inherited the business, following the tragic passing of his father.
“My leadership journey started so roughly when my father passed away.
It was a challenge because he was revered in the local community and within the industry. There was a perception that there was a really smooth handover and that our relationship was really good, like it was just this effortless thing. The reality was there wasn’t anything like that.
He was someone that I wished I knew better. I didn’t know him very well, not for lack of trying.
Then within the business, I was desperate to be given a really smooth handover, because I was so passionate about Nitschke (At the time we were a First National Office) and for First National to succeed. That never happened.
Then not only that, but the nature of when the journey started, our business was in huge financial disarray to the point where we had six weeks of cash left when I started.
I had no idea of that.
I was just made director and then dad passed away. I was struck by this because of the depths of how quickly things changed for me.”
We spoke about Michael’s values and how being open, honest, and vulnerable have made him who he is today, as a person and a leader.
He also has a passion for discovering the latest tech and finding ways of implementing new things into the business.
These values were an important part of his journey into leadership.
“I think for me, that was a real leadership moment, to go ‘I have to be vulnerable with my team and with my people’, because if I walk into a room and pretend that I have all the answers and know everything, they’re going to lose hope very quickly. They know that that’s not the case.
So what we adopted, and I guess what I adopted with the support of our team at the time, is the framework of, ‘Hey, I don’t have all the answers. I was a salesperson. As a salesperson, you always think you know property management; You definitely don’t.
That’s what led to my curiosity to then ultimately discover Joel, Bryn, Corey, and the team at STAFFLINK, because I needed to know about developing better systems and processes for property management. That curiosity was embedded within a vulnerability that I don’t know the answer, but I’m going to find someone who does.”
Offshore as part of the solution
Part of this journey with STAFFLINK was to explore the possibilities when using offshore staff, implementing new technology to support his team, and learning from a connected network of agencies.
When we talk to agencies who are looking to expand, become more profitable, or simply just streamline their processes, there is often an objection to working with a company that provides offshore staff as part of their solution.
Part of our messaging at STAFFLINK is that while offshore staff are a big part of our offering, they aren’t there to take jobs from Australians.
They are there to help support the onshore staff, allowing them to spend time on things such as client-facing duties and building those relationships even further.
Michael understands the thought process a lot of these agency owners have.
“I guess I somewhat understand the hesitancy, depending on the type of leader that would be looking at that concept.
If you’re the leader that wants to control every aspect of your business and feel like you need to see your staff working to know that they’re working, then you will struggle with offshore.
I think, though, if you can maybe shift your thinking to find a level level of vision and passion around the environment that your team is working in, and give them the tools that they need, then ultimately trusting and inspiring them to work and perform the tasks that they need to in their own way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying just let everyone do whatever they want, but just allow that to unfold.
I guess one of the things that helped us to really embrace the offshore term component in our business and to ultimately do really well out of it, is we’ve gone through a process where we’ve evaluated how we do literally every process in our business, and we’re continually looking at that and ways to refine and improve it. And we’re always looking at ways that technology can take us…
If we can get some time back to our onshore team, the time that they get back, they’re able to actually give more to the consumer, improve the relationships with landlords, tenants, and suppliers, and give a better experience.
An offshore team member can take some administration or repetitive data management work away. Yes, an onshore team member could do it, but if an offshore team member can do it at a fraction of the cost, it ultimately gives us that asset of time.
That time, with the quality of people that we have at Nitschke as we continue to grow, that’s so valuable for us. We want to continually go down that path, so offshore is a key way of doing that.
I think for other leaders that might be looking at this, and they’re maybe got some simpler decisions in front of them as to whether or not they give Airtable a go, or whether they go and employ their first-person offshore, don’t be afraid.
You don’t have to have all the answers.
Just let go and understand that this might be something that I need to try with my team, that this is something we’re going to be in together, and we’re going to learn together.”
How this works with STAFFLINK
“Our relationship began with STAFFLINK very shortly after my journey as a leader began really abruptly.
STAFFLINK exposed us to some different ways of working because, at that time, we had a very traditional portfolio-based property management structure.
That was because of the legacy tech we had at that time, which meant that you needed that superhero PM doing everything from start to finish that knew everything about every file that they had.
Fast forward to the time of recording, we have a task-based structure.
We still have portfolios where essentially our senior PMs are primarily responsible for the relationship between the landlord, tenant, and Nitschke.
They spend most of their time in the office as a result of that (or working from home because we’ve got a hybrid set up). They’re basically on the phone engaging with their clients on a daily basis because of the support with the task based structure, whether it be offshore, whether it be automations and API work, or whether it be our field services team and PM support helping underpin day to day tasks.
It enables them to just purely focus on relationships, which is at the core of what we do.”
Working environments and shifting dynamics
With the big shifts seen during the pandemic, having a tech-enabled team allowed for a smoother transition to the new hybrid working arrangements.
Michael is keen to adopt these newly accepted working conditions to provide the best working conditions for this team, and knows that this is a crucial part of his future recruitment endeavours.
“For me, as a leader of the business, my consumer or client is not just the end user in terms of a landlord, tenant, purchaser or vendor, but it’s also our team and our staff.
So how do we create a better working environment? We have some team members that work very well from home, and that’s their preference, so we certainly allow that flexibility and work with them on that.
Then we have other team members that really want to be in a working environment with other colleagues in the building, so we try and offer a blend of both.”
For the Nitschke team, the adoption of the task-based portfolio model, using a hybrid working environment, and leveraging offshore staff are all part of their ‘Everest Mission’ – to be the number one agency in the Adelaide Hills and surrounding areas.
“It comes back to that principle of continuing to come up with ways to deliver a world-class service, that’s going to continue to lift because that’s what the expectation is going to be.
It’s a roller coaster ride, we’re all on it, and we’ve just got to keep innovating to stay with it.”
The ‘Everest Mission’ mentioned by Michael is not restricted to the business, it’s also part of his management style and giving his team goals, and ways to get there, in the next stages of their career with Nitschke.
“The concept came out of necessity because one of the early challenges that I had as a leader in the property management space is that South Australia introduced mandatory licensing for property managers right when I started.
We had all this other stuff going on and then all of a sudden we had to license our team. We had to really think about recruitment differently.
In our business, we’ve got a lot of great success stories now of team members that have started on reception. We love starting them there because it’s like the hub of the business where you get to know everything that’s going on, and you get to know the team as well.
Then from there, through regular coaching and conversations, we can start to work through where the career fit might be for that individual, whether it’s the three elements of the business that you talk about, operations, sales, or property management.
We have an Everest mission for the business that is shared and discussed all the time. Within the team, we then want to know their goals, we call it their backpack survey.”
“So, have they got their backpack for the Everest mission? What’s their 1, 3, 5+ year plan?
This is personally and professionally around where they want to take their career.
We try and plug their personal goals into the Nitschke mission as well.
We just find that the team feels more deeply connected to the vision and it becomes more personal for them that way.”
The right cultural fit
Helping to grow the team, realise their potential, and build a great culture is critical to Michael on his leadership journey. Setting these goals and getting the right people aboard for the Everest mission are paramount to the future success and growth of the business, and the people within it.
“We’re so passionate about finding the right people.
The challenge is getting the right person that’s got the human first, real estate agent second DNA. We’re prepared to be really patient around that to find the right person.”
Once you have the right people, the next question that often emerges is where you should train them, and where goal setting should be done.”
Putting goals in place
Michael and the team at Nitschke have become avid users of their Agency Hub, built by STAFFLINK, to build out their training, process maps, and team goals.
“The agency hub is a solution that fits really, really neatly into our framework.
(Goals) is a great feature. We use it to set what’s called a quarterly priority for each department, that is tiered.
It’s designed to help us come back to the “3 steps of success” framework, it’s outside of our normal day-to-day, but it’s what we need to raise our standards in particular areas of the business.”
Michael also discussed his desire to continue learning and why he loves collaborating with other business owners. Part of this ongoing learning is attending events relevant to the industry, such as the STAFFLINK Conference.
“I get a lot out of it, I really do.
Part of what I love so much about STAFFLINK is that it’s this ever-growing ecosystem, of not just great people that work in your team, but also the agencies and principals that it attracts.
Everyone’s freely sharing ideas, and (the conference) is just a lot of fun.
I always get so many great collaborative ideas and suggestions to improve our business and some great relationships each year. I’m very excited for this one.”
What does the future look like for Michael and his team?
As technology continues to progress, he will always be looking for ways to implement it into his existing tech stack & workflow. If it can benefit the business, the staff, and the consumer, he will never shy away from it.
When asked about how soon he’ll be adopting AI in his business, Michael has a realistic approach.
“None of us know the future, but I think one thing that we can say with complete confidence is if we start at the very core of what we do, the consumer is going to demand more and more for less and less. And so the challenge for any business, it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, is how do you deliver a better and better service experience with less effort and less cost?“
Personally, I’ll always say as far as I can see it, my role in Nitschke will always be what it is today in terms of leading our business. That’s definitely will always be the core of what I do.
Outside of this, I’ve actually just finished a book on my story. It’s like a part memoir, part business book of some of the lessons that I’ve learned over the last four or five years in our journey.
I’m really hoping that that’s a platform, as I’d love to have the opportunity to speak and coach and mentor people that need it, who might be facing a similar set of circumstances or who just want to draw some inspiration from that story.
That’s definitely the plan in time, just slow but steady, but really enjoying what I’m doing.”
For more information on Michael Nitschke’s book, Leading out of Loss, or any speaking/coaching opportunities, please visit https://michaelnitschke.com.au/