EPMEPM: BD & GrowthEPM: Leadership

Lessons Learnt In a Really Big Business (Pt. II)

LAST ISSUE, BROCK FISHER discussed his findings in scaling a PM business. But if you really want to grow while staying productive and profitable, you’ll need to study these as well.

    All businesses need great systems and procedures. I love a system and a process that works. But to work effectively and be fully used, a process or checklist needs to be simple and user-friendly, while still achieving the desired outcome.There is no point just having systems purely for systems sake. Over-complicating things and having onerous procedures that take up lots of time yet add no value becomes suffocating, stifling productivity and team morale. It’s the equivalent of government bureaucracy and red tape.Any system is only as effective as the way it is managed and monitored. Systems fail all the time, not because they don’t exist but because they are too time-consuming for a manager to check, or too clunky and inefficient for a property manager to use. A lack of utilisation and a lack of monitoring and accountability leads to a process being an obsolete and pointless exercise.

    If you are frustrated by the difficulty in implementing processes and having your team adhere to them, then simply ask yourself ‘Is this user-friendly? Would I happily do this every time?’ Theory is awesome, but it’s how it works in practice that counts. Achieving true simplicity needs to be the goal, but it’s actually quite difficult.

    I had not previously paid that much attention to efficiency in property management and that is a fatal mistake. Finding better ways to produce the same or better quality in a faster time is a huge advantage.Saving 30 minutes doing an entry condition report with an integrated app, or saving five minutes producing a lease renewal document, might not seem like an epic achievement. But when you start to add up all these small savings you begin to notice something quite big, both on an individual level and company-wide. If you are doing 3,000 of each of those things per annum, just those two things alone save almost 2,000 hours of work per year – the equivalent of a whopping 46 working weeks. It’s the combination of these sorts of improvements that can make the difference between having a lunch break each day or not. And leaving on time at 5pm or not.Consider whether you could streamline how you operate so that each property manager could manage just 10 more properties in the same amount of time. In our business, finding a way to do that means that you develop capacity to manage an extra 260 extra properties.

    The principle of ‘Kaizen’, or continuous improvement, is one which we think about daily. It is covered in a great book called The Toyota Way which discusses the unique ways in which Toyota have been able to dominate global automotive production while achieving incredibly high standards of build quality and customer satisfaction.

    Even small things like the placement of a photocopier and mail tray, or where trays are placed on desks or elsewhere in the office, can have an effect on how much work a property manager can do in a day.

    As a leadership team, whenever we look at a process or an improvement the first thing we consider is ‘Does it deliver a measurable benefit?’ If not, then don’t do it that way. Find a better way.The second thing we then consider is ‘Is it scalable to do it that way?’When I first started working in the leadership team, I heard this term bandied about all the time and initially I never really grasped what it was all about. However, now it is a term I hear myself using all the time. The proverbial penny has dropped.

    For any new process, system or improvement you are about to implement, if you were twice the size would it still work? And would it be economically feasible to do so? If the answer is not ‘Yes’ to both those things then you may want to reconsider your approach.

    Some things work well on a small scale, but once they get larger they become the dominant feature of someone’s working existence. Before you know it, you need to add additional staff or resources to continue to maintain the current standard.

    If it is not economically feasible to add more people to perform that task, then a re-think is advisable. Even if it can still be done by the one person, it may take up so much of their time that it becomes detrimental and this is not ideal either.

    A great example of this is how we used to survey our clients for the Rental Express Loyalty Score, which is a customer service metric based on the Net Promoter Score ideology. We’ve been doing this since 2008, and the business is now around three times the size that it was then. What used to be a relatively simple manual process using the Survey Monkey program and some Excel spreadsheets became a highly labour-intensive and difficult task that was taking up to two weeks of one person’s time every quarter.

    We’ve now implemented a software program that handles the whole process automatically and offers significant extra benefits over our old system. And the beauty of it is that now it literally takes no time at all, yet is far more effective and reliable.

    In a large team, it is so important that everyone clearly understands what everyone else does and where their responsibilities begin and end. There should be no holes or grey areas. More importantly, team members also need to know they are supported and empowered to make decisions and take action in their respective areas of responsibility.But, equally, we never want to foster an environment where people dodge issues by saying something is not their responsibility. That is precisely not the point I am wanting to make here. Teamwork is hugely important, and responsibility- dodging, I believe, is more a symptom of culture and how people are managed.If you are building a big business, the enemy of efficiency is double or triple handling created by team members drifting from their own areas of responsibility into other people’s areas. It creates confusion within the team and with clients, and it is a waste of everybody’s time.

    So be clear, and constantly reinforce to educate all of your team, because there are few things that hinder productivity quite like having two or three people working on the same problem unbeknownst to each other.

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Brock Fisher

Brock Fisher is Executive Manager, Industry & Partnerships at Kolmeo, a property management software business focused on solving for all the people in property – the renters, the owners and the property managers.