EPMEPM: Best Practice & LegislationEPM: First Person

Lessons Learnt In A Really Big Business

BROCK FISHER TAKES AN HONEST LOOK back at the learning curve he experienced when he joined Rental Express after managing a much smaller rent roll.

Before Rental Express, the biggest department I had worked in managed 500 properties. Now, working in a multi-layered business looking after 4,500 properties, with organic growth of 900-plus properties per year, has been quite an eye-opening experience.

Despite the challenges, there are great advantages to having a really large business which make it worth the effort. Economies of scale and the ability to spread resources and develop new things are big advantages. If you have a rent roll of 200 and spend $10,000 developing an owners’ app, that’s $50 per property. If you have 5,000 properties it’s  only $2 per property!

The learning curve has been steep and confronting at times. However, it doesn’t matter how big your team is; the following has relevance in businesses of any size.

I could sum it up in one word, but that wouldn’t make for particularly good reading, so let me elaborate a little further.

I have a whole new understanding and an acute appreciation of the value of time that I never had before.

Both my time, and the time of others. The time it takes to do things, all things. The huge value in saving time. Where and how I am spending my time. Whether what I am doing at any given point in time is adding value.

This article could easily have been called ‘Realisations of a non-delegating perfectionist’, or perhaps even ‘Ways you could be inadvertently stifling your business’. I have found that working in a really big business amplifies all the habits and tendencies you already had but were possibly oblivious to.

Previously, if I lost an hour here and there solving problems for team members instead of coaching them how to do it, or dabbling in things that other people were also dabbling in, it wasn’t such a big deal. But multiply that by 20 and all of a sudden there goes the working week and all of the core duties that should be getting done.

I have learnt so much from the talented team I am fortunate to work with, but here are four of my favourites.

Deeply embedded in my personality is a need to solve problems in a fantastic way because no one could possibly do it as well as I could – or at least that what I thought. It took me quite some time to realise just how selfish and egotistical that is.

While solving a problem may give me a nice feeling of satisfaction, it is hugely problematic for any business in a number of different ways. One person spending 10 hours solving problems is nowhere near as efficient as 10 people taking one hour to solve the same number of problems.

Being the chief problem- solver in a business stifles the development of your team because it fails to upskill and grow them, leaving them less engaged and motivated in their roles. They do not get the morale boost that comes with improvement and achieving things they doubted they could do.

So don’t solve the problem. Instead coach, support and guide others to solve their own difficulties. With greater skills come fewer  problems and better outcomes. Get your team members into the habit of bringing at least one possible solution when they bring  a problem, and guide them to reach their own solutions rather than telling them what to do – or worse still, just doing it yourself.

One of the easiest ways to do this is when someone on your team comes to you with a snag ask them the simple question, ‘What do you think we should do?’ You might be surprised that nine times out of 10 they already know the answer. And if they don’t, follow up with ‘What are our options?’

Sometimes all a team member needs is someone to endorse or validate that they are on the right track when they are having a moment of self-doubt.

Having spent 15 years as a notorious non-delegator, two years ago I discovered delegation and it has quite literally changed my working life. I just never really ‘got it’, I told myself, but the reality is I just resisted letting go and allowing others to shine.

I can thank our General Manager, Tara Williams, for the simple clarity imparted by Figure 1 that assisted the proverbial penny to drop.

Leveraging the numbers and talents of our team gets things done faster and keeps our business moving at a brisk pace. Relying on one, two or even three people to implement all the improvements around a business just results in things never getting done, or taking an eternity to complete.

Coincidentally, two years ago I also put a Virtual Assistant on to handle much of the monthly reporting and compliance checks in the business that I was doing at the time. Rizelle is faster and more accurate than I was, and this alone saves me on average 15 working weeks a year – time that I can spend improving, developing and moving the business forward.

I have also been able to create and implement a whole range of extra checks and balances that I always wanted to do but never had the time.

In relation to the above two points, let me just say this: If you give a team member the chance to shine, they generally will.

Our Director, Chris Rolls, gave me a simple insight into what is actually really important to develop a growing business when he drew me a picture similar to Figure 2. It is the ‘important but not urgent’ things that result in efficiency gains and business advancement. These are the things in business where you find yourself using sentences that go a bit like ‘It would be great if we could…’, or ‘I wish this flowed better’, or ‘That’s not user-friendly – why don’t we….?’

The challenge is that managers and department heads often spend most of their time getting bogged down on the urgent and important things – things that need doing now, sorting out the never-ending spot fires that happen in a property management department.

But this means that the improvement and growth of the business can falter because it’s not being worked on consistently, and stagnation is the result.

Putting it another way, you need to spend time working on the department and not in it. That’s where real progress comes from. Since I discovered delegation and changed my approach to problem-solving I have been able to spend a lot more time working in this space.

If you are going to be big you are going to be noticed and scrutinised, so you’d better be ready for it. Legislative compliance does not take into account business scale in any way. For example, the 10 days permitted to lodge a bond is the same 10 days whether you manage 200 properties or 4,500 properties.

But the checks and safety nets needed to ensure compliance in a 200-property office are vastly different to the checks and safety nets needed in a five-office, 4,500-property operation. Exponentially different, in fact; but it is still the same 10 days, so you need to be slick, streamlined and operate with bullet-like precision.

You can’t be everywhere checking to make sure people are doing a great job, which is why you need easy-to-follow systems and great reporting to catch the things that will inevitably be missed. Mistakes exist in all businesses, because humans make errors. It’s how you find and solve these that really counts.

If you skimp on your systems, compliance and data entry in the beginning, it will bite hard later. Thinking that little bit longer, harder and more big- picture, and getting it right from the beginning, saves you a world of pain in the future.

When you find that you haven’t captured a particular piece of data or information effectively and you need to change the way you do it, it is painful to have to update 200 property files. But when you have to update 4,500 files, you learn very quickly to give it more time at the start.

Time is a precious commodity, so make sure you are maximising the use of yours.

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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.