How to Establish and Maintain Brand Integrity

with Greg Sexton, COO at Century 21 Real Estate LLC

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Greg Sexton

Episode 18

”There is one thing that we all have to have and maintain at all times, and that’s integrity. Because the moment you lose integrity with an employee, with an outside customer, you’ll never get it back.”

Greg Sexton is Chief Operating Officer of Century 21 Real Estate LLC. Greg has been with Anywhere Real Estate, Century 21’s parent company, for over a decade and has received numerous awards for his leadership. As COO, Greg leads both domestic and international operations including tech tools and apps, learning, and he oversees the field servicing staff. In this episode, Greg talks about the best-in-class tech tools Century 21 offers to employees, how to maintain the integrity of your brand, and having a game plan ready so your team knows exactly what to do in any challenging situation.

”You’re always going to have an experience potentially where it’s not great with an employee. And other employees watch to see how you react to a bad situation – let’s call it a bad apple that might be in your organization. And I think that’s just as important as how you treat those employees that are doing great. How do you also react to those employees that aren’t doing the right thing?”

Listen in to hear

  • How to be an effective leader at a large company
  • Tips for handling conflict
  • How to decide when an employee mistake is a deal breaker

”Your employees are looking for you to step up and lead. And I think you do that by being very decisive. When times are tough for your employees, they want to see you stepping up and taking control and being decisive in the decisions that you make, because they want to see that everything’s under control.


Greg Sexton aspect ratio

Greg Sexton

COO | Century 21 Real Estate LLC

Greg Sexton is Chief Operating Officer of Century 21 Real Estate LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Realogy Corporation (NYSE: RLGY). Sexton leads the company’s domestic and international operations, including the iconic brand’s industry-leading platform of tech tools and apps, learning and data-driven products that C21® professionals leverage to better serve their customers and clients. Plus, he oversees the organization’s real estate field servicing staff to ensure that it is committed to improving the quality and efficiencies and building long-term relationships with the C21® System’s broker network. Sexton has spent over a decade with the Realogy Corporation (formerly Cendant Corporation) and has served in a number of roles, including Senior Vice President, Broker Services for Century 21 Real Estate LLC, where he oversaw the consulting, sales and service efforts of the brand’s broker services teams, and as Senior Vice President of Operations for Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate LLC and Coldwell Banker Commercial, where he oversaw the technology, learning, finance, field servicing and administration departments for the organization.

Episode Transcript

Narrator: You know, it’s easy to talk about all of the great parts of employee experience. The times when employees are happy and doing great work and thriving. Of course, we’ll talk about some of that today, and how to support a great employee experience, digital and otherwise. But sometimes things get rough. An employee makes a mistake or does something unethical. It’s then that you really need a strong leader to take charge. That’s Greg Sexton. 

Greg Sexton: You’re always going to have an experience potentially where it’s not great with an employee. Um, and that’s also, I think from a leadership perspective of how we react to that. I think other employees watch to see how you react to a bad situation. Let’s call it a bad apple that might be in your organization. And I think that’s just as important as how you treat those employees that are doing great, that are growing is how do you also react to those employees that aren’t doing those right things. 

Narrator: Greg is the Chief Operating Officer at Century 21 Real Estate. He has been with Anywhere Real Estate, Century 21’s parent company, for over a decade and has received numerous awards for his leadership. As COO, Greg leads both domestic and international operations including tech tools and apps, learning, and he oversees the field servicing staff. With all the time that he has been with Century 21, Greg is a seasoned leader, and he has seen the highs and lows of employee experience. Today, we are going to do a flyby of those highs, but we’re really going to take a close look at managing the lows. Those times when you need to step up and take charge as an employee experience leader. Let’s go.

On Cruising Altitude, we talk about employee experience lessons from leaders at companies with over 30k employees. A lot like reaching Cruising Altitude at 30k feet, things look a little different when you’re managing 30,000 people. On this podcast, we bring you insights from the leaders who inhabit that rarefied air. Today’s episode features an interview with Greg Sexton.  But first, a word from our sponsor.

Greg Sexton: My job is to make sure that my team lands the plane each day and avoids as much turbulence as possible. And that is because what I do every day is literally the day to day operations, both domestically and internationally for our franchise operations at century 21. And we’re in 84 countries. Uh, and we have about 150,000 give or take agents across the world that our team services. And I think from a day-to-day perspective, what falls into those, uh, areas of responsibility are mainly around managing customer relationships. Uh, and then you take it from there. Our job is to help our franchisees grow. And we, our team does that through mergers and acquisitions, helping our franchisees grow into new markets. And then when you kind of get down to some of the things that from a day to day, that we do our employees do every day as we work on financial matters with our customers legal matters. And also then making sure that we roll out our systems and tools. And a lot of that is based around technology. And those types of platforms to drive adoption with our franchisees. And if you wanted to say at the end of the day, what our team’s goals are, our flag on the hill, if you will, is we’re trying to help grow the market share for the century 21 brand and for all of our customers. And that’s the passion that we expect all of our employees to have on a daily basis as we work with our customers.

Narrator: While we prepare for take off, let’s get acquainted with Century 21 in The Flight Plan.

Greg Sexton: We’re a very unique operation. Um, we’re a franchisor if you will. So we have all of our employees, uh, that work for century 21 corporate. But we have really three customers that we serve, which is kind of unique. We serve, first of all, our broker, our franchisees, those broker owners out there that actually own the franchise century 21 in their marketplace. Well, then they have agents that are independent contractors and our job also is to provide systems, tools, marketing, advertising to the agents. And then the third unique aspect is the client. That end-user, that,that individual who’s out there wanting to buy a home or sell a home. Our job and our employees every day are serving those customers. So that’s what I would, uh, consider our employee personas. If you will.

Narrator: Greg and his team are driven by a shared passion for one thing.

Greg Sexton: I believe home ownership is one of the greatest things that the United States of America has to offer everybody. And when you’re working in an industry, like we are, that’s something you have to take pride in. And because if you don’t really have a passion for that, you probably should do something else. Because there is nothing better than watching our franchisees, their agents out there, helping those folks live out that American dream, finding that home that really resonates for their family. And I will tell you that has only grown in the last two years, uh, because of COVID because both the experience of home really changed. Uh, when you think about how all of us overnight. It changed where we went to work, where we went to school, it changed what our home environment was. And what I mean by that is because of COVID many of our employees and our customers who are helping those customers find that American home, uh, dream of home ownership find that right home. We had to change quickly to the needs that our customers have. Meaning what if they were now going to work from home in an indefinite period, maybe forever. What does that look like? Is there a home environment made up for that maybe now they were going to have to do homeschooling, did we need to help our customers, uh, with that American dream of home ownership, by finding a, a home that was more conducive to educating their children at home. So if you don’t have a passion for that, uh, probably again, should do something else because that is what really helping a person find or a family find that perfect home is really what drives what we do. And that’s probably what is the funnest part of what my team does is we help facilitate that to happen.

Narrator: But they also face some unique challenges, especially over the past couple years.

Greg Sexton: What happened over the last two, two and a half years, uh, with COVID really changed for us in leadership, how we were working, how we were supporting our employees. And I will tell you the biggest challenge we had is staying connected with remote employees. This was new to all of us. We’ve always had certain employees that work from home. But never our entire organization. And how do we communicate with those, with those employees? How do we keep them passionate when they’re not leaving their home every day? Uh, and I will tell you one of the keys that we found early was over communicating, really making sure that we were letting them know what was happening within the organization what’s happening within the market. What’s happening with our, uh, agents out there that are trying to sell homes, and really just keeping people up to speed on that. And we do that through what we consider a constant transparent open channel of communication with our teams. And it’s also was receiving feedback. One of the things that, that, uh, myself as a leader that I’ve tried to do during this time, Is have skip level meetings, uh, with all employees. And I mean, literally all employees just scheduling a meeting to find out how they’re doing. Uh, how their work world’s doing, but I will tell you, I, especially during this COVID I quickly transitioned in and the conversations will go something like this, where we’ll be talking about the typical business things, but then I’ll just say, Hey, let’s, let’s set business aside. I want to know how you’re doing. I want to know how your family’s doing. How is the work from home environment, uh, working for you? Is it something that we need to help you? Do you have all the resources you need? I think in, in basically making sure that we understood where those training needs were because things were different now. Maybe even our training of our employees needed to, to go in a different direction, uh, because of their current situations. And then finally, what I’ll say is, uh, from a leadership standpoint, we wanted all of our managers to show empathy. Make sure they realize that we were concerned about their wellbeing as their world got turned upside, upside down, not just their work world, but their personal world. And we want to make sure that they knew that we cared about and that was important to them. So I think those are the things that, um, are, are the challenges that we’ve adapted to. Uh, I would like to tell you that from all of the surveys and things that we’re doing with our employees, they really love the personal attention we’re trying to give. And we’re going to continue to do that because for us, the work environment from home is going to continue. I’ll just tell you a neat little story about our company. We had about 5,000 to 5,500 employees coming to our corporate headquarters in Madison, New Jersey day in, day out. COVID hits overnight. And now we’ve made the decision that our employees are going to have for the most part are going to be able to work from home, and basically indefinitely. And we understood that we could do that because we really saw the morale of our employees. It actually went up. Productivity went up, uh, with the work from home environment. And so if you’d asked me three or four years ago, before the pandemic ever hit, would we ever fathom our employees working from home on a permanent basis? I would’ve said no way, but wow. It’s amazing the experience that our employees are having now by working from home and we’re going to continue that path.

Narrator: We’re well on our way now and cruising right along. Let’s talk about some of the things Century 21 is doing to ensure employees have an exceptional experience in First Class.

Greg Sexton: The first one was what I talked about communication. Uh, and I talked a lot about that. So the second one is really a commitment to best in class technology, making sure that our employees had all of the techno technological experience that they need to pass on that same great experience to their customers. Majority of our employees are working with customers on a daily basis. Well, that what used to be face-to-face was now through zoom, through, uh, Microsoft teams and we needed to make sure really, really quickly that we gave them best in class technology. So they could set up their, their office from their home and really still deliver best in class service. The other is training. We realized that not everybody was set up or had ever worked in that environment. So we had to do some immediate training. And we continue to do training every day to make sure that our employees know that we want to take their skills to the next level, but we also want to help them learn how to train our franchisees and from a Zoom environment, because we do think that we’ve learned that some of those things that happened because of COVID from a training perspective, they’re going to last forever. And that’s a great thing. We just have to make sure that we have our employees having the best tools that they need for that. And I will tell you, when you take a look at some of the ways that we communicate with our employees through Workplace, Microsoft Teams, Google docs, we had to adapt quickly to make sure that we had those type of best practices to create that great experience for employees working from home. And so those are the main things I would say, communication, technology, training. And then I mentioned those, those types of communication tools that we use to create that great workplace digital experience.

Narrator: One communication tool that Century 21 is working on is called MoxiWorks. 

Greg Sexton: This is a suite of technology tools that we’re rolling out to all of our customers. Our agents now are going to have what we consider the best in class technology to serve their customers. And when I say customers here, I’m talking about the home buyers and sellers out there. It’s a great tool to help with putting together customized marketing platforms to help somebody sell their home. Uh, it’s a great CRM that, that our, our employees and our customers will be utilizing out there. And then it’s also, you utilize for recruiting. Uh, it’s just an all encompassing technology tool that we’re going to make sure that our employees know how to use it real well and our customers. And what’s great about this tool is it’s one that has been utilized for years in the real estate industry. Uh, but for the first time now we’re partnering with Moxi works to provide this service for our franchisees and their agents. And everybody’s really excited about it. I will tell you, uh, where we’re really laser focused right now is making sure that we launched this in the right way. Uh, and that’s going to take a lot of training for our employees first and then making sure that our employees know how to train our, our customers, our agents out there so that they can really deploy this technology out there with their customers. So it’s a, it’s a, probably a 12 to 18 month, uh, launch time as we make sure that we do it in the right way. Uh, but we are very, very excited about this opportunit. I think the key with Moxi works is that it will be all integrated. So you’re going to have five of these suites of tools that will all integrate together. So the CRM will help flow through the rest of your customers so that you can prospect you can, uh, do drip email campaigns. Uh, then you can put together a great listing presentation that I mentioned. And then for the broker owner, he’s going to have an opportunity to utilize a recruiting part of this. So he can go out there and show really professional recruiting opportunities into century 21. And then you’re going to have a marketing component in this where it’s going to really allow for our agents to get out there and do social media type of marketing, really just to elevate who they are in the marketplace, so that customers out there can really see that, Hey, while this is a well-qualified century 21 agent, and it’ll be again through social media, collateral, things like that. So the experience is ease of use all in one place, plug and play. Probably to be the best way to say that.

Narrator: With new initiatives like MoxiWorks coming into play, Greg has to keep tabs on how things are going. And he has a couple ways to measure the employee experience. And not just at work, but in their everyday lives too.

Greg Sexton: The big one that we do, you mentioned it is surveys. We do an annual survey uh, of all employees in our company. And it is a pretty lengthy survey, because we want to know every aspect of their work environment. Uh, we want to know how they’re doing from this new work home environment. We’ve actually changed some of the questions to make sure that we fully understand how things are going for them. And this is something that we take very, very seriously, uh, at century 21, we believe it helps us preserve our talent. Uh, we want our great talent to stay at century 21. And the way you do that, as you make sure that you create a good work environment, obviously we hold all of our employees highly accountable, uh, for the jobs that they do. But we also want to make sure that the environment that they’re working in every day is a good one. And we do that through the surveys, but something that I had done for a long time, and I feel this is as leaders. And I asked all of those, uh, leaders that work for me to do as well is have those conversations from a skip level, uh, perspective. Uh, I just conducted three of them today where it’s just a 20 minute opportunity for me to spend time with our employees, where I really want to know how work’s going, but I’ll be honest. I really transition as quick as I can to talking about them and their families, as I mentioned earlier, because I think that what is important for a great work environment is for employees to know that you care. And that’s the big element, uh, that is important. I think that’s, what’s the different from maybe working for other companies who strictly you’re just coming to work, doing the job. And it’s just a place to work. I want to create a family environment because I believe, and my team will often hear me say, this is a family. We’re one big family. We got common goals that we’re working towards and we’re all helping each other get there. And if we do that, we’re going to come out on the other end as a, as winning for our customers. Because if you work as a family and you’re passionate about what you do, people see that. And so that’s the environment we’re trying to create through our surveys, by understanding where we can do better as leaders. Uh, and I will tell you, not only our surveys, the typical surveys where you rate things, what I pay attention to in our surveys are those anecdotal comments and they’re anonymous. But when you read those in our surveys, and sometimes they’re very lengthy, I mean, multiple pages of anecdotal comments, that’s where you can start to see trends, trends with your employees that may be good, but may be opportunities for us to lead better as managers. And that’s where I focus my time, because when I look at those anecdotal comments, I can usually see, wow, this is an easy fix. And we’re going to put this in place immediately and change that, environment to make it better. So that’s how we handle the employee environment. Uh, and it’s, it’s really effective. I think that’s why our retention is very high.

Narrator:  Part of that high employee retention rate is because Greg and his team are there for each other even when difficulties arise.

Greg Sexton:  I believe that when certain things happen that might be unfortunate for an employee, and we are as big as we are, we have those things, those crisis that we’ll just use the word crisis, those things happen. And I think that what if you talk about just an absolute example, it would be how we react as a family when, uh, other employees have needs, I don’t want to go into the actual example of some of those. But just recently, we’ve had situations where their family was having some distress. And the concern that every employee from leadership through our organization showed, it showed that we are a family and that we care. And I think that that that’s a differentiator because again, not everywhere you work is there an environment like that where there’s a caring concern from leadership on down. So that would be the, the positive, if you will, from an example of, of how we act when it comes to employee relations. I’ll speak about my personally and my leadership style. And this is the way it’s been for years and years as I’ve taken on different leadership roles. It has to be part of your DNA where we, create this. Uh, not only for ourselves, the way we treat people, we make sure that every one of our leaders does it the same way. And it’s not optional. I think that’s the big keyword. It’s not optional. If you’re going to work for myself and I’ll say for century 21, you’re going to care about people and they’re going to know that. And we look at this as a way of making sure that we get and keep talent. And that’s why, um, I think that not having it optional is the key for how, how we operate. And so that would be the only difference I would say from the caring concern family type environment is it’s not optional. That’s who we are.

Narrator: Another reason why employees stay with Century 21 is because they have room to grow. And they understand what that path looks like.

Greg Sexton:  I think the way we personalize that experience is making sure that again, we give them all the resources they need, but also showing them a path of growth through our company. We want to make sure that no matter where the employee is in their life cycle, working for century 21, That there is a path to grow. And so I think that that’s the tangible example of our employees, understanding that we’re all going to work really hard, but there is a path to grow. And, uh, we try to make sure that we talk at all times with our employees and we meet regularly, uh, with employee evaluations, where we sit down and we talk about where they are in their, their life cycle now from a work perspective and where they want to go, what are the goals they’re trying to achieve? And what we try to do is make sure that we document every one of their goals. So that we could see how they’re doing and how they’re doing working towards fulfilling those personal goals from a work perspective as well. And so I think that’s an important part of showing that we care. We care about where they are right now, every day when they come to work, but also where do they want to go and how do I hold myself and my other leaders accountable to making sure that we show that path for growth.

Narrator: But things don’t always go perfectly smoothly. It’s during those times where leadership becomes even more important. So let’s talk about dealing with conflict. Because how leaders manage conflict doesn’t just affect one employee, but all of them. This is the turbulent side of the employee experience.

Greg Sexton: You’re always going to have an experience potentially where it’s not great with an employee. Um, and that’s also, I think from a leadership perspective of how we react to that. I think other employees watch to see how you react to a bad situation. Let’s call it a bad apple that might be in your organization. And I think that’s just as important as how you treat those employees that are doing great, that are growing is how do you also react to those employees that aren’t doing those right things. And I will tell you from a personal leadership standpoint, anything that’s begins to be unethical, you take care of that immediately. Um, I often will, tell my employees that, listen, I want you to go out there and do a great job. Sometimes that means, uh, taking some risk, uh, you know, with some different ideas that you might want to try out there with our employees, with our customers. I will always have your back, unless you do something unethical, then you’re on your own. And that’s just a mantra that I’ve always had, uh, in dealing with employee situations that, that maybe weren’t positive. That has to be in every one of my leaders. DNA is anything unethical you’re on your own. We are not going to be part of that as an organization. And I think that helps to resonate and become those positive things as well. What I mean by that is I will always have your back. Even if you make mistakes, we all make mistakes. But an unethical mistake, you’re on your own as far as my backing. Um, because we all have reputations and I want every single employee that works for me and works for the company to know that ethical behavior stops at every individual. And you’re responsible for that, but your actions, have a reputation effect on our entire team and that we’re not going allow. And that’s where you’re kind of on your own because we’re not going to associate ourselves with anyone who’s doing anything unethical. And we’re very open and candid about that as we hire employees, and on that employee journey, we talk a lot about being ethical, because I believe there is one thing that we all have to have and maintain at all times, and that’s integrity because the moment you lose integrity with an employee, with an outside customer, you’ll never get it back. And I preach that and I want my other leaders to preach that, that every decision we make, every action we take is always done with integrity.

Narrator: But even with the worst mistake – especially with the worst mistake – comes a lesson.

Greg Sexton: So mistakes, as I said, they’re going to happen. And when they happen, The course is a leader that I want myself and my other leaders to take is how do we learn from that mistake? And we’re going to always take the mistake and really dissect it and figure out what’s the lesson. What’s the lesson that we learned here. So we make sure it doesn’t happen again. And if it’s an individual mistake that somebody made, we’re going to bring them in and we’re going to talk through it. Um, and then we’re gonna put it behind us and move forward and realize that we learned from it. And we’re not gonna happen again. If it’s an ethical one, you know, it depends on exactly what it is, but I will tell you, we take swift action on anything that’s unethical. We’re out there serving customers. We want to make sure our customers know that when something happens unethical, it’s going to be handled swiftly and in the right way. And typically the right way is we are going to distance ourselves from that situation, with that employee. And often that might mean having to separate them from the company for something that’s unethical. That’s the way we keep our reputation as being one of the most ethical companies out there. And that’s important to us. I believe you’re doing that actually, that employee a favor by pointing out that, that what they did was unethical and that kind of action, behavior, is not going to be tolerated here. And sometimes, like I said, we have to dismiss those, but I also think it’s a great lesson for all the employees at the company to see the actions that we take. I have seen and been around companies in the past where there’s unethical behavior going on, and maybe it’s a touchy situation where they don’t want to address it. And they kind of put blinders on if you will. And here’s the problem with that. If there’s unethical behavior going on in a company, the other employees see it and they’re expecting you to do something about it. And that’s what I try to talk to my leaders all the time is if you see something that’s happening out there, you have to react to it because if you see it or you’ve heard about it, so are all the other employees and they are expecting you to lead. And the way you lead as you immediately handle it and address it. And that that’s important.

Narrator: So what happens when you don’t handle a bad situation with an employee right away?

Greg Sexton: There’s a lot of unintended consequences that come from not reacting to that as quickly as possible. And I will tell you, I’ve had to learn the hard way where I thought that situations were going to get better, but you have to really go with your gut and realize that there are some employees. But it’s not part of their DNA to do the right thing. They don’t wake up in the morning thinking about doing the right thing. And what you have to do is you have to react quickly. We never, we never liked to say in leadership, we’re going to react quickly because the most things, that’s not a good idea, but when you see something or you hear about something that might be unethical, you move on it and you react quickly. That’s the only place where I think that you react quickly. And, you know, we’re in a very, very tough business where sometimes we have to say, let our customers know that certain things aren’t going to be accepted. We’re not going to be able to do certain things. Uh, maybe when they’re asking us to do that, we, what I encourage all my leadership is be transparent. It’s much, much easier to say no immediate. Uh, one of the things that I say about, uh, dealing with actual examples, in our business, we’re asked by our customers for certain things, if you know that you can’t do it, and you’re never going to be able to do it tomorrow, next month, next, never, than say no immediately, because what’d you find yourself saying is the moment you say, well, let me check on that, that’s a problem. Because that basically is saying, so you, so you say there’s a chance and when you say that and you know deep in your heart, there’s no way, no how we’re going to be able to do that. Don’t do it. Be transparent. Be honest. It’s much easier to say no immediately. I actually think that you learn, you earn credibility throughout your career by being transparent and saying no right away. And again, it’s hard. It’s often hard to just, oh, you don’t want to say no. You want to say yes, but you know, you can’t, you actually earn credibility throughout your career by doing that.

Narrator: Issues with individual employees are one thing, but l let’s zoom out for a minute and talk about how the pandemic has created some turbulence in the real estate industry too. The mass exodus from offices to working from home has created a major shift in the industry. It hasn’t all been bad, though. Just different.

Greg Sexton: What I love about real estate is when the pandemic hit, we were actually doing some great things for many, many families across the world. It was a turbulent, turbulent time to use that reference. And in the housing market, though, we were able to pivot quickly as an industry, not just century 21 as an industry and really help solve crisis situations that were occurring overnight. I mentioned earlier work from home environment, uh, homeschooling, uh, individuals that were in major Metro areas that really wanted to get out to the suburban areas now that they never thought that they would want to do that, but they want to do it over night. Uh, millennials that really had been more renting in the past. And now that they really wanted to the sense of home ownership that maybe they would have never thought about before. There were all these areas that at century 21, our agents, our companies were able to help find quick solutions for a great family experience or an individual experience when it came to home ownership that may have never been on their radar before. But that’s what I love about what we did when the pandemic hit, is serving our customers across this country and making sure that we made their lives better, at least from their home environment, which when you think about what we do every day in life so much is centered around the home. And the COVID pandemic put an emphasis on the home. And when you think about what our employees do every day, our agents at century 21 do every day, is we make home the home experience the best it can be. So, uh, from a pandemic experience, it was very tragic for so many individuals, but I believe our industry and what we did actually made the situation a little bit better for some families.

Narrator: But because real estate has been booming, it’s actually been quite overwhelming for agents.

Greg Sexton: It became very stressful because business was really, really good from a real estate perspective. And we had to constantly check on our employees because when you think about it, not only was business going crazy and there was so much on our plate. Our employees were facing a new environment that they had never faced before. They were working from home. They had, uh, to figure out where they were going to go with their children during the day, because now they had to work from home. So it wasn’t conducive at home. So many changes, so many stressful things that as leaders, we had to constantly stop and check to make sure our employees were doing well. That their environment was conducive to what they needed. And if it wasn’t, how could we help? So it was really one of those situations where we had to be better listeners and better understanding from a leadership perspective than we ever had before, because every one of our employees environments changed overnight. And so I, I certainly didn’t do all the right things from a leadership perspective, but what I do know that I did was I learned. I learned a lot through the changes that happened with COVID and some of these I mentioned before they’re going to live on for a long time. But what I’m grateful about, what I feel like I’m blessed about is now I know how to handle situations I never thought would be on my radar as a leader before. And I’m probably better with empathy, I hope, to understanding people’s individual situations. And that’s what I hope myself and my leaders understand now, is everybody’s situation is different. But now we were exposed to some of those things that were challenges for people that we would have never known before when they were just coming to work and going home every night. Now we were exposed to some of those challenges. And what as leaders, where are we going to do to help those situations?

Narrator: The pandemic has taught Greg a lot about being an employee experience leader.

Greg Sexton: The hardest lessons I learned was realizing that everybody’s situation is different. When everybody comes to work in the morning, it all pretty much looks the same. We show up at work, we do the same things. We kind of act the same ways, but when we go home, we don’t really see what happens at home. Wow. The pandemic though, made us visible to so many people and what their challenges might be that we didn’t know before. And that’s the part that I’ve really loved watching my leadership team adopt to kind of that again, that family caring, where we really tried to dig in. But we responsible with that. We certainly didn’t want to overstep our bounds, but what we found is so many employees, they wanted to open up. They wanted to talk about the challenges that they were facing now because of the pandemic. And what I loved about the way we handled that is you take a look at those challenges and I’ll often, it’s not a big, uh, situation where you have to make a massive change, but you might be able to just tweak something that really makes their situation better. And that’s the part I love because we had to adapt like that and we did. So that would probably be the biggest lesson is how did we adapt and how did we communicate better in this new environment?

Narrator: But Greg also learned that communicating better with remote employees means being intentional about who you invite to Zoom meetings, and who you don’t.

Greg Sexton: This whole zoom teams thing was new to everybody yet, we felt like because we were working from home and people were used to working home, we all wanted to look busy all the time, look busy. So the tangible, absolute example that I could tell you that had unintended consequences that we need to pivot away from was stop putting everybody on the meeting just because now it’s easy to fill up. If you will, the Brady Bunch screen there where you have all these different people attending meetings that, frankly, really don’t need to be there. In fact, you were taking up valuable time for their workday by inviting them to this meeting. And they’re about two minutes into the meeting, if that realizing, oh my goodness, what am I doing here? I have nothing to add, nothing value. So a lot of us were scheduling meetings and putting all these people on. And sometimes I’ll speak for myself as, Hey, we want to make sure that everybody saw that we were busy. We might be at home, but we’re not out laying by the pool. We’re working and we want everybody to see that. So that was one of the things that I think that we had to all realize that, Hey, we all work really, really hard. We don’t have to put everybody on meetings just to show it. So there’s a tangible example for you of something that I learned that, you know, what, if you’re working hard, everybody knows it.

Narrator: Zoom meetings have redefined what being a professional looks like. Because if you’re literally working from home, it’s more likely your kids will walk into your meeting or your dogs will back at the mail carrier. Greg has done remote work for a long time – longer than the pandemic – but he has gotten over the initial worry of having his personal life intrude on his work life. Instead, he embraces it as part of being human.

Greg Sexton: My role was where I traveled a lot. And even if I was going to the office, I was typically in the office Monday through Thursday, but Friday was always kind of a day that I worked from home for much of my career, even in my leadership roles. And I can remember that I was so paranoid that if the dogs barked in the background that we have, or my kids went across the screen because they were going, I would flip out and say, oh my goodness, I’m working in, and I can’t have this in the background. You know what the pandemic showed us is we’re all a normal people and normal things happen in a household. And so it’s amazing now that we can come on a call and there’ll be, you know, eight, 10 of us on a call and you’ll hear somebody’s dog barking in the background and that’s okay. In fact, that’s a great thing because we’re all human and human things happen. And I actually think that it created a lighter load, if you will, from an environment perspective, from the experience of, of our employees that, Hey, it’s okay to be real, to be you. 

Narrator: So in tough times, whether it’s an issue with a single employee, or a whole pandemic, Greg says don’t shy away. Stand up and take the lead.

Greg Sexton:  I think that through times of difficulty is your employees are looking for you to step up and lead. And I think you do that by being very decisive. Because of the difficult situation, sometimes it’s easier just to kind of back away and maybe even waffle. When times are tough for your employees, they want to see you stepping up and taking control and being decisive in the decisions that you make, because they want to see that everything’s under control. And if you act as a leader, like things are spiraling or things are crazy. Guess what? They’re not going to have confidence that everything’s under control. And so that’s one of the things that I’ve always tried to do as a leader because we do, we face challenges. We get hit almost daily with something that we really didn’t expect was going to happen today. And all of your employees are looking at you as a leader, looking at your leaders to see how you react. And reacting as calm and with composure and making decisive decision is what they’re looking for. And you always have to keep that in mind when things happen and things come off the rails you’ll hear us often say, yep, had a few things come off the rails today, but it’s under control. Here’s what we did. Here was the plan. The other thing I will tell you is I believe you could avoid a lot of things coming off the rails or, you know, things that are just, uh, unfortunate that happened by making sure that you have a good plan, that everybody, every employee knows when situations like this occur, here’s our game plan. So I believe that in our organization at century 21, we avoid a lot of those things coming off the rails because we got a game plan. And we know the moment we see it coming off the rails, we know how to handle it. And we completely put our game plan in place and everybody knows their role when things are going awry.

Narrator: Greg has shared so much with us today. But he is leaving us with one last piece of parting advice.

Greg Sexton: Be yourself. Let them know that you’re a leader and what they see every day is genuinely who you are. And I would say the other thing is make sure that they understand that what you do as a person and the way you manage, you expect all of your managers to do the same. Take us, for example, we’re in a very high stress environment, what we do every day. But always let them see that everything is under control and that we’re going to care about their wellbeing first. That’s what’s most important, both for our employees and for our end customers, we care about their wellbeing. How do we make sure that our employees are know that we care and everything? It is making sure that we are checking on them regularly. I talked about that earlier. As a leader, your employees love it when they understand that you’re concerned about them and their families first. Work’s important. But in fact, this is a phrase that I use often. Maybe it’s a good way for us to close here. I will always say to employees or try to always say whatever they bring a situation where, Hey, I need to be off tomorrow. I know we’ve got this big presentation, but I have a situation with my family. I will usually stop the sentence right there. Might be rude. Don’t mean to be rude, but I will always say, Hey family first. Family first. And that’s how I want myself to lead and always to check myself of the kind of leader I am. And I expect my team to lead that way, too. Family first.

Narrator: So think about the kind of leader you want to be, and the experience you want to cultivate for your employees. Check in with them often, treat them like family, and together, you’ll carry your company through any challenge, big or small.

Thank you for listening to this episode of Cruising Altitude. This episode is brought to you by Firstup, the company that is redefining the digital employee experience to put people first and lift companies up by connecting every worker, everywhere with the information that helps them do their best work. Firstup has helped over 40% of the Fortune 100 companies like Amazon, AB InBev, Ford and Pfizer stay agile and keep transforming. Learn more at

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Cruising Altitude

Lessons from companies over 30,000 employees

Conversations with leaders who are designing the best digital employee experiences in the world – from the front lines to the back office. Life is different over 30,000. Welcome to Cruising Altitude.

Hosted by Firstup Founder and CEO, Nicole Alvino.

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