What Makes a Company Best?

My company recently was named a “Best Place to Work” and while some of these awards are political, where cash and sponsorship are king and winning means you have a lot of “influence”, we won because our entire Louisville team participated in a survey conducted by Quantum Workplace (an independent firm that, in addition to conducting surveys, works to make the work place “more awesome”, which I think is pretty darn neat).

Whenever your employees are “anonymously” asked to do a survey on whether or not your work place is “the best”, there can be some apprehension… Have we made this a best place to work? You may even go through a “Should we even apply”? phase. Rejection can hurt, even at work.

What I’ve found makes you “Best” is pretty simple and lessons I learned long ago during my Dale Carnegie days…

1. Show genuine interest in other people. Look, I work in HR and because of this I’ve had to grow “cold and dead inside”. That may sound shocking to you, but we often have to handle the worst of the worst related to our employees. Heartbreaking FMLA stories, unimaginable life events that impact work, layoffs and the despair that can come with losing your job, aiding and often directly performing terminations (people cry, people yell, people throw things, people hate you)… as a way to cope, I (and many of my fellow HR colleagues) have to stay as emotionally unattached as possible, so we can carry on, or as I like to say “cold and dead inside”.

Now, you may be wondering where I am going with this… what does genuine interest in other people and being cold and dead inside have to do with one another. Well, I have known many a transactional HR person who have completely lost their human touch. They are robots who coldly recite policy and input benefits information. They aren’t advocates for employees, they don’t show genuine interest in anyone and aren’t the culture builders that they should be.

Am I picking on HR a little, yes… because “HR” is old. “Talent” is new and “Talent” leaders care and show genuine interest in others. “HR” isn’t a four letter word at my company, myself along with the entire senior team show genuine interest (and can turn on/off emotional detachment) and that makes us “Best”. 

2. Remember that a person’s name is the sweetest most wonderful sound in the world. Our CEO and really, our entire Senior Team, knows everyone from our newest team members to those who’ve been with us for 10 years. When we have events at work or when we pass by folks in the hallway, you’ll always here a “Hello <name>, how’s it going”? Do you know that I will often get a look of surprise when I address someone I don’t see regularly, by name. A look of “you know me”? I know that this person will feel good and important for at the very least, the rest of the day.

As a Talent leader, this is important to me… When you show genuine interest in others, they’re more likely to talk to you, to confide in you, to participate in events, to be loyal to the company, to work even more smartly. A simple thing like addressing each person by name makes us “Best”. 

3. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. We all know the type… organizational leaders who only speak, but never listen. They get up on their soap box and what they say is gold. And that’s it… no debate. No varying opinions. Just “hear me, hear me”.

As a “Best” leader, you know you don’t know everything. You rely on the smart people you’ve assembled to speak and you listen when they do. As a Talent leader, this is critical. You can ascertain so much about your culture, the state of your employees happiness, and issues that may be arising by simply observing and listening when others speak, by asking open ended questions, by digging a little deeper when you hear something of interest. It’s not just self serving though, it also makes the person you’re listening to feel important, feel heard, feel valued.This creates loyalty, this fosters an environment where open communication and transparency isn’t just a “value” written on your walls and your website… it becomes real and your company becomes “Best”. 

4. Throw down a challenge. I’ve often found that there are huge misconceptions about the “general” workforce. I’ve heard former CEO’s and other top leaders describe their employees as “lazy”, as “not innovative”, as “lacking creativity when it comes to problem solving”… and what’s funny is that I have found the opposite to be true. If you have a big problem and it needs to be solved, and nothing you seem to do is working… bring a mixed group of team members together… from various areas of the business and watch the magic.

When you throw down a challenge and you want results, step outside of the box. Go against the “norm” and be open to acting on the ideas that come out of it. Sometimes the most absurd sounding solution may be the one that revolutionizes your business AND it may come from the most unlikely source. In my nearly 17 years of experience in the “People” space I can tell you that employees who are lazy, not innovative and not problem solvers are the exception, not the rule. The majority want to be inspired and inspiring. Want to contribute ideas to make the business better, but oftentimes their suggestions fall on deaf ears. The “Best” don’t let that happen. They collaborate will all levels of the business, they bring in folks from across the organization to solve problems and they ACT on the ideas that make sense. The team members then feel a sense of ownership, pride and loyalty because they have seen that they CAN make a difference. 

And finally…

5. Be lavish in your praise. I subscribe to the “go big or go home” philosophy and apply it in the areas of praise and recognition. Starting with regular and actionable performance reviews, which don’t just do a gloss over or assign arbitrary numbers, but provide an opportunity for growth, advancement or re-direction. This is critical and often seen as just a “formality” when in reality employees WANT it. People, generally, WANT to know what they’re doing right, what they could be doing better and what will get them to the next level.

When we have something to celebrate at work, like we recently did with being named a “Best Place to Work”… some companies choose to just “win” and get their press release out and not celebrate it with the organization. One former CEO once told me “it’s just a local award, it doesn’t even matter”… well, that’s where the misconception is. It does matter. Everything matters. Wins should be celebrate, losses should be learned from. Our team members work smartly and make it easy for us to lavishly praise them, but they do it because they feel valued. They do it because we (the senior leaders) show genuine interest in them. They do it because we take the time to know who they are. They do it because we listen. They do it because we challenge them. That’s what makes us “Best”. 

So, what makes you “Best”?

Who I am, Who I’m Not and Who I Want to Be!

I was listening to The Fray this morning and one of my favorite songs of theirs (though I really do like them all) is You Found Me.

In that song is a verse that really speaks to me and inspired me to write today’s blog, it is:

“Who I am, Who I’m Not and Who I Want to Be”

And it got me thinking about those things and how easy it is to not really know… especially in a business that WANTS YOU to be so many things… it’s easy to lose yourself. Sounds ominous, right? It really isn’t… it’s about self discovery and your true professional passion. Let me explain…


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Confessions of a Virtual Employee

I’m not new to the virtual workplace but I’m new to working for my current company, virtually and I have a confession to make…

I’m WAY more productive at my home office than at our corporate office. Shocked? In disbelief? Think I’m not exactly being truthful? Well, then do let me explain and I’ll make you a believer!

When I’m working from my home office, I’m doing just that… working from a HOME OFFICE. I’m not in bed; I’m not watching TV… I’m at my desk just like a “real” employee. What I don’t have is:

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Customer Service Isn’t Just Dead… It was MURDERED!

I hate being reminded that general common courtesy (as well as common sense, a lot of the time) is just NOT common anymore. I’m left, after numerous interactions and transactions on a daily basis, scratching my head wondering where the service is. Is it just acceptable now to provide sub-par service? Is it OK to be rude to a customer? Is it just no longer a focus of companies to provide training for and more so, demand their employees provide good service? I’m truly beginning to wonder.

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A Roadmap to Success? One Girl’s Journey to Make On-Boarding Better!

December 29th, 1998. It was my first day of “real” work. I was now a professional… trading in my costumes (I was Cinderella at Disneyland and Marilyn Monroe at Universal Studios), for suits and business attire (which I bought at places like Wet Seal and Clothestime)… hey, I was only 18!

I was psyched! I was a “grown up” now… and to boot, I had a 50% rent discount at a very nice community (my primary motivation for becoming a Leasing Consultant, by the way).

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We Might as Well Just Have a Pre-Recorded Message!

I’m sorry… I don’t need you. No, seriously. If all I needed was someone to get the guest card basics (name, phone number, size & date) when they answer the phone and proceed to recite the same old tired “speech” time and time again… I may as well just have a really great pre-recorded message that at its conclusion asks the caller to leave their name, phone number, size apartment they’re looking for and their desired move-in date… because that’s about how good your calls are and about as much good as they’re doing you, your community and even more big picture, your company.

This might sound like I’ve given up… but I haven’t.

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It’s the Age of Technology… Use Your Email Effectively!

Recently, I developed a Virtual Leasing Webinar that was all about the ever so neglected email leads that we receive on-site, daily.

After secretly shopping several communities (both within my company and external companies) I found that the response “rule” is to send a generic template email that tells me essentially everything I just found on the website I was just on. Can we say, redundant?

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This is “Our Time”, Are YOU Taking Advantage?

Since sometime in February, we’ve all heard the news that our multifamily economy is stronger than it’s been in a decade… that this is the time of the “landlord”… that the demand will far outweigh supply… that we should do away with concession and increase rents… etc…

As a company we’ve been sharing this “good news” with our on-site teams, promoting contests around renewal increases and really driving home the “this is our time” mantra that seems to be everywhere related to our industry. I’m happy to report that it does seem that it’s “our time” in a lot of instances. The Sterling Group has had our NOI increase 14% from March to April… but not without some serious effort on our part, and by that I mean… we’ve really had to sell this “Our Time” stuff to our site level colleagues!

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