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Managing the managers: Kirk Stafford on coaching PMs

Real estate veteran and long-time property manager Kirk Stafford discusses his new venture as The Property Manager Coach.

Just as it took Kirk Stafford a recession during the early ’90s to discover he was “a far better property manager than salesperson”, it wasn’t until the pandemic hit earlier this year that he realised he should step into property management coaching.

In doing so, he is filling a huge gap in the industry that had started to deeply concern him.

The signs that Kirk Stafford should be a property management coach were there before the pandemic. Late last year, he was tasked with rescuing a firm in the Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne who found their rent roll was in decline.

“I took over the management of the department,” he explains of this role.

“And I was the one who was doing all the heavy lifting in terms of dealing with the clients that were disgruntled.

“A lot of them had some genuine grievances about the way their properties were being managed, so it was a matter of settling them down and trying to retain as many of them as we possibly could. 

“Sometimes that’s not an easy task and some of the conversations that I had to have required quite a reasonable amount of what I call courageous conversation.

“You need to withstand the criticisms and the frustration that’s being directed at the business and at the individual property manager.”

Through this process, Kirk became aware that the job wasn’t just about fixing the concerns of his clients, but also making sure the property managers in the business felt they were being well-supported.

“I think one of the things my team recognised, and it was said to me a couple of times, was that I always had their back. And as a manager and a leader, it’s important that the team knows they’re supported.”

This seems obvious, but such support for property managers had seemingly been lacking for a while, according to Kirk.

“There are a lot of very good technical teachers in property management, but nobody’s coaching property managers on how to cope with being a property manager,” he explains.

“What their mindset needs to be, how they need to communicate with their clients. I talk resilience, I talk [about] courageous conversations.

“I pretty much tailor my approach to each individual client’s needs.”

As a natural leader, coaching has always come naturally to Kirk. 

“I’ve always wanted to see the people that I’ve led, the people that I’ve been responsible for, flourish. To do really, really well. I get a real buzz out of seeing someone that I’ve either been involved with as a coach or as a manager, and seeing them just fly.”

He refers to old team members he once led who are now running their own businesses.

“I get such immense joy out of seeing them succeed that it just makes my entire working life worthwhile,” he enthuses. 

“Every time I see one of my clients or previous team members have success, I’m there celebrating.”

——

When COVID-19 hit, Kirk had just resigned from a position as the head of property management with a major franchise operation.

“I thought, ‘I’ll pick up another role fairly quickly, it’s not going to be a concern,'” he recalls.

“Four days later, the world shut down.” 

While he admits his timing wasn’t too flash from an income perspective, this forced period of spare time found Kirk spending a lot of time talking to other property managers.

“And what I saw was a lot of unhappiness,” he recalls.

“They were subject to immense pressure. We had a period of nearly seven weeks from the time Scott Morrison said ‘evictions are banned’ to the time that we could actually effectively start to implement some of the regulations and the legislation. 

“So we were rudderless for that seven weeks. I was watching my industry colleagues going into severe anxiety, and the stress and overload on them was immense.

“That started me thinking about the way they are supported, and the way they are led and coached.”

This train of thought led to a realisation: the way property managers are trained is heavily skewed toward the technical, while the emotional aspects are often neglected.

“There’s a lot of talk about legislation, there’s a lot of talk about process and procedure, and there are plenty of courses,” he reasons. 

“But there’s nobody in the industry that has a deep knowledge of it, who is actually talking about things like their value set, their mindset, or how to deal with the pressures that are on them, on a daily basis. 

“We’re just expected as a professional group to somehow know these things.”

He points out the mental support that salespeople in real estate receive, and the coaching industry that has built up around mindset and mental health within a sales context. 

“Some of it’s really good, but a lot of it isn’t really applicable to property managers – so that’s where the Property Management Coach has been born.

“I saw this gap there in terms of what was being offered,” he continues. 

“I don’t think the directors were even conscious of the fact that this wasn’t there; the conversations I’ve had with directors since then, it’s almost as if you can hear the light switch being turned on: ‘Yeah, you’re right – there isn’t anything like that’.”

Kirk views the different ways in which sales and PMs are supported as emblematic of an entrenched view within the industry. 

“I think there’s still a bit of a view – which is an entrenched view, and whilst changing, it’s still there – where the property management department is set up in a little corner of the office and they’re just left to do their thing. 

“Sales is the glamour boys and glamour girls, they bring in the big comms, and they need to be on top of their game mentally to do so. Understandingly. 

“But nobody gives the same level of support to their property managers…or very few do,” he corrects.

“There are some really progressive companies that are doing it, but in the main, property managers that I’ve spoken to have felt really unsupported.”

Kirk is in the middle of doing a national survey of property managers which he hopes will shine a light on this trend.  

One of the questions he poses is: ‘What are the reasons you would leave the firm you are with?’

“If you take out ‘more flexible hours’, and ‘better pay’ – which is what everyone wants – one of the top two answers is: ‘I would go to a company if there was a more supportive director’. Now, that says a lot.”

Even more alarmingly, only 40 per cent of respondents say they’d be happy to stay put at their company if things remain as they are. 

“Three out of five people have said they would leave – and there’s a number of reasons – but one of the top two was to go to a firm where the directors gave them more support.”

Kirk will release the results of this survey in roughly three weeks.

“It’s just showing there’s a frustration from property managers in the level of support they’re getting,” he says.

Lack of support leads to a lack of self confidence, which is one of the major hurdles that property managers have to deal with, according to Kirk.

“That’s where it all starts,” he says. “When you’ve been battered around for long enough – you’ve got landlords complaining and tenants complaining and directors coming to you and saying, ‘I’ve had another complaint’ – your self esteem starts to take a bit of a hit.

“It’s only a very small cohort of your client base that will ever be this way,” he hastens to add.

“But if you keep hearing from them more than you hear from everybody else, that’s what you take your mindset from: that you’re always under siege, that you’re always being criticised, that you’re not doing a good enough job. 

“That might be only two or three people out of a rent roll of 150, but they’re the vocal ones, and they get into your head.

“It’s a matter of stopping that noise from affecting you for the rest of your day – of seeing the context and having some perspective around it.”

In time, Kirk plans to sit down with his own business coach and work out a way in which he can suitably scale his coaching business. After all, it was another mentor that Kirk first floated the idea with, to get a gauge of whether it was a good one.

Kirk’s mentor simply asked: “What’s taken you this long to do this?”

Given his gravitational pull towards leadership, and his extensive property management experience, it’s a solid point.

“It’s only because the opportunity has arisen,” he reasons. 

“That’s what COVID’s brought a lot of us: the things we thought were important are less so, and the things that are important really revolve around how we see ourselves.”

As with most things, it’s all about perception.

Check out the PM Coach online for more info.

Kirk Stafford is also joining the Transform 2021 coaching crew – for more information and to book tickets visit eliteagent.com/transform2021.

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