EPMEPM: Feature Interview

Property managers love problems: Sam Nokes

After more than a decade in property management, Sam Nokes has worked his way up to Head of Department at Jellis Craig. Overseeing a team of 24 who manage a rent roll of over 1,600 properties, he’s also learned a thing or two about problem-solving.

One thing Sam Nokes is sure about is the number one thing a property manager needs for a successful career is problems.

“You need to love problems. If you don’t love problems find another job, because professional problem solver and property manager are interchangeable titles,” he says.

“The more problems we have to solve the more excited we should be, because if we don’t have problems then we don’t have a job. I love problems.”

Since getting his start in property management as a work experience student in high school, Sam’s been building a reputation in Victoria. The South Yarra resident also works in the region, managing properties across the Jellis Craig offices in Armadale, Richmond, South Yarra and Sorrento.

Sam’s current role focuses on strategy and growth, as well as mentoring his team of 24 who are spread out across the four offices. Keeping control of a large team, especially when they’re not in the same location, can be tough; but the key is to establish trust and set up clear processes.

You can’t hire the first person through the door: our process takes weeks.

“Trust and engineering are the two important things there. We’ve tried to embrace giving our team as much trust as possible, because we want them to feel engaged and feel ownership of the work they do.”

Not only is there no time to micromanage when you’re working with a large team, giving your team autonomy also allows your workers to take pride in the work they deliver. By giving them trust and letting them know you believe in their work, property managers are able to take control of their own portfolios and tackle problems without constant managerial input.

It helps when you hire the right people. Sam says the employment process in his offices can take weeks, but it’s important that they find the right person for the role.

“You can’t hire the first person through the door. Our process takes weeks to go through, but it’s engineered that way on purpose to make sure we have the right people in the team. It’s worth a bit of pain in the meantime. If we have a role open for a couple of weeks without someone in it, that’s just the price we pay for building a great team.

“You want people who enjoy the work they do and are happy being here. That translates to customers who you know are extremely happy and will be getting the best experience.”

There’s been a steep learning curve for Sam when it comes to management. Understanding how to handle different personalities in a team is something he used to think was a waste of time, but now he realises that delivering a management style unique to the requirements of each worker achieves better results.

“We adapt our style. It depends on the situation and the person, and there’s a shift between the levels of requirement from each team member. We need to work really closely with some team members, compared to others where we’re very hands-off.”

To improve communication across the offices, Sam and his team work on a need-to-know basis. An overflow of information can result in employees switching off, information getting missed and overflowing inboxes.

“Understanding the depths of messages for different groups of people is really key. If you’ve got a project on and 80 per cent of the business needs a top-line overview of it, then they don’t need to understand the detail and have that communicated.”

Knowing the audience and who is receiving the information means it is easier to decide who needs the most detail.

Keeping the workplace engaged with a quick FYI email gives them all the information they need, Sam explains, rather than holding a conference call for every tiny change in a project. The same can be said for handling landlords and tenants. Not every communication needs to provide too much information; most clients are satisfied with a couple of lines, and the ones who require more will request it. Plus, knowing the audience and who is receiving the information means it is easier to decide who needs the most detail.

One of the things Sam is known for in the industry is a focus on mentoring and training. Property management training doesn’t traditionally receive the same focus as sales, but a lot of leaders in the industry have suggested this could change. While it’s something Sam feels is important, he doesn’t see it changing any time soon.

“Property managers get promoted because they hang around long enough and therefore they become a head of department. Then, when someone asks a question that they don’t know the answer to, they decide to do some training. That’s the basic process for how training develops in property management.”

Sam’s offices have embraced the push for sales training by combining the BDM team with the sales team for training sessions. This means the whole team is getting training at least once every fortnight, and the property management team also have access to the Real+ platform.

“Unless someone is willing to invest the resources, it’s not going to change. It needs to start higher; the heads of departments need to hire trainers.”

Sam will be speaking at the ARPM Conference on 19-20 August at The Star, Sydney. For more information visit arpmconference.com.au.

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