This HR leader doesn’t read email—and other ‘next-level HR’ practices

Tanya Reu-Narvaez has a long tenure in HR and at her current company, Anywhere Real Estate, where she’s been for 22 years; however, that longevity doesn’t mean she leans into tradition. In fact, she is committed to being an HR leader who “drops textbook HR” practices, driving innovation through “next-level HR” at Anywhere.

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She’s bringing that growth mentality to the company’s recent transformation, with a revamped brand and purpose designed to more closely align its 8,000 employees across its six international real estate brands—including Century 21 and Coldwell Banker—and a national title company and relocation company. That work involved the development of four winning behaviors, which, within just two years, have become “literally part of our DNA,” Reu-Narvaez says.

“They’re fully embedded in our people strategy and our culture—everything from bringing new folks into the organization to annual performance evaluations, recognition and development,” she says. Leading that transformation enabled Reu-Narvaez to tap into the business acumen and deep industry knowledge she’s honed in more than two decades with the organization.

She recently shared with Human Resource Executive lessons learned during that time about breaking away from traditional HR—including why she doesn’t read emails.

HRE: What is your greatest HR challenge at the moment?

HR leader Tanya Reu-Narvaez, Anywhere Real Estate
Tanya Reu-Narvaez, Anywhere Real Estate

Reu-Narvaez: Our company of companies, as I like to refer to it, has been undergoing a pretty significant transformation journey to scale and impact. The shift is occurring in the face of a really complex industry landscape and a rapidly changing workforce. While challenging, we feel as if it’s an enormous opportunity to really enhance our culture and pave the way for what the future of the HR function looks like.

Our view from the top is that talent and culture really trump strategy, products and services. We believe in a people-first culture; we’re in a people-first industry, so that’s really important. To accomplish this, we’ve embraced what I like to refer to as “next-level HR.” It’s about moving away from textbook HR—practices and policies and expectations—finding the line and then pushing the line from an innovation standpoint … really moving toward agility and driving and enabling business impact. It’s a philosophy that prioritizes people over processes and outcomes over activities.

HRE: How has the role of the HR leader as a strategic business partner evolved during your time with the company?

Reu-Narvaez: I’ve been with the company for 22 years, so there’s definitely a lot that’s changed. But I’ve always—not just now—viewed myself as a business leader who happens to be in HR. That was my mantra from day one. To be a very effective HR business partner and ultimately have an effective HR function, you have to have that level of business acumen, and then apply the people strategies and practices.

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I’ve always led my team with the idea that you have to speak the business language: Drop the HR jargon, and—especially today—leverage data and analytics to tell your story the right way to drive the right action. Twenty-two years ago, HR was all about the traditional hiring and firing and paying people. But I’m really proud to say that we’ve come a long way. I consider our function today one that drives meaningful change—that not just leads change but, in many cases, initiates that change.

Click here to read more Insights from a CHRO interviews with HR leaders.

HRE: What kind of strategic HR work went into the recent company rebrand, particularly the focus on purpose?

Reu-Narvaez: That was a big one for us. We were making a pretty bold shift to operate the company differently—from an integration standpoint, simplification and really executing a one-company strategy for the first time. We thought it was the right time to really unite our employees under one company purpose, and that was really to empower everyone’s next move.

It speaks to enabling career growth for our employees; to our franchise owners, that we support their dreams of entrepreneurship; to our clients, as we help enable their companies to relocate near and far; and to our agents, who facilitate the dream of homeownership that is at the core of building wealth in our country.

But we didn’t stop there. This was an opportunity to bring our six brands and different companies across the business under not just the one unified purpose, but also with what we refer to as our “winning behaviors.” Simply put, we believe that having common language and common behaviors that yield success across the organization that are fully embedded in all that we do would be a game-changer. And it was.

HRE: What would you say the future of work is going to look like at Anywhere in the coming years?

Reu-Narvaez: I wish I had a crystal ball. Before COVID, we were an in-office organization but we took a hard look at who we are, what we do and what we do best and added a remote-first philosophy. We believe that in this environment, employees can deliver maximum results. We’ve stayed the course, and we encourage and provide collaboration tools because we know it’s important for people to connect and to be more intentional about collaboration. We leverage both learning and ERG cohorts across the organization to enable that diversity of collaboration. There’s a stickiness that has come out of that effort. We also bring people together where and when it makes sense and try to make a really good experience when people come on-site—leveraging the concept that on-site is the new off-site.

Human-centric leadership has become that much more important. It’s critical to stay connected personally with people, even from a wellbeing perspective—like through Focus Fridays, where we don’t have any meetings that are scheduled, allowing our people to prioritize their day. For myself, I have two hours of open house where my team can reach out to me about anything, and I send out weekly messages to the entire team to share what was up for the week, whether that’s personal or professional and I try to make it fun.

So, for us at Anywhere, [remote-first] is working: We’ve had the lowest turnover that we’ve had in probably about five years, and our outsized engagement results have really been phenomenal, even during this competitive and challenging industry landscape that we’ve been faced with.

HRE: What HR lessons have you been able to take from real estate strategies?

Reu-Narvaez: We have a very broad, distributed sales network, with over 300,000 sales agents. I view them as being the CEOs of their own businesses, all 300,000 of them; they run amazing businesses, but it really depends, obviously, on the market, the clientele and what works for them from a goal-setting standpoint. As a company, goal-setting is the anchor of the entire talent management process. The goal-setting process has changed and still needs to evolve.

The pace of change requires us to revisit goals and what we’re focused on much more frequently—certainly more than once or twice a year. I would even argue that quarterly is not enough because things change so quickly these days. My focus with the HR team, especially around this next-level HR work, is to almost obsess about doing that much more with less because that’s going to drive a greater impact on the business.

If we’re dropping textbook HR, that literally means stopping doing a lot of what has been expected historically and thinking about what will drive growth, what is going to yield the results that we need. That requires working differently, only focusing in on a few key things and being fluid, having an agile team working on things that they may not have experience in doing. I’ve challenged my team to stop doing things—even to the extent whereby we don’t tell anyone we’re going to stop doing it, we just stop doing it. And if no one asks for it, you can continue down that path. It’s certainly a mindset shift for us. We’re working on it as a function, and I’m excited about where it’s going to take us.

HRE: Along the lines of dropping textbook HR, I saw that you do not read emails. How do you make it work?

Reu-Narvaez: I think saying it is actually really helpful as a first step. At the end of the day, I believe that email is a very antiquated way of communicating. I prefer text, I prefer chats; if you want to have an agile team, you have to communicate in real time. I could spend my entire day reading emails, and I don’t think it’s the best use of my time. I glance but, just assume I didn’t read it and if you need me, you’ll reach out to me in another way. I think it’s about where you choose to spend your time to have the greatest impact on the company. That’s just a decision I made. And what’s happening now is people are reaching out via chat, and we’re actually being able to communicate with multiple people in real-time. It’s working for us.

HRE: Outside of HR, where do you draw your motivation?

Reu-Narvaez: I have two amazing children—7 and 8—and I try and spend more and more time with them and their newfound activities. And I spend a lot of time in the industry. I’m fascinated by it. It’s ripe for change at the moment. Being a business leader, I try to keep a pulse of what’s going on. I study the competitive landscape. I’m involved in many industry organizations, including the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, which lets me keep a great pulse on the industry, and I also get to understand how we can even further our reach into one of the fastest-growing consumer bases in the country, that Latino market, which is important to us from a home-ownership standpoint.

One of my mantras has always been “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” And if you don’t know what the issue is, then you can’t really drive any meaningful change. I do a lot of digging from that standpoint, and that’s been super helpful. I also do some mentoring. I mentored this girl, a wonderful young lady who came from Mexico and who had faced a lot of challenges. She finally was able to get into college. We’ve been super close, and she’s had a fantastic trajectory. Giving back to your communities is really important, especially for underserved markets. Providing opportunities where there’s not always that level playing field—that gives me a lot of energy.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].