Leadership

D-Day, Logistics, and Student Housing Turn

Today is the 74th anniversary of D-Day (aka, Operation Overlord); the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe by Allied forces. The “D” just stands for “Day” and was a term used for any important military day, though now it has become synonymous with Overlord.

No doubt you’re familiar with D-Day, if only because you’ve seen “Saving Private Ryan” which begins with the beach landing. It was (and remains) the largest amphibious military invasion in the history of mankind, and it was a massive success.

Thinking about D-Day made me think about General Dwight D. Eisenhower as he was the Allied supreme commander for the invasion, and further how Eisenhower thought about logistics. In fact, it was his experience with logistics during his time in the military that influenced his decision to create the Interstate Highway System as President in 1956. One of the provisions was that every five miles of the system needed to have a stretch straight and long enough that a fully loaded C-130 should be able to use it as a runway in the event of war.

Eisenhower_d-day

The invasion was really a culmination of several other operations which required the build-up of men and materials. Infantry, ships, boats, ammunition, supplies, rations, fuel, everything needed to support the invasion had to be amassed and then put into motion flawlessly. Can you fathom?

bythenumbers2

Instead of warships, this isn’t much different than the maintenance supplies you may need for turn.

The fact that they knew what they needed, got it where it needed to be and when it needed to be there is an accomplishment so vast it’s impossible to fully appreciate.

If you’ve seen “Saving Private Ryan” then you have a snapshot of what the initial landing likely looked like to the first guys that showed up.

Dday beaches

A lot like a Turn schedule if you think about it.

In the world of Student Housing, our D-Day is “Turn” or the period where students move out en masse around the end of July while a new set moves-in a couple of weeks later. In the middle of our operation, we’re gathering intelligence, making repairs, painting, cleaning, moving furniture, replacing flooring and fixtures as needed, and getting everything ready for a new group of students and their parents.

At Knights Circle, we have some 2,500+ rooms, and we’ll typically turn between 1300-1650 rooms in about two weeks. Every room is unique and we have to record its condition, schedule the work, and ensure everything is shiny by move-in day – regardless of how the previous college student left it. Clearly, you can see how logistics matter, if you’re not already familiar yourself.

Most of the industry uses something like a dry erase board or a legal pad. If you’re turning 100 rooms, maybe that works, but for most places turning 500 or more rooms, that’s insane. Could you imagine Eisenhower overseeing D-Day with a clipboard?

I created an all-in-one solution which we dub our Placement Book or Turn Board, depending on what we’re doing. We use a spreadsheet as opposed to a Google Sheet due to the sheer size and number of calculations necessary to track the mammoth amounts of data. For smaller communities, a Google Sheet is a great solution as it can be accessed anywhere and multiple users can access it in real time. However, I recommend having as few chefs in the kitchen as possible, lest the broth be spoiled.

PB

Placement Book, aka Turn board for managing 2500+ beds.

We keep it updated throughout the year with who lives where, and who have renewed their leases in their current unit. This allows us to do all kinds of things without confusion and creates instant access to information for everyone on the team. Early move-ins? Late Move-outs? Transfers? Need to track carpet replacement for 786 rooms scattered among 2500? No problems at all.

TurnStats

Turnover Stats by building and by phase. This allows us to adjust which days we want to do which buildings depending on how many beds there are to turn in that building. 

Our latest iterations have also integrated real-time move-out inspection data so we know what level of painting, cleaning, or maintenance we may need to assign to our vendors. And our vendors LOVE working with us for this reason as they can get as many printouts as they want.

Due to how much automation we’ve built into our operation, we’re able to run full audits of various databases, conduct our roommate matching, get solid estimates for turn, and keep an accurate picture of our capital inventory by the unit and overall.

Turn is the most difficult part of the business and it hinges entirely on logistics. Accuracy ensures efficiency, which means people don’t get burnt out through long hours, which means their quality of work is better, which leads to fewer mistakes. Everything starts with accuracy and speed – two things most people don’t get at the same time.

The entire operation is a massive logistics game and winning it means winning your whole year. If you’re in Student Housing, and you want a consultation on how you can make your turn the best it can be with what you have, feel free to drop me a line. I love talking to other people in the industry about turn.

I’m no Eisenhower, but the lesson of D-Day hasn’t been lost on me.

 

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When you think you know what you’re looking for.

In this undated video (probably 2008), Best Selling Author Malcolm Gladwell explains how we have a fundamental mismatch problem in how we assess which people will be successful in a given field. He starts with the differences between NBA scouting combine results and how players actually wind up fairing in the league and then goes on to point out all sorts of other gaps as only Gladwell can

The whole talk is fantastic as Gladwell may be the greatest storyteller of our time. I could listen to the man read a Swahili phone book and I would swear it was Les Miserables.

Gladwell’s point here is that we absolutely suck when it comes to using criteria that will give us a meaningful incite to the how well a person will perform in a given role. For Teachers, we require all manner of certificates only to find these have virtually no impact on the actual performance of the teacher. Job interviews are generally only good for finding out if you’re attracted to someone, it turns out. Or perhaps they’re only useful for discovering if someone is very good in social interaction, but for all sorts of other jobs, how well one does in an interview translates poorly to the ultimate role they’ll have should they be hired.

Around ten years ago we had a major issue in a tough market where our newest Community Managers were getting their clocks cleaned. Their teams couldn’t sell to save their lives, and these new Managers were grossly incapable of teaching them how to sell as they’d never done it before themselves. How did this happen?

It turns out that we’d been promoting “Rental Managers” aka “Assistant Community Managers” who were responsible for collecting rent, running reports, and that’s about it. They avoided sales related work like it had two types of the plague. So, of course, when they got promoted to their own ship they had no idea how to hire for sales ability or how to teach it.

Why would we do this? Because the people in charge of minting the new Community Managers were people who lived in glass offices and who dealt a lot with reports. Guess who typically had great reports? Rental Managers. They were two peas in a pod. Of course, the Brass new that sales mattered, but they overlooked this factor when hiring because they liked the cut of the RM’s jib. They could see a bit of themselves in these up-and-comers, and did you see how clean their reports were? Plus they tended to LOOK like Community Managers.

The most vital component in a Community Manager at the time (in the toughest student rental market in the country) was the ability to rent units, the ability to hire people who could do likewise, and the ability to train the uninitiated on their team. And here we were hiring without any real regard for that fact. The people we should have been promoting to these roles were our best salespeople who lacked any of the care or ability for the paperwork reporting. That’s a relatively easy problem to solve – at least far easier than a whole team at a community that can’t sell ice water at noon in Phoenix.

Maybe the answer would have been to split the job into equal halves; give two nearby communities to a pair of Managers. One would be in charge of the sales and training for each while the other handled the books and reporting. The two would compliment one another and with any luck, some of their skills would rub off on each other. Maybe an Area Manager would have been the way to go, with a couple of executive salespeople put in place to cover the selling and training. There’s any number of solutions, but we were wildly wrong on our criteria for assessing a simple promotion and it cost us big.

I’m sure this mismatch is all too common for you as well. How many times have you experienced one in your life, where you or your organization made decisions on things by assessing criteria that mattered not a bit in determining the outcome or the best course of action? What blinded you? How did you eventually see past it, or have you?

“I Intend To”

Bureaucracy is a bitch.

What few people realize is that as an upper level exec, in a lot of too many organizations, there’s virtually no natural incentive to approve… well, anything. If you don’t approve requests or initiatives, what can go wrong? You don’t get some (rare) praise for accomplishing something – big deal. But if you approve something and it goes wrong??

As a young Community Manager, if I had a broken hot tub that needed a $1.6k repair and it was over my $500 spending limit, I’d need express written approval.  No biggie, right? I’ll just email my boss and get an answer.

After multiple follow ups, weeks later, there’s no answer beyond the yawning chasm of silence. Why wouldn’t they just tell me ‘no’ if that’s what they wanted? Because not answering the question meant they were the safest they could be.

See, there’s risk in saying yes to things. What if someone comes along later and says you screwed up by approving that thing which could have been done cheaper, better, differently, etc…? What if I get yelled at? What if… something something bad feeling?

I wasn’t alone. A LOT of my cohorts’ bosses did the same thing. Ignore, brush off, delay, deflect, slow roll, forget – anything to not have to take a stand on something that should be easy because the fear was always at their neck that they’d get ripped for it. They wanted express permission from the owner before they’d be ok saying yes. What point was there for their existence then? We could just get the permission from the owner if that’s all it was.

When the issue finally reached crisis level, the owner had the foresight to implement the system that Simon mentions at the 33 minute mark in this video: “I Intend To.”

The way it worked was, if we needed to do something and couldn’t get an answer, we’d fire off an email with “IIT:” in the subject line. If we weren’t told NO within 48 hours, we were free to do it. It changed the onus from getting approval to bosses having to say NO if they felt something shouldn’t be done.

As you can imagine, things improved immediately. Bosses who didn’t have good reasons to say no, besides their personal fear, could tacitly approve something without lifting a finger. Oh happy day!

And don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean to say there shouldn’t be checks and balances and proper vetting of capital requests. By all means, I’d include how many bids I’d received, what the nature of the issue was, what the repair proposed was, why that was a rational way to proceed and what the timeline would be. I’d proactively try to answer every question I could get to make sure it was in line with our company’s values and goals.

Bottom line or TL;DR: There’s all kinds of benefit in empowering your people as opposed to teaching them to subsist on compliance. Your people aren’t the problem, your environment, your culture are the problem.

Eliminate bureaucracy, breed commitment by increasing your team’s involvement.

 

Show Up. Or, Why Omelets Don’t Matter.

Note: this is a classic post from July 2012, hope you enjoy.

We’re all presented with a thousand decisions in a day – even the ones we don’t make are technically decisions – and I observed a few today and I thought I would share as I feel they are:

1. Completely random – so a good example of our lives.

2. Indicative of a theme I’d like to touch on – but let’s not spoil the fun just yet.

First, we have a Bistro at work which serves between 4 and 12 thousand meals a week. No biggie there, we’re getting quite good at it. One of our front line people is the best – totally awesome. She makes remarkable omelets with the deft precision of a Samurai, that happens to hold a personal grudge against unborn chickens.

Mmmmmm Omelet

 

 

 

 

On this particular morning we’re hosting a large sports camp which features 120 kids and assorted coaches. Towards the end of breakfast this omelet samurai asks me if she can make one of her famous omelets for the Head Coach (it’s his camp) as she wasn’t sure if he paid or not. This concern was voiced directly in front of said Coach whose business we’re eager to retain – omelets are never extra with breakfast.

Second: I’m told that we reportedly rebuffed a new Resident who relayed that their AC was not in working order on Saturday. As it didn’t constitute an “extreme emergency” we told them to wait for Monday. For those not familiar with Florida in late July, allow me to put down rumors about the unending cold front we experience during this time of year. In fact, we have Emergency Maintenance defined as “No AC when the temp outside is over 85 degrees.” I believe it was 99 on this particular day, though it could have been 93.

Third: A Senior Associate informs me that a parent is on the phone and wishes to renew their kid’s lease under an old offer letter we sent out weeks ago. The current offer is a much better deal for the Resident/Parent and we always offer unsigned leases the current deal.

It's that easy

So, what do all these have in common? This question haunted my entire day.

 

 

At my old place of work, we had these portraits of all the employees on the wall and each had a quote that supposedly the person lived by. The majority said some fluff like “Seize the day” though one stood out to me for its simplicity and eloquence. It read simply “SHOW UP.”

I thought “Is this good?” and let it marinate. Then, after a half hour, I grilled it up with some delicious business acumen and served it with a glass of “OH YEAH.” The words were from a new friend named Dan O’Connor and I couldn’t help but roll around in their brilliance. SHOW UP! How deep did those words go?

The decisions I cited all shared a lack of “showing up” – not in the physical sense, but in the other, deeper sense. Of being mentally “there” where things really happen. I’ve come to appreciate that the big difference between getting it done and saying we gave it our best, is the belief that by simply standing our post, that we’ve managed to “show up.”

Not by a long shot.

It’s not stupidity or ignorance of lack of experience – these three individuals are all some of our best. Seriously, I tout their drive and desire constantly. This was a case of not being there mentally, in a moment, and that’s all there is.

Make the omelet! Paid or not, who cares!? I’ve never beaten or punished someone for giving away three eggs and some veggies! Take a chance! On the guy you KNOW is the “The GUY” we’re trying to impress. Don’t call him a cheapskate in front of his face!

What, exactly is “an extreme emergency” pray tell? As opposed to a regular emergency? Which we don’t care about? If Weather.com tells you it’s 83.5 degrees outside and they’re not happy, call it in!

They want to renew and you want to pick a fight? Over someone giving you their hard-earned money? TAKE IT! By any means! Make it EASY for them! Fall all over yourself to accommodate them and make them happy! That’s what we do!

I felt failure today. Failure in transmitting the message. I often state that “It’s the spirit of the law that matters, not the letter” though I recognize not everyone hears this message. That is my fault and it’s my charge to make sure it’s known, and known well. Not with bigger bull horns, but with a better plan – not more regulation, but with more discussion. Conversations build empires and right now? I have a fiefdom.

“The single biggest misconception about communication is the belief that it has occurred.”

Be A Super Ethical Leader in 3 Easy Steps

 

Immanuel Kant is a boss. Like, the boss of bosses.

As far as philosophers go, he’s like the RZA of this here ethics game. He’s the one that really summed it up nicely, and gave everyone the central cornerstone of modern ethics: The Categorical Imperative!

categorical

Put simply: Act so that the maxim of your actions should be made universal and necessary. 

Ok, put even simpler: In whatever you do, act in such a way that you’re advocating that all people, everywhere, should always act in the same way, in that same situation.

So, if you shoplift, you’re saying by your actions that it’s in the best interest of all people everywhere to do the same. If you disagree, and think all people shouldn’t shoplift, neither should you – so don’t do it. Duh.

If you hold the door for people walking 10 steps behind you and let them in first, you’re saying everyone else should do the same. Also a good idea.

Boom. Lawyered.

Or, philosophized? Whatever. 

literallykant

Kant’s other central points were:

  1. People are an ends in and of themselves, not a means to an end – so treat them that way. Don’t intentionally harm them.
  2. A good act is a good thing in and of itself, regardless of the outcome. Even if you failed, a good act is its own reward.

Taken altogether, if practiced, you have the lion’s share of what it takes to be a good leader – or at least not a giant-garbage-person.

My take away?

  • Love people. At the very least, respect their humanity. Every one of them. Treat them decently, even if you don’t like them.
  • Do a good thing because it’s a good thing to do. That means being honest, keeping promises, give your best effort, learn from mistakes. Even if you fail, you did the right thing and that’s all it needs to be. Success received for doing the wrong thing isn’t any success at all.
  • Be a model for what you think is right – make sure you agree with what your actions say you believe in.

I wish I had another Kant pun to throw in here to close this thing out with, but I Kant think of one.

Waitaminute… I see what I did there.  I just Kant get enough of these puns.

You deserve to be recruited

 

You’re talented, you’re just not industry-famous. Yet.

You’re probably not even looking for your next opportunity. But wouldn’t it be nice if your next opportunity was looking for you?

That’s why we exist.

We’re student housing veterans, curating talented candidates for industry leaders. By pre-qualifying candidates and presenting only those we feel would be a great fit for the culture and location of the job at hand, we save time and effort for employers seeking to find their next rock star.

We’re confidential, free to talented candidates, and focused solely on the student housing industry.

Hiring Managers: You have incredible turnover, and the process of finding talent is tedious, and often unfruitful. We seek to help you quickly identify talent where you are, that’s pre-qualified, and a great fit for the culture you’re trying to build.

tphiring

We know all of this because we have around 40 plus years of experience at all levels of the industry. Creating a space for top talent to congregate just sounded like an amazing opportunity, so that’s what we did. We’re continuously refining our searchable criteria, and working on ways to best help your new career move find you.

Not a rock star yet? Are you a Leasing Agent, or CA, and thinking you want to make student housing a career?  We want you too! Among the toughest gigs to fill are Leasing Manager and Marketing Manager positions. We’ll be looking at you if you’re interested in making that step up.

Because privacy is essential, we let you make the decisions. Don’t want to put it on blast that you’re open to a promotion to the next level? Great. Sign up with us and let us know to contact you first to gauge your interest. It’s that simple. Or, if you’re wide open to having us share you with the world, we’ll do so when we find a job that sounds perfect for you. The point is, we’ll only share what you want us to.

It’s a new age, with new rules. You deserve to be recruited.

Let us know about you in as little as sixty seconds and we’ll be in touch for more info. Know someone in student housing? Send this to them to share the love. TalentPath.com

 

To write a better Mission Statement, have a better mission.

Planning is invaluable, but plans are useless.

Planning is invaluable, but plans are useless.

For the last year we’ve been discussing our Mission and who we want to be as a team. What’s the imprint of our collective souls and what words do we want to live by, faithfully? It’s not an easy question and it’s taken us the better part of a year, with regular meetings, to arrive at this:

In everything we do we seek to simplify the complicated. Because nothing is faster, we trust our teammates and clients freely and implicitly, and we treat them that way. Doing so builds a safe environment where communication is free-flowing, open, and honest.

Through this environment we continually work to innovate our operational systems to ensure the best possible user experience (UX), from first tour through graduation. Knights Circle creates an exceptional Student Housing experience by focusing on people, and a ceaseless desire to make their lives easier.

A few thoughts relating to our mission statement and how we went into the process of creating it:

It’s focused: We wanted something that wasn’t too long or too all encompassing – if you have five priorities, you have no priorities. We wanted to focus on systems because we all could and everyone had skin in that game. From the bottom up, our organization has an interest in making sure our systems work properly every time. Our clients’ satisfaction is directly wrapped up in our systems, as are our front line team members. If things work right, you’re generally happy with the service – both inside and outside the operation.

It’s not permanent:  I think too often people tend to assume that a mission statement needs to be god speaking for all time. Not so. It’s a living document, much closer to a constitution – this is how we’re assembled and for what purpose. If we no longer feel as though this speaks to our highest purpose, and there’s another revelation that we want to enshrine, then change it we will. The good news is we don’t need anything as unwieldy as a continental congress to do it.

It advises action: A mission statement that can’t help guide your choice in actions isn’t worth the time it takes to read it. If we’re going to say that we trust everyone implicitly, what’s that look like in action? Are there things we’re doing now that suggest we don’t trust people? For example, some managers have required doctor’s notes for absent employees who’ve called out for appointments. Requiring the note says fully “look, we don’t really believe you and we want to see proof – we don’t trust you and we have to protect ourselves from you.” That’s not at all the message we want to send, so we stop doing it. The same with our clients – if they want to switch rooms due to an unsolvable roommate dispute, requiring the jumping through of hoops for documentation in order to offer it, it says “We don’t believe you and we don’t trust you. You’re trying to get over on us and we’re not going to have it.” That was never the intention of course, but that’s the resulting feeling to the client.

 It’s honest: How many times have you looked at a company’s stated mission only to shake your head? The soaring platitudes are exhausting and immediately erode whatever trust you may have had. If an organization can’t be honest with themselves, how can they be honest (consistently, institutionally) with anyone else? We wanted to say something we all believed in and that we all wanted to live by. The best parts of US is our ability to work together and our shared desire to provide a great experience. We were honest with each other that while we’re pretty damn good at this thing, we’re not perfect and we’d like to get closer to that. Breaking it down we realized focusing our energies on perfecting our systems would have a ripple effect positively touching every other aspect of our business; Happier clients, happier Team, and more success.

Another great design by Danae McDermott

Another great design by Danae McDermott

We started with Why: A giant hat tip to Mr. Simon Sinek for his inspirational TED talk. If you’re not familiar, I can’t implore you enough to check out his work (Talks, books, consulting services, etc…) as he’s directly responsible for how we chose to approach this formulation. In short, Sinek advises that great organizations start with Why they do things, then How, then What. Most though do it the other way around and this gets it all wrong, eliminating any of the inspiration and identity that could be had between the client and the company. For an example, ours is as follows:

WHY: We hate needless complication. We like things to work seamlessly. We think we can simplify things better than anyone else because we understand WHY they ultimately should be that way.

HOW: Because we trust each other, and our clients, we’re able to be honest about our business and our shortcomings in our systems. We strive to fix our systems to eliminate institutional defects.

WHAT: An exceptional student housing experience. This starts with everything working the way it should. The exceptional part is that we’re also exceedingly nice and warm, happy people who love what they do and each other. Since we work in a system that values people and making things work, we’ve got lots of goodwill in our hearts to treat you like a rock star and to go out of our way for you. We’re not scared of you, or hiding from you – we want to delight you.

We think this should be a good overall statement for this coming year and I’m impressed with how the team has taken to it with enthusiasm. I’m confident that a year from now, we’ll be writing a different version that recognizes our shifting focus while retaining our core Why, and that’s how it should be. Involvement breeds commitment, and that’s one thing we have plenty of.

What’s your mission? How did you get there? Does it still serve you and your team?