Want to up your retention? Take a cue from the folks in HR!

If you're like about 78% of people out there working in the corporate world, you hate dealing with human resources.  I've heard it all, that they're slow, they're ingenuine, they're inefficient, they hold up progress, they AREN'T as confidential as you'd like them to be and that, at the heart of it all, their main job is to dispense red tape all over any new good idea or substantial growth concept.

Yup.   I've heard it all.  But I don't agree with it.

From a corporate point of view, the folks in HR have a rough job.  They have to keep people in a "non threatening" work environment while still making sure that everything is running smoothly, no new initiatives leave us open for lawsuits, and no one is doing their boss in the supply closet.  They hear all the gripes, all the gossip and none of the grateful praise for how well they do their jobs. 

Come to think of it, minus the supply closet shenanigans, doesn't it sound a little like a Leasing Consultant job description?   My quotes here come from a chat I recently had with Laurie Ruettimann, writer of Punk Rock HR.

"It all makes sense..."

"It's about doing it right the first time"
Great theory for property management, but it's more "Doing it right the first time, when we can."  Sometimes, often times, in property management, it's a trial and error process.  But being stubborn and pigheaded about having to keep the same strategy for every problem, that's just stupid.  Every person is different, and every case on a property should be looked at individually.  Heck, every PROPERTY is different, and so what works for one won't work for another.  If it's not right, make sure the second option is, because do you want to risk striking out on that third pitch and losing the lease?

Being bound by confidentiality
Do you want people publicizing your yearly income?  That you work for Microsoft?  That you have a credit score of 520?  That you even live somewhere?  That you're having a steamy, clandestine affair with the maintenance tech for the property you live at? (I hope you're not... that would be bad.  It's unprofessional.)

I know I don't.

We can't keep gossiping about our residents and our coworkers.  Gossip is gasoline on fires that burn out strong property management teams.  Personally, I learned this one the hard way.  I was angry at a coworker and told others about it in a very unprofessional and highly stupid mistake.  It not only colored my relationship with that coworker, but also, for a period of time, my reputation with the company.  No matter how juicy the gossip, we have to just keep our mouths shut, or our community will implode on itself.

"Being proactive"

This one to me means at least two things.  In the human resources world, they are all about solving snowball sized problems before they become avalanches.  They're also about taking a step back before they jump in the whirlpool swirling with complaints and problems so that they can see a better solution.  For Leasers out there, this concept also can go a couple of different ways.

1)  Don't be a reactive person.  When someone comes in who is angry, it's in our nature as human beingsto react to that.  Fight or Flight, the psych 101 class called it.  Both of those are REACTIVE actions and both of them are wrong in 99% of workplace cases.  We react to an angry resident and we promise things like rent concessions because we want to make them happy again. Step back, take some time to think and regroup, ask the person what they want, and then get back with them.  Snap judgments should only happen when you have a water main flooding a unit or some other craziness that inevitably happens at 5:45 on Friday.

2)  If the copy machine is jammed, FIX IT.  At least try.  Do you have a problem with parking? Dog Poop?  Getting certain smells out of walls and carpeting?  How about [insert current hot customer complaint here]?  Can you think of a way to fix any of these? Even if the idea that you have won't work, there's probably a grain of good idea in there somewhere that might be a doorway to the real solution.  There is a reason that top minds meet to brainstorm.  It's because brainstorming actually works.  Make lists of ideas, solutions, resident activities, all of it!  Keep them in a notebook and take a great concept to your boss every now and then.  (I once had a manager who asked me to keep a notebook and I could show it to him once a month.  I found it hard to sit on ideas that long, but that amount of time let me see problems that could happen down the road, and let me have 50 new ideas to show him in my 30 minute meeting instead of 50 new ideas, each one interrupting his day and taking 5-10 minutes when they popped in my head.  Ideas are awesome, but don't forget that time management is pretty key to our industry as well!)  As leasing consultants, we are trained to overcome objections before they are even voiced by our future residents.  This is a great technique, but imagine if we took it one step further.  Instead of just overcoming the objection... why don't we eliminate the objections that we can?  We can solve things like there being dog poop everywhere.  We can solve things like the gym smelling like the bottom of a foot.  Roll up your sleeves and get in there!

"Engaging with your customers and seeing them as clients"
Our residents ARE our clients.  We are essentially account managers for 153 or 244 or 697 accounts (depending on how many homes your community has) and until we remember that EVERY interaction with our "clients" is a business interaction, our retention will not increase.  Look at it this way: Do you go out to dinner with a client and drop the "f bomb" during dessert?  Do you talk about that disgusting fungus that you've had growing on your toes with the VP of Sales for Microsoft?  Then why are you any less professional with your residents?  They are our clients, not just our customers and when we start seeing that, as Laurie put it, "It's a win/win for the clients as well as the company."

"Doing things with the best of intentions"
It was a good idea at the time.  This is probably one of the most common justifiers to ever come out of my mouth.  When we do something, even if we do it wrong, but we set out with the best of intentions, then we always have the sword of right on our side.  Yes, the road to hell is paved with dreams of good intentions, but roads always lead two ways.  It's your choice to make the U turn when you see it's not working, or to plow ahead and then wonder why it didn't work 6 months later.  The trick here is moving forward with good intentions, but watching every step we take.  Community self-awareness goes a long way.

"Living up to your commitments"

This one comes back to one of my favorite training mantras. I make my leasers repeat it to me at least six times. NEVER PROMISE ANYTHING YOU CAN'T PERSONALLY DELIVER!  Also, if you tell someone you will call them back to touch base at 5pm on Friday, then DO IT!  Nothing says, "I don't value you," more than ignoring your commitments.  Make your word stronger than oak, and you will see that retention build.  People pay who they trust.

"Taking Vital Signs"
How often do you touch base with your residents when you aren't looking for late rent?  When you aren't asking them some question that requires them to give you either money or a form back?  In HR, they try to contact employees to take the vital signs:  How's your stress?  Are you feeling job satisfaction?  How's your life in general?  What can we do to make it better?  

I firmly believe in a resident contact plan were you make contact with your residents, either by HANDWRITTEN note, phone call, or in person, at least once per quarter per apartment home.  If you think about it, this isn't an overwhelmingly hard task.  It could be that you need to talk with 5 residents a day... or a week.  It's the past good that we've done that saves the lease when we've messed up.

"Why is the first time you hear from me during your Exit Interview"
This rolls in with my prior comment as well, but since a lot of properties are now implementing an exit interview policy, I wanted to touch on it lightly.  If the first time you hear complaints and problems is during that exit interview, then it's time to start looking at how easy it really is to talk to your Leasing Consultants, Assistant Manager, or Property Manger.  Do you/they listen?  Not just hear and nod and smile, but LISTEN?  People can sense when you aren't really engaged in what they're talking about, and they shut down and get angry.  Watch your staff and see how they handle a complaint in front of the resident and after.  If they're great with the initial problem but suck with the follow through, training on that is NOT a waste.  One of the most important skills a leasing consultant or any property management staff member can possess is adept conflict resolution.  Train, train, train on it and it will pay off in retention dollars.

We are the beating heart of any property when we sit in a leasing office.  We have not only become sales and customer service representatives, but we have also become the human resources department for that property when we agree to work there. Resident retention is in the same vein as worker retention.  Look at your turnover... what could you be doing differently.

(When I started writing this entry, I talked to Laurie Ruettimann, who runs one of my favorite HR blogs, Punk Rock Human ResourcesI started reading her and HR Wench and The Evil HR Lady when I began this job with Career Strategies, since about 35% of what I do is Human Resources work, and I thought I had no idea what I was doing when it came to the intricately complicated field of HR.  What I came to find was that my time as a Resident Relations Manager more than adequately prepared me for that side of my current job.  Ask me about employment laws, workman's comp, union rules, etc. though, and I'll run like a madwoman.  Laurie gave me some awesome guidance and so I want to pass along some mad props to her!  These women are some of those people who have unique perspectives on the universe due in part to time spent in the HR world and I encourage everyone to go check them out!)

"Clean for a day" - A Renewal Idea and a Relationship Tip

"Where do you find your people?!" and "Why didn't your guy go apply through the website?"