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You are what you know: case studies in employee training.

For some property management firms, training is mostly a matter of learning the few years ways a particular company differs from the norm. These firms generally hire only experienced property managers, show them the specifics of their operation, then let the new hires work on their own.

For other management firms, however, training means a defined series of courses, seminars, and research, augmented by on-site work and learning opportunities.

The following case studies show how firms of varying sizes and capabilities use training to position themselves competitively in today's real estate market. The common element that runs through these studies is the necessity for judicious hiring as a prelude to sound training.

Case study 1: The mentor

Learning from a knowledge senior person is a time-honored training method, one that forms the basis of the program for JMB Realty, Chicago.

JMB's training associates spend 12 to 18 months working on-site under the supervision of a property manager/mentor. During this period, trainees research and write a series of five report modules on various aspects of property management. Topics include property orientation and company overview, administration and finance, property operations (e.g., security, maintenance, landscaping, engineering), leasing and marketing, and a special project unique to the property at which the associate is being trained.

Module topics are the same among the various types of properties, but the objectives of each module must be specific to that property type. "Although leasing and marketing are necessary for both office and retail properties, the techniques and approach are different for each," says Greg Greenberg, director of education at JMB Properties.

Associates must analyze each topic in relation to industry practice and JMB philosophy, and their reports must reflect each associate's research as well as their on-the-job experience.

JMB management associates may spend anywhere from two to five months researching and writing each module. The company does not mandate the length of the final product. "Our primary concern," says Greenberg," "is that the report demonstrate the associate's knowledge and comfort level with the subject."

Report are reviewed by the associate's supervisors and then routed to Education Director Greenberg for final review He says: "This combination of hands-on experience, research, and writing gives our trainees as grasp of the basics of property management as well as an understanding of the JMB philosophy. And of course, to comply with the objectives of each report module, trainees must be involved in day-to-day tasks."

Greenberg explains that the relationship between management associates and their supervisors is enriching for both. "Property managers are complimented when we place an associate with them. We assign associates only at properties where there are challenges and a wealth of knowledge among the staff."

Assignments also are chosen to complement a trainee's area of interest and the company's assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.

"In almost every case, our placement assessment correlates with where the management associates wants to be," relates Greenberg. "This tells us that our interviewing and placement process is on target."

The company looks for a certain type of property manager to serve as a supervisors/mentor. "We want people who know the industry and our company's way of doing things. While these associates take from their supervisors, they also give back a great deal in the form of practical assistance and a fresh perspective."

Greenberg says the only resistance to the associate/superior training program comes when the trainees are ready for placement at another property. "The supervisors usually doesn't want to relinquish the associate who has brought so much to the training experience."

When asked what he considers important for training success, Greenberg replies, "I starts with the interview process. Candidate must understand that property management is not a glamorous business. If they think it is, they'll be disappointed. They must realize that property management is a business where you roll up your sleeves and deal with day-to-day challenges."

Denise Presley, manager of training and development at parent company JMB Realty Corp., adds: "We believe our people should take advantage of tody's slower real estate market. We impress on them that this is the time to get extra training and sharpen their skills before the next boom. If they do, they'll be prepared for the challenges to come."

Case study 2: The high-tech

"For us, training starts with careful hiring," says Jim Collins, vice president and co-owner of Leasing Legends, Charlotte, North Carolina. "We have a six-step hiring process which we believe is very important to finding the right people."

The company, which specializes in residential leasing, hires college graduates with less than two years' sales experience. "We want people who know nothing about apartment leasing so we can train them our way," explains Collins.

Candidates are invited to a weekend seminar during which company executives review the firm's philosphy, mission statement, and methods of operation. Interested candidates spend a day at a property observing the company's sales process, then prepare their own sales presentation. They deliver it to Collins and the company's director of sales, who help them role-play a typical leasing scenario. The company hires only about one person for every 100 people interviewed.

"If we like them," continues Collins, "we offer them a position, then start their training." Leasing Legends' training program compresses over 180 hours of training into the weeks, working in small groups of three or four trainees.

Video camera, role-playing, and mutual critiquing are used to turn the recruits into professional leasing agents. Collins and his trainer videotape the trainees as they learn to arrange property visits by by phone with prospects. Trainees also are taped at a model apartment where they practice their sales presentation, with other trainees playing the role of a prospect.

"Taping and replaying the video helps trainees realize how they really come across, instead how they think they come across," says Collins. "This lets them correct any negative aspects of their presentation."

Trainees also must follow the procedures established by company management, a process which is based on the experience of Collins and his partner." "We don't skip steps or substitute steps," says Collins. "We've found that when we take it in a certain order, people almost always rent.

"Once you hire a person, give them the benefits of a comprehensive training program," concludes Collins. "Show them what you want and how you want it done. Then you will have a good long-term employee."

Case study 3:

The need-based approach

The Prentiss Properties' program for new tires starts with a training checklist. "We do a full-scale evaluation of each trainee's needs," says Charlotte Liberda, systems director of property management for the Dallas-based firm.

"The checklist addresses every area of property management - lease administration, contract administration, engineering, personnel, and more. Then the trainee is assigned to a property manager, who helps develop a timetable for addressing each of the." needs uncovered by the evaluation."

Trainees familiarize themselves with each company department that interacts with property management, such as leasing, accounting, legal, and construction.

To supplement their research, trainees receive a training manual along with a two-volume policy and procedures manual. "These manuals are used company wide and are updated periodically," explains Liberda. "Together, they answer virtually every question a trainee could have about any aspect of their work."

The next step in the training process, is a two-part test to assess trainees' knowledge and ability. A five-page written examination tests the trainees on their knowledge of material in he manuals and on the judgment they have acquired in their on-the-job experience.

Next comes an oral examination, administered by a committee comprised of several Prentiss Properties executives, including the vice president of property management, one of two general managers, a consulting engineer, the trainee's training manager, and Liberda. Each member of the test committee asks questions designed to test the trainee's knowledge of property management. Many are situational questions on tenant relations, engineering, and leasing.

"Trainees are up there in front of their bosses," says Liberda," and they must demonstrate that they're prepared to handle situation and make decisions without turning to someone else for the answer."

The company's program of on-the-job experience, reading, and testing, explains Liberda, is designed to take an inexperienced employee from day one right through the time when he or she can assume responsibility for a building.

The training process does not stop after a manager is assigned to a property, however. The company also offers property management seminars three times a year. These two-day presentations may cover management topics such as term building and motivation. Seminars also deal with specific aspects of property management such as lease negotiations, tenant relations, property value enhancement, budgeting, and reporting.

"While our managers may not have primary responsibility for many of these subjects," says Liberda, "they need an overview. That's what these seminars provides."

On board, conceptual subjects the company usually brings in outside people, while job-specific topics usually are covered by staff people. Seminar topics often are solicited from field personnel and selected by a committee of managers and vice presidents. Seminar participants are also asked to rate each presentation to help in planning future seminars.

"Hire carefully" counsels Liberda, "and keep training and refining their education throughout their careers."

Case study 4: Skill-building

at all levels

"We look at the needs of each region," says C. David Dean, CPM [R], Transwestern Property Company's executive vice president." Then we design whatever training program can meet those needs."

Houston-based Transwestern hires mostly experienced property managers, then trains them on several levels. First comes in-house training on property management basics. The company also has a special training program tailored specifically for leasing personnel.

To help improve computer proficiency, the firm has set up a computer training center at its corporate headquarters. Employees receive training in application software such as spreadsheets, database management, and word processing. Property managers are also trained in some of the more complex real estate accounting programs. Some sessions of the two-hour classes are taught by employees with proficiency in that subject.

The company also bring in outside training firms to design and conduct seminars on a variety of subjects. Most recently, this took the form of a seminar in "Effective Communications."

How does the company ensure that its managers derive maximum benefits from the instruction they receive? "We don't really rate them on intangibles, such as team building or writing skills," says Dean. "And when it comes to task-specific specific subjects, the best indicator is the employee's job performance."

The firm also pays tuition for property managers who attend IREM and BOMA courses. And it encourages managers to achieve professional designation. By year end, Transwestern will have 22 CPM members on staff.

The extend training beyond property-related skills, the company is also implementing a program of personal development and training for supervisors, division heads, and mid-and upper-level managers. "The program began about six months ago at the officer level and is now working its way through management," says Dean.

The plan calls for certain employees to work with their supervisors to chart a personal plan designed to help them grow and develop as individuals and as employees. Employees can combine seminars, college courses, and selected reading in order to reach objectives. These objectives are determined and agreed to by the employees and their supervisors as part of the employee's yearly evaluation.

And who determines which employee is allowed to attend which outside seminar or class? "That's mostly between employee and supervisor," responds Dean. "On the whole, however, if a property manager comes to us with a course that's job related and will help improve his or her performance, we'll pay for it."

Attendees also are asked to teach what they've learned to other company personnel in that city or region. "We believe in passing on helpful information," explains Dean.

"We benefit from training and development as individuals and as a company," he concludes. "Transwestern encourages all training opportunities.

"I can't say one training program is more beneficial than another. My advice is simply to look at the area in your company where you have the greatest need, then fill it."

The last word

In the final analysis, training for property manager encompasses a wide range of valid techniques - report writing, research, personal development plans, oral and written exams, procedures manuals, and videotaping. However, all interviewees agreed that these strategies are valuable only when they are grounded in the bedrock of precise planning and prudent hiring.

Cathie Rategan is president of Writer, Inc., in Chicago. Her articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including the Journal of Property Management.
COPYRIGHT 1991 National Association of Realtors
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Rategan, Cathie
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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