Continued Learning Crucial for Multifamily Teams
A multifamily community is only as strong as the team running it. That fact has certainly been driven home during the past six months, as apartment owners have been forced to lean on their management teams more than ever since the emergence of Covid-19.
While on-site associates overwhelmingly rise to the challenge during times of crisis, such challenges also expose any organizational deficiencies in training and continued education. But it shouldn’t take a global pandemic to demonstrate the importance of investing in multifamily associates.
Those career skills not only allow associates to grow individually but equips teams to handle whatever challenge lands at their community’s doorstep and navigate the continually evolving multifamily landscape.
1. Create a Learning Organization
Establishing a culture that values and emphasizes employee development is the first step in the right direction, said Debbie Phillips, CPM and president of both The Quadrillion and the Real Estate Career Academy.
“I wish every CEO bought into the idea of a learning organization,” Phillips said. “We need more culture-centric leaders who understand that people want to keep learning and keep growing. Culture is really the DNA of an organization, and the leader and the senior leadership team are really the key influencers of culture. Whatever happens downstream is based on the input upstream. The front line can only be as strong as the support from above.”
Phillips said it is imperative that multifamily leaders build systems and processes where people can do their best work, and also provide opportunities for regular training. She suggests maintaining a set of classes and workshops that associates can take on demand. Also known as “just-in-time” knowledge and microlearning.
“The best leaders in the multifamily space understand the importance of fostering a learning culture,” Phillips said. “You have to set the table, and from there it’s up to the learner to say, ‘I want to take advantage of that.’”
Phillips recommends that maintenance technicians (Phillips prefers to say service technicians or service engineers to help further elevate team members) and supervisors take at least one professional development course or workshop each month to build their personal brand.
James Lollis, maintenance supervisor at Fogelman community Twenty25 Barrett in Atlanta, continually enrolls in certification programs and equipment training — often on his own time — to stay ahead of the curve. While Fogelman encourages its service team members to attain their EPA certifications, Lollis said that’s just a baseline for working on essential systems like HVAC.
“There is all kinds of correspondence you can take after you get your EPA certification,” Lollis said. “HVAC work alone requires knowledge of airflow exchange, it involves electric, and there are condensation lines which require some plumbing. And preventive maintenance may be the most important part. There are a number of things we need to be experts at in order to keep these systems up and running. That all requires training.”
Regular training, whether for maintenance or leasing, not only creates a more skilled workforce, but also leads to increased job satisfaction, creativity and contribution.
“We know that when you make an investment in people and their professional development, they’re more likely to stay with a company for the long haul,” Phillips said. “They’re also more apt to bring innovative solutions or ideas to the table.”
2. Build a Pipeline of Talent
Skilled and engaged associates are also more likely to stay with their company because their ongoing training positions them well for advancement. For multifamily operators, the investment in associate growth pays off when it comes time to fill a position.
“I can’t overemphasize the importance of building a pipeline of talent,” Phillips said. “You can’t wait until you have an open position to start looking for somebody. On average, it takes at least a month to fill a position, and that’s across all sectors. It takes a little longer, obviously, for regional and corporate positions.”
That pipeline shouldn’t be limited to internal candidates. While “promote from within” is a predictable source, it’s certainly not the only one. Phillips said that maintaining connection all levels — K-12, career academies, technical colleges, universities and workforce organizations – allows property managers to be more selective.
“Don’t roll the dice on talent. Have a choice of candidates,” Phillip said. “When you really are recruiting and developing those pipelines in those five areas, you’re going to have a choice.”
3. Allow Associates to Do Their Best Work
With a trained and capable team in place, it’s time to get out of the way. Give team members the opportunity to put their skills to work by providing the freedom and flexibility to be creative and problem-solve on their own.
“People want to be led. They don’t want to be managed. When people really step up to the plate, it’s because the rules and the restrictions have been loosened,” Phillips said. “If you have the right team, you need to remove the harnesses that holds them back.”
Phillips said it’s vital for multifamily leaders to create a workplace culture that clearly delivers the message that, “I believe in you,” and permits teams to use their collective skills and training to make things better.
“People love to be counted on,” Phillips said. “Nobody wakes up and says, ‘I think I’ll be mediocre today.’ People want to knock it out of the park.”
The pandemic created a situation where on-site teams were required to think outside of the traditional multifamily box to accommodate residents and keep up with the rapidly evolving requirements of managing their respective apartment communities. Creativity has become the new currency, and a renewed spotlight has been placed on associate development.
Phillips said it’s a change for the better.
“I’m sorry it had to take a pandemic to start to shift the culture from managing to leading in this industry,” she said. “But an emphasis has been created in terms of investing in people that I hope never changes. People ALWAYS remember who goes the distance.”