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A recovered drug addict is protected under the Handicap Status section of the Fair Housing Amendments Act.

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Do you really understand the value of a better customer experience for your employees and residents? If you truly understand the value, then your answer should be “yes” to the question, “Are you prepared to fire your “favorite” property manager?”

Despite plenty of evidence that happy employees are good for a company's bottom line, there is a property manager at this very moment making someone’s life miserable.

If you’ve ever worked for someone with poor leadership performance and skills, you certainly understand how inconsistency, negativity and unpredictability can diminish your sense of job motivation and company loyalty. It’s like being in an abusive relationship. My first job in the property management industry was short lived for this very reason. I still recall the day I walked out of the office thinking to myself, “Whew! I don't have to deal with that abuse anymore!”

My boss was a jerk, but she was also someone’s “favorite.”

Property management companies spend thousands of dollars recruiting and training new employees. When an employee walks out the door, that investment walks out with them. Employees leave for many reasons and this is one of them.

Why do companies allow these managers to stick around? Here are a few reasons.

  • The owners love them
  • The manager is related to someone that works at the corporate office
  • The manager has dirt on someone that works at the corporate office
  • The manager has a lot of tenure

If you are shaking your head thinking, “I am glad that doesn’t happen at my company,” you are greatly mistaken. It’s usually the person you would least expect—the successful, popular, favorite, and sometimes award winning manager. They have escaped the radar.

Things that make you go hmmm…

1.Take Off the Blinders

I grew up around horses and spent many years with my family at the race track. Race horses wear blinders to keep them focused on the race and limit peripheral vision to avoid distractions. Leaders are also responsible for focusing on the race BUT their job is to remove distractions—not avoid them. This is where the problems usually begin. They simply avoid them.

How do you remove the blinders? One way is to evaluate your managers—really evaluate them.

If you want to deliver a great customer experience you have to listen to and understand the customers you serve—internal and external. If you want to know what they think, you have to be willing to take off the blinders and ask the hard questions. While asking is one thing, listening and taking action is another.

Employee evaluations are great tools for removing blinders. In my experience, the 360 evaluation is one of the best!

As the name implies, a 360 employee evaluation is an evaluation where more than just the direct supervisor provides feedback on performance. Instead, everyone who works with, by, and for the manager whose performance is being evaluated provides feedback on his or her performance, providing a better overall picture of the performance. This tool not only make it easier for supervisors to gauge employees' performance, but they can also result in higher employee satisfaction, because managers know that their raises are not contingent only on a supervisor's narrow view of what they do or don't do.

It’s called accountability!

Do you know that younger workers—Gen Y—are most likely to equate their experience with your company with the quality of their leaders?

2. Train Them

It still amazes me that there are managers running multi-million dollar assets that have never received formal training on how to manage and lead others. Even the best property manager—your “favorite” manager—can turn out to be a terrible leader because you can’t lead people using “manager” skills. It’s entirely different.

All too often we promote or move these unprepared managers into leadership roles without providing adequate preparation or development. Communication, feedback, and relationship building skills are essential for success. Many managers struggle because they are unskilled in these vital areas.

Leadership is about value—acknowledging and engaging the value in others, and them willingly following you for the value you bring to them. At any age and in any position in life – this is leadership. It takes time, and it takes practice.

I have a long list of favorite leadership quotes. The power of these quotes is not in the wording itself, but in how much these quotes have influenced people, and organizations all over the world.

Here are just a few…

  • In the past a leader was a boss. Today's leaders must be partners with their people... they no longer can lead solely based on positional power. -Kenneth Blanchard
  • Leaders are more powerful role models when they learn than when they teach. -Rosabeth Moss Kantor
  • Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. -Jack Welch

When employees are treated well, they desire to perform and take better care of the external customer. When they are not treated well, they don’t. You can’t get people to perform by yelling at them or using a bigger horse whip.

What would you do with a top-performing property manager that had 120 percent employee turnover within one year? Promote them to Vice President.

Yes, sometimes we make decisions that just don’t make any sense.

3. Do What Is Right—Not Easy

Unfortunately, people don't always like to do what's right—they like to do what's easy. And if they're personally not feeling the pressure from above them, it is easy to look the other way and just pretend that the manager is not part of the problem.

Let’s see…

A customer walks in the leasing office and sees a beat-down, miserable employee who looks like she wants to cry. Then the regional manager walks in and asks this same person a simple question like "How's your day going?" and they respond with a flat "fine."  The next question should be, "Why don't you seem fine?"

The reality is no one likes to expose or deal with the bully—especially if they are your “favorite.” It’s not easy. But those in a leadership role often have the power to make the change if they are willing to do what is right. A manager who bullies others into perfection while not caring about the person or the long-term effects on the company in my opinion is not a good manager. I don’t care how great their numbers look!

What will you do when you are faced with the question, “Are you prepared to fire your “favorite” manager? At the end of the day, if it makes you feel better to say, “They fired themselves,” that works too. My point is, “Are you willing to make the difficult decisions?

I know you have a story! I am anxiously waiting to hear from you.

Maria Lawson is a 20+ year apartment industry veteran and VP of Training and Development for Ellis Partners in Management Solutions (EPMS). Maria blogs regularly for multifamily websites and organizations in an effort to promote awareness of, and help others learn to listen effectively and to better understand, the Voice of the Customer.
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Comments (10)

  • Maria, you wrote such an insightful article! Really, really appropriate now that Annual Reviews have been completed for many employees. I think many times the bully bosses who micromanage and lead by intimidation and fear are left to continue their unbearable behavior because 1) no one actually speaks up; 2) HR department wants intimate details to back up the person's claims (which can also cause shy people to keep quiet and just quit); 3) others support the questionable behavior because of all of the things you just listed. Your point of view is impeccable and thought provoking. Thank you for sharing it.

  • Hi Mindy! It is always great to hear from you. :) Your points are right on target as usual but the one you mention that is most disheartening is that "people keep quiet and just quit." This is a hard reality. I do hope that this blog post will result in some honest discussions on the subject. Thank you again for your response.

  • I was actually 'laid off' because of a 'favorite' employee. I had dirt on her affair with a person who did some volunteer work for the property in security. I was used by her several times as a cover with her boss as well as her husband. As her subordinate, I did as she asked but over time it took its toll on our working relationship. Then one day in March 2010 after 9 years of employment and 3 promotions), I arrived at work to find that my computer login was disabled and received a call from the business owner to come to his office. I was informed of my 'lay off' in addition to being told that he does not do recommendations. She came to my office and acted surprised but I knew the truth. She still to this day tries to talk me down when prospective employers call her for references.

    The irony of the whole experience is that it taught me how NOT to manage a property and my staff. I treat everyone with respect and I empower them to do their jobs instead of micromanaging them as she did me for so many years.

    Her innappropriate behavior was known to the business owner who she was very close to both inside and outside the office. He made a choice based on his personal relationship with her without a second thought. I was scared and angry at the time but I am grateful looking back. I no longer have to work in a toxic environment with unethical people.

    Thank you for bringing this tough subject to light.

  • Laura,
    Thank you for sharing your story with us and being so open about your experience. It is not pretty, but it is reality. I expect there are many out there just like you that have had a similar experience. You are one of the lucky ones that has risen to the top and learned from such a poor example of leadership and abuse of authority. Some victims just give up on our industry--I am glad that you didn't! We can't change others behavior but we can certainly change how we respond to them. I hope this blog gets shared, shared, and shared. Not for my sake, but for those that are dealing with this situation right now. That they might have the courage to speak up and do something about it! There is so much at stake. Thank you again!

  • Guest (Mary P Clark)

    This is common.
    If we start at the top, the issues in housing itself get translated into dysfunction and corruption all the way down to the "office girl" in this very sexist and often bigoted industry. All of us in this industry have seen this stuff for years.
    Men in management are very honest about the misogyny they have witnessed. Men get abused, too. Contractors are also aware of the abusive treatment they get. I have seen this happen, too. When you add the sector of unethical brokers to this mix, you add another layer of unethical behaviors on top of what already exists in this business. The NAR is part of this problem since they insist on publishing misinformation about management. Owners and investors can also be unethical, brutal and racist.
    The property manager-agent has to fight this and educate others so that he/she keeps a real estate license and can function in the situation to some degree. Pay is low. Reforms are way overdue.
    I went back into management after leaving it for a couple of years, due to what I was seeing. I am back in now with a new LLC (this one, I own) and am working with a broker I respect. It took 2 years to find this broker, during which time I went without pay from my own business, while I kept paying mandatory fees. There is no healthcare coverage available. I don't know how many people would be willing to endure this in order to see reforms in this business. It has been one obstacle after another and most of that due to the lack of ethics we all know exists.
    A management company's problems with abuse would also be a reflection of the dysfunction we see in the housing market. Anyone with a real estate license can call him or herself a "property manager". The reputation of property managers is close to "thug" and solely due to the lack of knowledge as to what a property manager actually is and what we actually do.
    There are no standards in real estate or management. There is no requirement for higher education or experience. Anyone who has been in business would recognize the opportunities for using financial pressures on uneducated staff or agents. The effect on tenants is obvious. The cases re Fair Housing law, frauds, etc are similar to cases in real estate sales. Yet, managers are thought to be inferior.
    This all comes down to lack of ethics, the impossibility of enforcement, sheer incompetence in the housing sector on all levels, the lack of transparency in investment itself, lack of educated investors, irregular behavior by lenders; you name it.
    In order to see progress, there has to be a way for agents to get an affordable education, become brokers so they can get their pay from these 7 day a week jobs, make it possible for agents to report the usual crimes without fears of retaliation from those involved in committing these offenses, make it possible for agents to have control over their own situations so that agents can make sure ethics are upheld in every activity re management (and sales); in other words, the real estate sector has to join the 20th century. It has not been willling to admit the need for real reforms and like their buddies, certain lenders, real estate entities including the NAR have chosen to reinforce the existing situation.
    Until we see reforms from lenders ("Wall St"), this is going to be a tough haul. While I and many others in real estate advocate and work for reforms, we can't get rid of the offenders by ourselves. Since this is such a popular topic among agents, brokers, tenants, we ought to have a national round table discussion and include entities like the NAR and their boards so they can find out what this field is and what is happening in management and sales. This idea is obvious and seems popular among agents. I recently heard this from another property manager from a local brokerage and who is frustrated. This must be a common feeling nationally. Ethical brokers would be supportive and so would contractors, tenants, social service agencies, community leaders and local politicians who are not aware of these issues. It is time that this conversation happened and in a safe setting for all involved.
    This post is typical of the complaints in real estate. It is good to see this posted so that other agents in property management and sales can weigh in. Until we are willing to tell the truth without retailiation, this situation will continue and entire communities will keep paying for it.

  • Wow! Mary, I read your response a few times so that I could digest it all. I asked for open and honest discussions on this topic and that is exactly what you gave me! Thank you. The way I see this is that your post is someone's reality at this very moment. It is having an impact on their personal life--their family--their children. I keep going back to two of your points:

    1. It is difficult to report such abuse of power without fears of retaliation from those involved in committing these offenses.
    2. Until we are willing to tell the truth without retailiation, this situation will continue and entire communities will keep paying for it.

    The fear stops people from telling the truth. It is much easier to just shut your mouth and leave-- most choose this road. Maybe if we spent the same amount of time and effort auditing our managers as we do auditing the books some of these issues just might bubble up. All it takes is the right leader at the top to make this their focus and change can happen. This new generation "Gen Y" just might be the ones to turn the tide. Let's hope. :) Thank you for your response!

  • Guest (Krista Washbourne)

    I once worked for a company that was finally willing to take on one of these type of Managers. In this case, this powerful, "fun," manager achieved perfect audits and hob-nobbed with the corporate office team often, yet she terrorized her employees with her callous nature and over-the-top expectations, sans caring about them personally. The atmosphere in her office was chilling and depressed. Her turnover #s were huge and quantifiable-- and many of those associates simply walked off the job.

    When faced with the information and the discussion that followed, she denied it all, said we were out to get her and generally cried foul. A month or so later, she quit.

    Was it easy to have this meeting with this manager?? Absolutely not. Did we do the right thing? Let me answer this question by asking you a question: If YOU had been the one on her team, did we do the right thing? If you were these associates' family and friends, did we do the right thing?

    But there still is this question left to be answered: Did the company "win" in this situation, when she was generating a strong NOI? Unfortunately, there is an old-school management thinking that would still say "no"; the company lost an awesome employee who achieved excellent audits and a strong cash flow. Such a sad statement on life. It's just about money, but not the people.

    But what about the money. Was she really generating that much MORE money? At the end of the day, that kind of turnover costs thousands of dollars. The cost of running ads, screening, testing, interviewing, time without an associate in the office, and then training time. And what about the word-of-mouth for the company? All those friends and family members who heard about this company's manager, treating her employees like dirt. And how about the residents? Their view of the company was most certainly effected by the constant changed in team members, and the new team members having to "get up to speed." Yikes. Thousands of dollars lost in hidden costs.

    People shouldn't be afraid to come to work and they shouldn't dread their jobs. And those who create this uncaring and hostile atmosphere should never be rewarded because they can achieve results through these methods. It's like saying that the gladiator tournaments were just. Sure, someone won and someone often won repeatedly--but that doesn't make the sport right, does it? Just because the murderer (of the work soul, in this case) can still always manage a win, doesn't make the win worth it. And if you actually look at the big numbers picture, I think you would quantify the end does not justify the means--even financially!

    Take the hard road. It's worth it.

  • Krista- Your response is fantastic and would make a great blog! :) Great stuff! Two of the points you make were ones that I had not elaborated on in this blog post.
    1. "The thousands of dollars lost in hidden costs." If we would put a pencil to that I expect it would not be pretty.
    2. "People shouldn't be afraid to come to work and they shouldn't dread their jobs." Leaders should protect their employees, look out for them, lead them. Not throw them to the wolves and look the other way. Your gladiator analogy is spot on! How much is a win worth? Immediately I thought of my husband. He is one of these unfortunate employees. The manager that has the most influence over him at work puts knots in his stomach when he calls his cell phone. His body language completely changes and I can see the anxiety build. His calls almost always puts a damper on his day and that impacts my day and the kids too. This is just wrong! No person should have that much negative influence on others. Once again the reality is that this man is making money for the company and he is someones "favorite." I would like to know who that "someone" is and put him on a call with me and my kids. My 8 year old could tell him all about his "favorite" employee. :o Thank you again for your response!

  • Guest (Linda Suarez)

    Thank you for addressing a topic that often gets swept under the carpet and ignored. If we truly understand the value of customer experience (inside and out) we should be able to answer this question with "yes" and be willing to take the blinders off!! I love the "blinders" analogy--very creative. I am glad to see some honest feedback too.:)

  • Linda- It is certainly not a popular topic but clearly one that is on the minds of many. I do believe that most leaders know who these people are on their team. They are aware of the problems, but they just choose to avoid rather than remove. Thank you for your response and I am glad you enjoyed my horse blinders analogy. Hope to hear from you again!