Let's talk growth for a moment...
One of the most common questions I get as a property management consultant from business owners is “Kirk, how do I get my team to grow the business more?” My response generally isn’t what they expect, as I turn the question around, and ask “why do you want growth?” – I stopped being surprised at the answer years ago when running my own businesses as the answer in a high number of cases isn’t that they want to grow the rent roll, it’s normally that they want to fill the gaps left by the churn of landlords quitting their management and taking business away from the firm; generally due to poor service standards.
We all drop the ball from time to time, but when it’s entrenched in an organisation, the business is placed at tremendous risk.
So wanting growth is fine, but let’s first talk about having a strategic approach to it, and making sure your structure is ready.
Let me give you an illustration of this from my recent corporate life. I was called into a firm who had lost 10% of their rent roll in the 6 months before I arrived; now, while some of these losses was unavoidable due to the sale of properties or owners moving in, the department head had resigned at the beginning of that year leaving a gap in the management structure, revealing some major flaws in process, and there was a drift in service standards – one of my first tasks was calling some of the more recently departed landlords to chat about their reasons for leaving and this is where the problem became clear (you can imagine that they were some fairly testing calls when I introduced myself and where I was calling from…).
There was a long list of complaints; phone calls and emails weren’t being responded to, maintenance and inspections had not been followed up, and late rental payments weren’t pursued with a great deal of vigor – they were a bunch of very unhappy landlords.
This could have been prevented by the implementation of procedures which are designed to set a pathway for the team to follow, and between the leadership of this firm and I, we turned the firm around and stopped the preventable losses within a fairly quick period of time – it wasn’t easy, but there was will and support from the top of the organisation to have this happen.
Once we stabilized the churn, the team were happier within themselves and at work, as they could see positive progress and while the pressure was off growth for the sake of replacing the losses, there was greater motivation from the BDMs to bring in business as they knew that the clients they were bringing into the business were going to be serviced well and the potential for negative feedback when they did their follow up calls was reduced to close to zero.
If you want real growth within a rent roll (or any business for that matter), be strategic; get good structure and systems in place as a priority.
Some the items to look at immediately are whether the property managers are being well supported in terms of technology and admin within the office as there’s no point bringing in new business if you’re not geared for it – so make sure your systems are robust enough to handle taking on more managements, both in terms of your management and inspection software, and your internal support structure.
Most proprietary software now has a function where clients can access basic information on their property directly without the need to contact the agency, and this should be promoted so that routine matters can be dealt with without intervention from the team, so there’s an efficiency and time gain on both the landlord and tenant side enquiry level.
Ensure that the team know that they have the support of management. When there’s a complaint, the team has to know that management has their back – the fastest way to lose good employees is for them to feel that they’ll get thrown under the bus the moment someone phones in with a complaint, justified or otherwise; more good staff have left organisations for this reason than any other I know of.
Innovate continually, and be open to suggestions for improvement from within. In implementing new ideas, the approach of “no, we’re not changing, we’ve always done it this way” is a style of management which is a death rattle for the business and will kill off the motivation of team members to come forward with new and innovative ideas.
The people who are on the frontline of any business are often the ones best placed to identify areas for improvement, so listen when ideas are put up for discussion and be prepared to test them.
Set up your team for success with good management practices, while KPIs are an effective way to manage more junior staff, the senior staff should be empowered to manage their clients within their portfolios with a little more flexibility. Micro-managing experienced, competent staff will not achieve productivity gains, recognition of their ability will.
That said, the implementation of Service Level Agreements will benefit all sides of the relationship – it puts the onus on the team to comply with the agreement, but it also manages the client expectations of when their calls, emails and so on will be attended to as they are clear on the expected outcomes, and this in turn will ease the pressure on the portfolio management team as they will have a strong sense of direction, motivation and accountability, and you as manager will be able to measure performance against the SLA and your reputation for excellence in service delivery will grow, meaning your business growth will also. Trying to grow without a Service Level Agreement is like trying to drive on unfamiliar roads without a map.