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Millan’s focus on company culture inspires successful property managers

How successful property managers help boost resident satisfaction and retention

Our March Property Manager Hero, Christina Hayes from Millan Enterprises, sat down with us for an interview on March 17, 2021 to share her insights on how their focus on fostering a great company culture has directly impacted resident satisfaction. Christina was joined by Rylan Kean, Director of Business Development at Millan, who nominated Christina for the award.

Christina’s five years at Millan have taught her how to adapt to a rapidly growing company. Although new challenges were constantly thrown her way, no job was ever too big or too small for Christina to confidently accept and accomplish. Residents and teammates alike enjoy talking to Christina, who has become their go-to confidante. She is a hero to her team and her community. And she couldn’t believe she had won this award – a testament to her humility.

Seeing Millan expand from a five-person team to now a forty-person team (and counting) gave Christina a unique perspective on how to manage growth, inspire staff, and consistently look for opportunities to improve resident satisfaction.

Great communities start with happy and successful property managers

Scaling family-oriented company culture with rapid growth

Because Christina started with the company at an early stage, she got a unique glimpse into the owners’ vision for Millan’s 5-10 year plan. Maintaining a family-oriented work environment was an integral part of their vision, and the key to creating a team of successful property managers.

As one of the first few employees, Christina also quickly learned the valuable lesson that no job is above or beneath anyone at Millan, no matter their title. This notion has been a major staple in their culture, creating a true team-player mentality.

At Millan, their slogan is, “we build great products by building great people first.” They build up successful property managers by celebrating their important life events and milestones. They run contests to keep employees engaged with one another, and have worked hard to maintain a flat, open culture.

Oftentimes, expansion is accompanied by certain boundaries and guidelines that can put a damper on a once open and trusting culture. But Rylan explains that wasn’t the case at Millan. “It’s not two people anymore, it’s 10, 15, 20 people. And [Christina] was very careful to make sure we didn’t lose the spirit of that small family culture… And while we do focus on tenants, that is our primary day job, we do want to take special care of our employees. Because we think that the best service comes from that.”

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The challenges of a growing property management team

Rylan and Christina admit that there were a few growing pains and speed bumps along the way. They found that meeting fatigue would bog down company morale and overall productivity. So they have steered towards on-the-fly huddle groups and collaborative brainstorms rather than multiple regularly scheduled meetings.

They also use Asana as a project management tool, which Rylan reveals has been life-changing. Millan has hired at least six people in the past year. So restructuring their entire onboarding procedure has been a major lift. Christina spearheaded the project. And rather than wait until after new employees are hired, she paid special attention to the interview process.

She wanted potential candidates to experience Millan’s warm company culture from the get-go. And get a feel for what it would be like to join the team. Part of that includes asking questions and getting to know the candidate on a deeper level. She said this extra effort lets Millan take note of (and immediately leverage) their new team members’ outside knowledge and experience. Which in turn makes new hires feel valued from their very first day.

Using ‘WIG’s to motivate property managers to be successful

Several years ago, Millan implemented the W.I.G. method to encourage collaboration and productivity. W.I.G. is an acronym for “wildly important goal.” The idea is from a book called The 4 Disciplines of Execution.

The team meets for a half an hour every Friday morning to set personal goals that will contribute to an overarching company-wide objective. They establish a timeframe in which they want to accomplish their goals. And then they encourage one another and hold each other accountable. Rylan directly attributes Millan’s best achievements and successful property managers to this wildly important goal method.

Planning and executing an effective company retreat

Christina and Rylan were excited to talk about the many initiatives they have in the works. But none so much as their company retreat. They gave their team a day off from their everyday tasks to come together and connect and grow as a group. “I think that had such an impact on our team because everybody had an opportunity to really review the year 2020… and then refocus and see where we wanted to go in 2021,” said Christina.

They encouraged their team to provide honest feedback on what went well, and what opportunities they saw for improvement. It opened Christina’s eyes to some quick and easy fixes she had never thought of before. There were also a few substantial suggestions that would require more time and resources, but would make the company stronger and champion successful property managers. The learnings from this retreat have had an impact on not only resident satisfaction, but also on the spirit of the team internally.

The power of panels

One tip for any company that is planning to host their own retreat is the power of panels. Millan brought in current and previous residents from their multifamily and commercial properties to share their impression of Millan’s property management team. “That was a phenomenal experience to hear from people who are renting… we actually get their feedback about what works and what doesn’t work,” said Rylan.

Knowing company policies and implementing the right solutions

Similar to most other property management companies in 2020, COVID-19 forced the team at Millan to face countless, unprecedented challenges. “We had actually not even had an online application or option to pay online until this year… there were so many huge changes that we were kind of forced into,” admitted Christina.

Quickly pivoting operations to protect their employees and communities was an impressive feat by the entire Millan team. And during that time, Christina was especially grateful for the work she had done years ago on a company policy manual. Because when the pandemic crisis hit, she could effectively communicate relevant policies with the team. She was also able to propose policy addendums throughout the year depending on the changing local and state regulations due to the pandemic.

Focus on resident happiness and community success

Successful property managers proactively reach out to residents

Millan’s team of successful property managers feel passionately about engaging with their residents throughout the year, not just at move-in or when their lease is up. “We purposely go out of our way to talk to them, and try to create a warm environment… just because there’s a lease and a transaction-based relationship, [they’re] still part of the Millan family,” said Christina.

Because of this, residents will recognize Christina and other Millan team members as they walk around the community. And these residents will actually stop them to say hello. And Christina says those are “the kind of experiences that are intangible, that you can’t put on paper, but you want.” When residents feel that sense of community and have a positive relationship with their property staff, they are much more likely to renew their lease.

Viewing resident frustrations as an opportunity

Christina started her career in hospitality, working in restaurants and dealing with customer complaints on a daily basis. She says shifting your mindset is the key. Think of an irate customer as an opportunity to change their opinion, and make them happier than they were before. Christina says that successful property managers proactively seek out residents who may be dissatisfied. “Identify those opportunities to take a situation and turn it into something better than it was.”

She says that when you go in with this mindset, those issues become easier to handle. But the important first step is to hear the resident out. “Empathize and really genuinely listen to what they have to say. Because I think a lot of times… it may seem like a little problem to you, but it’s a huge issue to them.”

Christina added that especially in the housing industry, you’re oftentimes dealing with an issue that affects their day-to-day life. It may seem like just another leak to you, but to them, it’s their home and their personal belongings at risk. And now with COVID, it might not only be their home, but their home-office too.

Christina urges her team and her peers to really take that to heart. Listening is always the best first step, and proactively finding opportunities to make residents happy is how you take your customer service to the next level.

Christina’s NPS survey initiative

About a year ago, Christina and Rylan were brainstorming ideas to easily and effectively solicit feedback from their residents. They wanted something proven and universal. Which is when they came across the Net Promoter Score (NPS), which measures customer experience and predicts business growth. “It’s basically two questions,” says Rylan. “The first question is, on a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend our company, Millan Enterprises? And then the second question is, why did you answer that way?”

It may sound simple, but there is a formula that can effectively gauge how residents perceive your company, and whether or not you have successful property managers. Residents who answer with a six or below are considered a detractor, those who answer with a seven or eight are considered passive, and anyone who selects nine or ten is a promoter. And that’s what you want. Residents who will promote your community to their friends and family.

Millan is fortunate enough to have great reviews on Facebook and Google. But they wanted something anonymous that would give them an honest, analytical view of resident satisfaction. So Christina initiated the NPS survey, and their initial results came in at 63. Not bad. But not good enough for the team at Millan. They found ways to further improve and were able to bump their score up to 70.

Always room for improvement

Their new “wildly important goal” is to bump their score up to 90. Which is extremely impressive, especially for the industry, which sees average scores of 40 to 60. “We’re really excited about that because I think that shows our commitment to our tenants, to our staff and then to the community as a whole,” said Rylan.

“And it really gave us a great visual of where we were,” added Christina. “You can get reviews all day long, or have people compliment you, but then to see it in a format that the whole team could understand, and then give us a goal to come up with new ways to increase that was really exciting.”

A commitment to consistent audits and continual improvement

Another key reason Christina won this award was because she helped raise revenue by 15% across the board. What did she do to lead the company to those results? She says step one was taking stock of all of their properties, looking for potential improvements.

“We had really just taken some time to look at the market.. where do we need to raise rent or where can we make improvements to a property in order to raise rent?” Christina explains. Even though rentals were going fast, especially in their area, they still took the opportunity to better themselves and their properties whenever possible.

They also continued to reach out to their residents for feedback. “We were losing people for reasons like work order follow up, and so we focused on that. And that really kept our tenants in place,” Christina shared. But she also emphasized how fostering a great company culture leads to successful property managers. “Again, going back to focusing on our team. When our team is performing better, they give better customer service and they perform better. So we have better customer interactions.”

Millan’s future vision for their residents and property managers

Resident engagement is no longer an option, it’s a must. Christina, Rylan, and the entire Millan team have proven that fostering a team of successful property managers who aren’t afraid to engage can really move the needle on resident satisfaction. We hope Christina’s story has helped inspire your 2021 resident engagement strategy.

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