Growing Great Employees

Growing Great Employees

By Kathy Danforth / Published January 2016



Despite the designation as “property” management, managing homeowner associations and condominiums is an “of the people, by the people, and for the people” endeavor. Property management employees are the assets in this situation—responding to residents’ requests, planning for the community, and pulling together skills and knowledge to maintain everyone’s homes. Finding and keeping the best people in place is the heart of the business.

The process begins with developing a pool of applicants. Tracey Clement, Human Resources Director with Leland Management, shares, “Our company uses multiple resources to reach out to potential employees. We will look through profiles on LinkedIn and use that inbox to send ads regarding our company and open positions. Another source that has been working well is sending postcards to individuals who are licensed or waiting on their exam, based on a database we’ve compiled. Depending on the area, we may place an ad with a college or local newspaper. Probably the quickest way to contact people is to attend industry events to recruit: you can meet people face-to-face and establish relationships immediately.”

Gordon Wolfram, Vice President of the Jacksonville Division of Sentry Management, notes, “A lot of good talent is identified through our strong relationships with past board members, involved homeowners, or Sentry vendors, and from employee referrals.”

“At Sentry Management, our best source of CAMs is advancement from within the company—employees who started out in administrative customer service, and financial positions,” states Regional Vice President Joanna Hart. “These individuals are already trained in our company policies, procedures, and software. We ease them into the manager position by having them attend meetings with other CAMs and help with site inspections. When promoted, they are able to concentrate completely on learning the management side of the job and are not taking precious time learning internal practices.”

According to Gina Rossi with Associa, “To ensure quality applicants, we encourage our current employees to take advantage of potential growth opportunities, and we offer internal training in hopes of promoting from within. The company also has an in-house talent acquisition department, which conducts nationwide searches for ideal candidates.”

Job candidates first go through an extensive phone interview, says Rebecca Furlow, President and founder of Leland Management. “In our company’s culture, we’re looking for people with stability who are team players. Someone who has jumped from job to job is not likely to be the best fit here.”

Clement explains, “On the phone, we’ll go over their work history and ask multiple questions. We want to know how much time they’ve taken off and if it was in compliance with company policies. Were they calling in? How reliable are they? We want to know what skills were utilized in their previous positions. For example, have they been dealing with people face-to-face or on the phone? Their communication skills need to be professional. Computer skills are essential now in this industry.”

“Experience is fine,” says Furlow, “but sometimes, even with CAMs, if they’re not experienced but have a great personality and we feel they will stick around and want to grow, we’ll take the time to train them. Sometimes lacking experience isn’t a negative thing.”

Hart advises, “There is a significant turnover rate when hiring newly licensed CAMs, especially if they have no experience in a related industry, so we look for applicants who have apartment or home builder industry experience or have a background providing customer service. During the interview process, we search for individuals who have good communication skills. I especially want individuals who ask questions and listen—critical skills for dealing with homeowners and making meetings productive.”

“Our vision and our company values embody family spirit, customer service, integrity and accountability, loyalty, and innovation and improvement,” says Rossi. “Successful candidates embody the company culture and are passionate about the mission and values. Our hiring process also includes full drug screening, credit check, criminal history, and reference verification.”

“I want people skills above everything else in a manager,” advises Wolfram. “Can they engage with others and deal with a variety of personalities? Do they look at a situation as an opportunity to solve problems? Excitement and enthusiasm are important, too.”

great-emps-smGary van der Laan, Vice President at Leland Management, comments, “Character and personality are most important to look for. The skill side can be developed if you’re patient; you can train someone to do what’s needed. But as much as people love to try, we can’t change someone’s personality.”

If the initial phone interview is satisfactory, an applicant then proceeds to team interviews. “We have three or four senior level employees with different personalities interview them,” says Furlow. “If the applicant passes the first group, he may interview with a second group as well. The last group to interview a successful candidate will usually be upper management. I pick up on personality quickly, so it doesn’t have to be a long conversation. We want to meet with them and reiterate the culture at Leland.” This procedure is followed for any position, and Furlow comments, “We recently filled a front desk position—I call them ‘managers of first impressions’ because I feel it’s a critical position.”

“We’re only as good as the person who represents us,” adds van der Laan, “whether it’s a maintenance, manager, accounting, or office position. They’re wearing the shirts that say ‘Leland’; that’s why we take the time for interviews and training. We’ve picked up clients because someone who answered the phone was so helpful and took the time to respond properly.”

After the successful completion of interviews, Clement will check their background and references. “We do check three business references,” says Clement, “though I don’t give it a lot |of weight since I don’t think people will provide a bad reference. However, there are cases when people don’t know how their previous employer felt about them. Sometimes instead of calling, we have the applicant sign a document release form, and we send that with questions we’ve prepared. We seem to receive more response with the questionnaire than with phone checks.”

After hiring, the training begins. Van der Laan shares, “For the first 90 days, all new employees are in a mentoring program where they essentially shadow someone in their new position. Each department has their own training, including on-site positions. For example, the lifestyle [social] directors meet four times a year to discuss items specific to them. We are approved by the state for continuing education, so we are able to offer that also for free.”

According to Rossi, “Training is provided through Community Associations Institute (CAI) as well as Associa University, which provides employees with on-demand resources for all aspects of training and development at no charge. Relationships have been fostered with the University of Phoenix, Keller Graduate School, and Richland College to assist our employees in attaining certifications and continuing to further their education.”

Clement notes, “We provide cross-training so people are aware of how their job relates to other jobs—why processing a payment is important to a manager who’s going to be sitting in front of a board two nights later. It all ties together and goes back to our philosophy.”

Cross-training also prepares employees for promotions. Furlow explains, “Promotion is not just by putting in time; we communicate exactly what it takes to be a leader. If someone wants to move to management from administration, we’ll allow them to shadow to see what the job entails. We have had some employees who wanted to be a CAM but have gone back to the office. While there is flexibility, there are also extra hours and evening work in management.”

“We’re family-owned,” says Furlow, “so there is no big bureaucracy to deal with. There is an open door policy, so if there is an issue, you don’t have to go to your immediate supervisor. After the orientation period, new employees are invited to dinner so they know us more than just at the office. I believe you need to enjoy your job, which takes a happy environment. We try to help if someone’s having a bad day. Our philosophy is not that if you make a mistake, you’re fired. Instead, help is extended to an employee to correct errors. Also, sometimes family has to come first. For example, if the schools are closed and the wind is blowing 75 mph, I want my team to go home.”

To help build the team, Furlow explains, “Once a month a fun event is held, such as renting a theater to watch a new release, going bowling, or visiting a family center with laser tag. Each year a three-day team-building event is held where we provide the facilities and food for a theme-driven getaway. In addition to birthday parties and other celebrations, we hold an annual Christmas party with a gift exchange for 175 people! We used to have the Christmas party at our house, but unfortunately we’re too large now, and we have to use a hotel ballroom to accommodate everyone.”

Benefits are also a factor in the employment equation. “Our pay is competitive for the industry and the area,” Furlow relates. “As the situation allows, perks are available—a 401(k) plan and new insurance that includes medical, dental, and vision coverage. The day after Thanksgiving is a paid holiday. Being family-owned trickles down and makes an extra level of caring. We’re going to work together and try to make it the best place we can—which has led the team to vote this a great place to work.”

There are a number of factors in employees leaving, including long commuting time due to construction on freeways. “The turnover rate is low because of things we can control,” says Clement. “This is their career, their family, and their home. Most who leave are leaving the industry because it’s stressful or they’re retiring. The low turnover rate does mean that some employees may leave because they are eager to advance before an opening is available.”

“Employee retention starts with living the company’s values, open discussions about career paths, competitive standard benefits, and our exclusive ‘benefits plus program that provides a variety of discounts and services to employees,” comments Rossi. “Associa assists employees in achieving growth not only with our educational opportunities but also by encouraging employees to have long- and short-term goals to create a career development plan. Annual performance plans have been implemented for each employee and reviewed by supervisors to ensure that yearly performance objectives are being met and core values are being realized.”

“It is outrageously expensive for someone to be hired and not stay,” reports Furlow. “An analysis was done, and for 25 people to work ten weeks or less cost $1,200,000. That includes IT costs, a laptop, human resources hours, etc. Now you know why we go through three interview groups! But there are some applicants who look great, interview great, and have a great resume, but, in two weeks, we know they won’t make it. That’s why there is so much involvement early on. If we’re doing our job, we should let them go quickly if it’s not a good fit.”

Van der Laan observes, “For me, the biggest consideration when an employee is struggling is the rest of the team. My natural temptation is to think that we’ll work with them and they’ll get better, but thinking about the other employees and interactions means something needs to be done. There must be an environment that people want to work in.”

While employment is not a permanent union, it is a considerable investment. Brushing up what a company has to offer as well as fine-tuning what is expected of an employee may lead to a more cost-effective path to working happily ever after.