Take Your Team to the Top

Take Your Team to the Top 
By: Nicholas A. Dunlap

Taking a break from the Investment Measures series, please enjoy an article I wrote back in November, 2009 for the Journal of Property Management on leadership and motivation.  Hope this helps you “Take Your Team to the Top”.  Although the rental market has changed significantly, these tips are still quite helpful today.   

Take one look at the successful athletic teams in our sports crazed society and you’ll find examples of leadership, motivation and teamwork abound. Just as we look to these teams and star players for entertainment, we should look to them for inspiration as we manage our own property management teams, particularly during this economic downturn.  Real estate management has become increasingly challenging in our current fiscal environment, especially for those property managers who are supervisors. While
dealing with co-workers, customers, clients and vendors can be trying in any market, those challenges are exacerbated in a depressed economy as our workloads increase and vacancy rates rise. In fact, some of the most simple good business practices are easily forgotten. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that managers focus on outstanding leadership that motivates staff and encourages teamwork so real estate management companies can achieve success despite the downturn.
As managers or supervisors become increasingly pressured to deliver occupancy rates or reach market rents, it is important staff act as teammates, each playing an integral part in the team’s success.  Just as in sports, a company’s team is headed by a captain—one who is either selected by upper management or nominated by peers to lead his or her teammates. Consider the asset manager or supervisor the team leader by structure.
To truly uphold and exude the elements of a leader, one must possess the ability to rally and support one’s teammates to work toward a common goal. The captain should be able to effectively empower and motivate teammates so they can work through difficulties to achieve success. Successful captains will
effectively motivate their teammates to work with them, as opposed to against them, in an effort to achieve their goals. 
Look at the great sports teams: the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Lakers or the New EnglandPatriots. In Derek Jeter, Kobe Bryant and Tom Brady, respectively, each team has a captain who plays a pivotal part in his team’s success. While other teammates are important, the captain leads the team to victory when the pressure is on. Leaders must understand their importance to their subordinates.  Their attitudes and outlook directly affect staff members, and this can easily be forgotten in a tough market.  Remain positive and cheery despite increasing workloads, looming deadlines and rising stress levels.  Certainly your counterparts realize you are under the gun, but the ability to remain professional reflects strength and confidence, both traits that can encourage staff.
As real estate professionals, we do not compete in an athletic venue; however, our ability to lead is equally important. Just as in an athletic environment, motivated teammates help the leader reach his or her goals. Focus on being more than a manager; become a captain.
Part of being a good team captain is being a good communicator. The foundation of any championship team is communication. A team of talented athletes will fail miserably if they don’t communicate what plays they’re running, where they’re throwing the ball, or how they intend to blow by their opponent. They will only get in one another’s way.  Revisit the basic elements of your job requirements. Often overlooked by supervisory
staff is the necessity to communicate with subordinates.  Frequent communication between managers and staff is a way of ensuring all sides are working toward the same common goal.  Managers need to engage their staff so they truly understand their importance and how their effort has a direct effect on occupancy rates and tenant satisfaction.  Managers who communicate how much they value their staff will also have more success with retention and productivity.
In our current marketplace, it is also important to communicate frequently to ensure market and data research are current and accurate. Implementing a weekly meeting with key personnel is the perfect place to do this.  Aside from having the property supervisor or asset manager lead the meeting, a motivational speaker or life coach can be very effective in motivating, recognizing and congratulating employees. Pairing company matters with a positive speech can be uplifting and will have a stronger, lasting effect on staff.
Incentives will also likely have a lasting effect on staff. With many companies
freezing salaries, it is important to create an incentive for those working in a performance-based industry.  While property managers are paid set salaries for their work, the leasing environment of many sectors of the real estate market, including multifamily, office and retail, now requires extra effort to close deals and fill space. Those individuals handling leasing responsibilities need additional incentives to complete these transactions.
That said, creating or introducing a friendly competition leading to shared goals and in which staff can succeed despite financial turmoil may be the solution you need to reinvigorate your team. After all, athletes aren’t the only individuals driven by competition.  Done correctly, a competition can help to maximize your marketing dollars and bring your staff closer together. Our firm developed a game called “Manager Match Up.” We formed two teams of resident managers at our apartment communities. Each team was encouraged to work together by referring prospective residents to their teammates.
Managers were rewarded based on occupancy rates, number of referrals generated, advertising and overall effort. The response was great. We generated over a dozen referral transactions among our properties and further maximized our marketing dollars.  Our resident managers became concerned with the occupancy rates of their teammates’ properties as this related directly to their ability to win the game.  Our staff worked together like a championship team would.  In a time when those working in a customer service environment are more likely greeted with “no’s” and complaints than with praise, rewarding them with fun, friendly competition, and making an active effort to show appreciation for their duties, can make all the difference.
Regardless of the economy or the real estate market’s cycles, what starts with strong, effective leadership ends with happy, empowered employees who work eagerly toward a company’s goals. Plenty of legendary sports teams have claimed a championship title after a season of hard knocks, thanks to solid
teamwork and good leadership.
It’s important to remember managers are more than just directors who control resources and expenditures. And while their ability to navigate through balance sheets and profit and loss statements, and build solid budgets is important, the personnel component of their job description cannot fall by the wayside during tough times.