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Improving productivity in management.

No doubt about it, property management is a crisis business. Time management book authors who tell you to hold all your calls or plan your day minute by minute have never had to respond to irate tenants or faulty sprinkler systems.

Nevertheless, during this period of belt tightening, work outs, and nervous investors, running lean and mean is the rule of the property management game. Managers are under constant pressure to trim any inefficiencies from operations, to provide better and faster service to tenants, to be better prepared, to produce a better return. In short, managers must constantly seek ways to be more productive.

However, to be really productive, property managers must not only be efficient when responding, but must also be pro-active. They must set goals, come up with new methods and ways of service, and solve problems. In short, the managers must be able to set the agenda enough to allow time and space for a creative flow of ideas and improvements, and do so in a controlled time period to avoid becoming a burned out case.

Property management often requires responding to unpredictable demands and emergencies in such a prompt manner that time planning seems impossible. Nevertheless, if a company is going to set goals and achieve them, they must have some control over the agenda, rather than responding to every competing demand for time.

Planning time

Plan at least a week at a time. Allowing personnel to plan by the day encourages a "putting out fires" mentality. Scheduling a week allows bigger objectives to be scheduled.

Barbara Holland, CPM [R], president of H&L Realty and Management in Las Vegas, recommends setting a regular day toward the end of each week for reviewing the next week's business.

Holland recommends using the review to learn where the past week's schedule broke down and figuring out ways to improve the next week's scheduling.

One way to help adhere to schedules is to not allocate every minute, but to leave time for dealing with emergencies and for handling scheduled activities that were displaced by emergencies.

The week's activities should also be part of monthly, quarterly, and yearly plans which anticipate regular, recuring tasks and deadlines. Holland's staff works from a monthly calendar, and schedules its planning 15 days ahead--for example, middle of July for month of August. This the time to schedule meetings.

Holland's staff uses a notebook system. Each employee records activities, assignments made and received, and upcoming projects. Supervisors can look at the basic notes, assist in prioritizing if necessary, and tell how projects are progressing. If the person is absent, notebooks enable other staff to fill in.

The notebook work record is also an analytical tool for each employee--he or she can measure time spent, see what projects should be given more time or short shrift, and increase future productivity.

It is important distinguish between "urgent" and "important," says Stephen R. Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. "Urgent matters are usually visible. Importance, on the other hand, has to do with results."

Many managers find themselves dealing with urgent matters, and never getting to the important ones. Covey and Alan Lakein, author of How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, both urge asking, "What is the single most important thing I could do now that would make a major positive difference?" That is what's important.

Lakein advises creative procrastination. If it is not important and not urgent, do not do it all! Many things work themselves out or slip into oblivion and never need to be done. If something can be safely ignored, it is not a priority.

If deadlines come and go, unmet, the problem may be in how they are set. Try estimating time for each phase (data collection, planning, implementation). Then begin with the due date and count backwards to determine when the project must be started. This method usually results in a much earlier start date than would have been estimated.

Look from a new angle

One of the ways to test the efficiency of office operations is to observe carefully how new people perform tasks. As much as possible, file systems and procedures should be intuitive and based on common sense. Another way to overhaul operations is to have someone from another division take a look at operations as an internal "consultant." Someone not entirely familiar with the way things are done, yet familiar with the company, can often streamline procedures very effectively.

One certain way to improve productivity is to be certain that work flow and workers' hours coincide. For example, consider scheduling employees when they are needed, not necessarily in a traditional 9-to-5 work day. As Holland says, "Nothing says that everyone must work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m."

Holland has found that it is particular effective to schedule her accounts payable people for longer hours during the part of the month when there is heaviest demand and give them shorter workdays during the rest of the month.

Try to avoid run-around time, counsels Holland. Use bank pick-up services, messengers, delivery, and technology as much as possible.

Holland has also discovered that it is particularly effective to work on budgets at someone's home. "We're not interrupted, and the novelty of the situation focuses our attention on the project," she says.

Try not to break your concentration with constant interruptions. Most time-management experts advocate doing important projects in blocks of time. The more you are interrupted, the more time you will waste in refocusing attention back to the major project.

The right tools

The best planning in the world can be destroyed by lack of proper tools. Sometimes, a company's own operations methods can sabotage time management for employees. "Don't have a problem twice. Alter the operations manual so people know where to find the answer the next time," says Holland.

Copy machines and computer equipment are useless if they are not working, nobody knows how to use them, or they are not appropriate to the situation (e.g., a mainframe when a laptop would be more useful).

Do not underestimate low-tech solutions, either. Many times a pocket calendar works better than an electronic datebook. On the other hand, people who are able to write even first drafts of letters on a computer can be much more productive themselves, save time, and free secretaries for other task.

Bill Borsari, CPM, president of the Walters Management Company, San Diego, observes, "Computers have bypassed managers. Rely on professionals to make it happen [if you need programming]. Managers need to understanding not how the computer works, but how the program works. The program has to be simple enough to be used as a tool, not a project in itself."

In addition, be careful not to automate yourself into inefficiency. Management authority Peter Drucker suggests that productivity will probably improve if you question whether or not you need each report you currently require, whether it could be shorter, and whether fewer steps could be taken. Productivity will also improve if you centralize your information bank, rather than collect the same information several times.

Goal setting for productivity

"Be results oriented, not activity driven. A flurry of activity is not a result," says Howard Lundeen, CPM, president of Kelley Lundeen & Crawford Management Company in Dallas. Activity has to grow out of a plan.

The starting place for your company plan is a mission statement. What does the company represent? Where is it going? What would success look like? These are questions which ought to be answered by a corporate mission statement.

Plan as far ahead as you believe the future will be. This may mean a general five-year or three-year plan, or only a one-year plan (seldom less). Goals for the period should grow out of the mission statement and should be positive and measurable.

Goals should be written and reviewed at every planning meeting. One study of Harvard alumni found that those with specific written goals were making 10 times what those with no goals were earning. Also, regularly reviewing written goals can aid in making decisions. For example, is your priority employee upgrading or streamlining procedures? The answer will tell you whether to spend money on training, equipment, or consultants.

Think big. There is real practical value in broad-based thinking--it lifts planning away from the mundane and encourages creativity in thinking of ways to accomplish more. It is generally more productive to have a mind set that asks, "How can we be better, accomplish more?" than it is to think "We can't get all these projects done. Where are we going to get the time?"

Who establishes these goals? John Warthman, CPM, president of Southeastern Asset Management in Atlanta, believes it is most productive to have the people who must solve the problem define the problem. He requests a list of alternative and possible ramifications, then recommendations and their justifications.

Letting line managers offer solutions also aids communication. Top management may see the problem differently from field staff, and without clear definition, each group may be working to solve a different problem. Tom Peters, in his newspaper column "On Excellence," recommends, "Listen to everyone. Ideas come from anywhere."

Mac Bates, CPM, president of Harrison and Bates in Richmond, recommends encouraging staff to incorporate personal time planning into the schedule, "Your personal goals and business goals have to be closely aligned. Business cannot drive 100 percent of your life." Also, allowing for a personal life cuts down absenteeism and focuses attention while the person is at work.

Should goal setting be top down or bottom up? A top-down style has the advantages of being able to do global planning, see the big picture, and concern itself with the company's image and place. It can set policy, determine the company's special niche, and establish both short- and long-term goals.

On the other hand, this style cannot draw as much emotional investment or personal dedication from its workers. At best, top-down managers can be benevolent dictators.

Finally, using highly paid personnel to accomplish what could be done at a lower level is an obvious waste of money. It is not peak productivity to hit a flea with a sledgehammer.

Bottom-up management encourages planning, decision making, and execution at the lowest level possible. On the face of it, it would appear to be cost saving--delegating to the lowest level means the person whose time is cheapest will be performing the task.

Of course, it does not always work. Bill Borsari warns, "Know what decisions you must reserve and what can be delegated. Decisions that affect the life and reputation of the company should be reserved for top management. Painting the lunchroom or scheduling the clerical staff can be made at a much lower level. The trickiest decisions involve resigning an account. There, you really have to listen carefully to input."

Some combination of the two, with emphasis on decision-making and implementation at the lowest level possible, seems to be the most productive for most property management companies. But that productivity demands a quality staff.

People productivity

Having the simples organization necessary to produce a result is cost- and time-saving. But a simple organization, with responsibility and decision making carried out effectively, means having a dependable professional group. Besides identifying and recruiting quality people, ways must be found to motivate them to higher performance.

Even in a poor job market, the best go first. Thus, a manager must constantly be on the alert, recruiting to staff with the best people available. Speaking at community functions, being active in professional organizations and conferences, all allow the manager to scout out potential employees.

"I spend 15 to 20 percent of my time in recruiting," says Borsari. "Ultimately, it lets me work fewer hours overall--I do not need to monitor good people constantly."

Often employees hear "productivity" as a scheme by management to make them work longer, harder, and for less reward. Management needs to communicate that "productivity" means working faster, smarter, and more efficiently, for which they will be rewarded.

People who show initiative in managing their own careers can be expected to show initiative in managing their work. However, management cannot neglect reinforcing and rewarding them--motivating them not only to do their job, but to employ an extra measure of creativity that is the true source of great leaps in productivity.

People earn their pay for good performance, but incentives reward outstanding performance, something that created value for the company, workplace, team, or client. For maximum effectiveness, the reward should be closely tied to the activity that prompted it. Year-end bonuses do not encourage productivity in April. "We believe in paying out the incentive as close as possible to the good act--we don't believe in year-end bonuses," says Borsari.

Incentives do not necessarily need to be cash. Sometimes, flexible scheduling, an improved benefits package, or small luxuries (tickets, an evening out) can reward employees or draw highly qualified people to the company.

Another motivator is the opportunity to advance. Even if the company is quite small, one way to attract productive employees, retain them, and encourage them is the opportunity for promotion or for upgrading skills. Continuing education, whether through company seminars or tuition credit, is a valuable benefit to those who are serious about their careers. Borsari points out, "You want people who have a goal to be continually better."

Not only is it important to find people who have a productive orientation; it is important to place them where they will be the most productive. Do not try to force an analytical person into a sales job or an outwardly oriented worker to analyze endless computer printouts. Many firms do extensive psychological testing to determine what sort of orientation a potential employee has.

Also, try to ensure that the priorities of the job do not conflict. This is particularly problematic, says Howard Lundeen, if the property manager also leases the property. There is constant conflict between doing the tasks necessary to manage and report on a property and handling the live prospect for leasing.

Lundeen has successfully used leasing agents who are independent contractors, a status which he believes focuses these workers on performance and productivity. Also, having separate leasing agents and property managers allows each to know his or her priorities better. The clearer the priorities, the easier it is to organize tasks.


Planning for and improving productivity is an incremental and constant process. You need to hire good people, provide them with the tools to do the job, motivate them to higher levels, and encourage creativity.

Time management enables the property manager to move from crisis management to creativity. Goal setting and planning forges a team with a common mission and welds a group into a lean, mean, productive property management machine. Danielle Schultz is an Evanston, Illinois-based freelance writer specializing in corporate communications and feature articles. She regularly covers architecture, real estate, and the construction industry. She is a licensed real estate broker in Illinois.
COPYRIGHT 1991 National Association of Realtors
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Schultz, Danielle
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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