Student Housing

Where Winners Spend their 2%

I don’t know if you remember but for close to a decade, starting around the mid-2000s, people couldn’t shut up about Steve Jobs. This seemed to coincide with the release of the iPhone, YouTube, and social media, which makes sense.

All of the content seemed to herald Jobs as Tech-Jesus. The iPod was the second coming of the WalkMan, but better, and iTunes seemed to have solved the music industry crisis brought on by Napster and P2P sharing sites. Truly, Steve was a god among men. I was unmoved by all of it.

Maybe it was because of where my head was at the time but it all seemed a little fan-boyish to get so wrapped up in a dude that owned one outfit. And they were making a cell phone? Without a keyboard? Way to waste a billion dollars, my dude.

Except it was everything. But I never appreciated why before I saw this video.

My biggest takeaway was Steve discussing how they looked at Information Technology and how companies were obtaining it. All of them spent around 2% on IT, but they differed in where the bulk of those purchases went. Not-so-successful companies spent it on management productivity. Successful companies spent on operational productivity.

What does that mean?

It means that regular joes were focused largely on incremental improvements to how they already did things. A better email client, server, PCs, etc… Successful companies were focused on applications that could do repeatable and automatable things for them. The second requires more effort than buying something off the shelf. Applications had to be made and coded at a time when that wasn’t an easy thing to do. Steve focused on applications when the vast majority of people had never heard of the term.

The iPhone dominated with the advent of apps. Your phone could do things now. Your phone could execute tasks that tangibly made your life better. For at least three years, you couldn’t go a month without someone telling you about the next killer app you needed to download. What could the Blackberry do? Bang out long-winded emails with ease? That was about it.

This especially resonated with me as that’s where our focus is; automate and create custom functions that add continuous value. In our business, competitive advantage looks like high renewal rates and lower operating costs, and the best way to get there is with great systems.

RIP, Steve. At least one of your movies was really good.

Defend the Brand

Seth Godin’s blog post today “Defender of the brand” was a salient reminder of what we’re aiming to do. In the piece, he reminds his readers that a Marketing Officer’s first duty is to ensure the brand experience is one of quality. All the ads in the world are meaningless if the execution of the business is poor.

In my experience, the best advertising, amenity upgrade, or value-add is an operations system that works well. Many people take their systems for granted but spend five minutes talking to the person answering the phone and you’ll see that isn’t the case. Tap on any area of the business and you’ll find ad hoc patches pasted on by an insufficiently supported front-line staff.

I’ve met too many people that think focusing on the surface details will be enough to make a difference. Sure, superior finishes, polished marketing, remarkable design will all have a positive impact. However, without an enjoyable, engaged staff that feels supported and heard, it won’t mean much.

The student housing business is full of bright shiny underperforming assets and always has been. It’s not all metal, glass, and stone. It’s also hearts and minds.

Want to get the best performance out of any business? Here’s the recipe:

  1. Listen and support the people doing the work. Make their lives as easy as possible; solve their problems with them. Their problems are your problems.
  2. Let those people help your customers have an easy/fun experience.
  3. Rinse, repeat.

Do this ruthlessly. Over and over again. Defend the brand by ensuring what the brand stands for is a quality experience.

Push Decision Making Down

Captain David Marquet of the USS Santa Fe turned his ship from worst to first by pushing decision making – and with it, commitment, innovation, passion – down the org chart.

As I’ve written about before, the default position of most in charge is “no.” There’s precious little upside to saying yes, especially if you’re not completely versed in the scenario or stakes. And who has time to get versed in the scenario? So, the response is silence; static at the other end of the line. “No” wins the game by default.

In this video, Captain Marquet discusses how he went from a “permission-based” system to an “intentions-based” one and the results that came with it.

The captain decided to reverse the polarity of the decision-making. In a conventional organization, the top gathers data from the people closest to the product/service, mull it over, and then dictates back what is to happen next. They are always reactive, and usually reacting later than needed to be of much use. Most of the time management didn’t know a problem existed until it had already been solved by the front lines, or at least a patch had been created that allowed the mission to continue.

I watched my former mentor, Nathan Collier, wrestle with this first hand. He lamented early in my career that as we continued to grow as an organization we’d face new challenges in communication and decision making. How could we react swiftly and competently if we decision-makers in the organization couldn’t or wouldn’t make timely decisions? The first time I heard this was in 2004 and it became a theme that ran for years and haunted most conversations with general managers and up. Few had good answers.

In one moment of quiet introspection with 35 or more stuffed into a conference room someone slammed the table and shouted “Get ‘er done!” The room was silent for all of twenty seconds before this interruption and that was enough to kill the mood. They didn’t get it – this wasn’t something to be muscled through.

What got you here won’t get you there.

Marshall Goldsmith, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful

Nathan liked that quote and I understood why he’d employ it week after week. The acumen and systems that built the backbone of a local company were all but useless for managing a decentralized company that would span cities and states. He found Captain Marquet’s book inspirational and the era of “I intend to” (or “IIT”) was launched around 2008.

Now, all a GM needed was to send an email to their Regional Manager with IIT in the subject line and their proposed course of action. They’d flesh out their reasoning in the body, but that was it. If not responded to 48 hours later they were free to proceed.

And then it ended as quickly as it began.

There were 4-5 Regional Managers inundated with “IIT” emails from 25-30 GMs declaring their intent to do everything from approve capital repairs to changing marketing campaigns. Regionals had 48 hours to respond with a reason not to do whatever that thing was or the GM was free to carry it out. Regionals couldn’t keep up as a backlog of delayed projects suddenly sprang back to life. Someone had to pull the plug and a massive financial crisis was the hard yank needed.

I think the problem was due to two issues:

  1. There was such a backlog of things that were ignored/delayed that it was too much all at once. Especially for too few people to vet in any meaningful way. People that were still responsible for the outcomes of these decisions.
  2. The GMs were young. The vast majority of us were under 30 and experience was in short supply. One of the perks about the early days of working for the Collier Companies was that one could gain a ton of experience very early in one’s career. It wasn’t uncommon for PT leasing agents to become a GM within 12 months if they were bright and motivated. What they lacked in experience they made up for in enthusiasm and energy. That lack of experience fell on the Regional Managers who were very experienced, most having worked in the industry for at least ten years at that point. Put simply, the system was unbalanced.

I write all this now as our new venture has me pondering the right approach to leadership, culture, and how we want to build our new enterprise for success. What got me here won’t get me there. I can’t be the guy in the room solving problems. I can’t take every phone call, create the daily agenda, or decide what’s best for every moving piece of what I’m sure will become a sprawling empire in the coming years.

As we hire our first GM, how do we build a culture that will keep decision-making close to those affected by the decisions? What areas do we focus on controlling and what do we encourage the site staff to innovate and create? 

I have some ideas and I’m realizing that not knowing is pretty exciting. I’m ready to be surprised by what we find and what we decide to do as an organization going forward.

“Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose” or Coach Taylor meets Sun Tzu

Everyone loves a good motivational speech and there are few better than the ones from our favorite movies. The one where Rocky says that’s how winning is done. The one where Al Pacino talks about the game being one of inches and the inches are all around us. The one in Independence Day where President Bill Pullman says they won’t go quietly into that good night. Stellar stuff, all.

As much as I love them, I can’t use them every day. What I can use is a mantra, and not from a movie but a TV show – the long canceled Friday Night Lights. It’s simple and startlingly prescient. I can’t stop seeing it everywhere.

“Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose”

I think of this when we get something wrong because we allowed ourselves to become easily swayed by the information we didn’t bother to interrogate. I find myself muttering it when someone makes a stunning reversal and course corrects after allowing the truth of the situation to come to them.

All that, and honestly, I’m a sucker for six words. There’s music to that number, arriving in two-word pairs. Hemmingway once won a contest by penning a compelling story with only six words: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” My first Mission Statement at CVI was only six words: “Be professional, Solve problems, Create value.” Distilling something meaningful into six words is an art and I’m its favorite patron.

Clear Eyes

The ability to see. The ability to identify what is happening all around you and not deluding yourself about the conditions on the ground, in the air, or in your own heart. You can see it all and you need that ability if you’re going to do anything meaningful.

Any idiot can make decrees or decisions while not knowing what’s happening; that’s most of life. What an effective agent of change needs is the ability to discern what the hell is happening; both inside and outside themselves.

Sun Tzu says any winning General must master the Five Factors:

  • The Purpose
  • The Weather
  • The Terrain
  • The Leadership
  • The System

You can’t master anything if you can’t see it. And not just with your eyes. You need to see it with every part of your understanding. You especially need to see that which you’re inclined or incentivized not to see. Clear Eyes is of supreme importance and so it comes first. As mantras go, this one is fire.

  • The Purpose is the cause, the morality; what are we fighting for? Is this who we are? Do we know?
  • The Weather is the conditions. If not the rain or wind then the market forces at work.
  • The Terrain is the ground, the topography. If not a battlefield then the shelf or the venue the sales battle will be fought.
  • The Leadership is not only those in charge but those whose influence exceeds their titles. How capable are your leaders to produce and adapt on the fly?
  • The System is my favorite. It’s the thing that accounts and adapts (or should) for all the strengths and weaknesses of the others on this list. It’s what we have the most control over if we’d only recognize it and give it its due.

The General who masters the Five Factors will win every engagement, even if they don’t. Clear Eyes reminds us that we should never lie to ourselves. Self-awareness is one of our most powerful weapons if we’ll develop it properly.

How many times have you seen a person, organization, or company, fail because they couldn’t see clearly; because they refused to see clearly? Too many.

Full Hearts

Are you in to it? Do you believe in what you’re saying? Do you believe and trust in what you’re doing? Does what you do each day, right now, resonate with your core beliefs?

Can you stay focused and dedicated when things get tough and your path gets blocked? Can you fight through self-doubt, stumbles, and the hellish unknown? Can you manage to lose a battle without losing yourself?

Can’t Lose

There are two types of losses; the one on the scoreboard and the one in your mind. You can’t fully control the first kind of loss. You can plan, scrap, and brawl with all your might and you may still lose when the points are tallied. The second kind though? That’s all you.

Keep your vision clear. Don’t lie to yourself, ever, about anything.
Walk your talk. Believe in what you’re doing and be prepared for the way to get rough. Don’t lose yourself.

Do those two things and you’ll never lose.

“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.”

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

 

Apartment Video Maintenance Tips, Made Easy

I hate when things break around the house. Having bought my first one three years ago, I’ve often found myself in the position of trying to figure out how to repair various issues on the fly. With YouTube as the Time Life books of our generation, there haven’t been many things I’ve needed to call someone for.

A light bulb came on: quick access, to short videos about common maintenance issues, would be wildly helpful to our Residents. Housing college students means that necessarily a good number of them have never; done their own laundry, run a dishwasher, or unclogged a toilet. A website that explains how to do it themselves is a non-starter. Ditto for a manual or handbook. For Millennials, video is king. Even better, every one of them come with a mobile video player permanently affixed to their hand. How do you leverage that?

We worked on a series of videos with important questions in mind: What’s the vital information we’d want someone to know in a moment when they need it most? What are the types of calls we get all the time that take seconds to fix? Resetting a breaker, a GFI, unclogging a toilet, resetting a garbage disposal – all the easy stuff that a Resident could do themselves in seconds, if they only knew how.

Important to the project was making sure we didn’t make each video too long, or make it complicated in any way. A three minute run-time would kill our click-through rate. Most of our videos are 20 seconds or less and specialized to whatever you’re looking for in the moment.

Knight Circle's new magnetic QR code/short URL sheet for fast video maintenance tips.

Knight Circle’s new magnetic QR code/short URL sheet for fast video maintenance tips.

You can either scan the QR code with your phone or type in the short URL for each area of the apartment, and then you’ll get a playlist of videos to choose from on our YouTube page. At first, we toyed with the idea of stickers on each appliance or area of the home with a quick link to a video specific to that item, but this quickly proved unwieldy. We settled on a 6″x9″ magnet that could be placed on the fridge in each unit – an area where it’s likely to survive and be ever-present in our Residents lives, but not intrusive.

Starting this August, we’ll be placing them on each Fridge as we complete our final inspection walks prior to move-in and dropping some info to look out for them with our new move-in email.

Our mission states that we seek to simplify the complicated and we think this is a huge step in that direction. By allowing our Residents to quickly learn easy lessons about apartment maintenance, and by relieving the work load for our Technicians and CAs, we can free up time better suited to proactive items that really deliver value.

All your room are belong to us

Another year and another order of “Renew your lease now” banners and bandit signs. Ah, student housing – you have few predictable moments, but this is certainly one of them. Last year we wanted to mix it up and do something that would catch an eye because face it, no one is reading your plain text “Renew and save!” signs. They’re not, so stop lying to yourself.

So, we came up with these. I really enjoy them and was proud of the fact they had no contact info on them -they weren’t supposed to. You know where you live and you know where to go if you want to renew. The signs beg you to read them all as you’re not exactly sure what’s going on. Plus, everyone loves memes – that’s why they’re memes.

Aaannndd

This one still sits in my office.

This one still sits in my office.

IMG_2824 IMG_2826 IMG_2821 IMG_2823

I love it. Still cracks me up a little every time.

I love it. Still cracks me up a little every time.

Deadlines are deadlines! Yeah....

Deadlines are deadlines! Yeah….

You know that feeling.

You know that feeling.