Staff Management 101 The Art of Team Building

 Management of any property requires a varying degree of resources and skills.  Materials, capital, and personnel are required for everything from ordering  supplies to the complete overseeing of a multi-unit, high rise co-op or  condominium. Above all resources, human resources, are typically considered the  most important asset of any business or company, and managing those living  resources is an art, a science, and a very necessary skill set.  

 “From my standpoint of management the term ‘human resources’ are the staff that the property has hired to do the day-to-day maintenance of  their building,” says Maryann Carro-Caputo, president of Tribor Management Inc. in Flushing. “For larger properties, the staff can include doormen, but for the majority of  buildings in all but Manhattan, they generally are the supers, handymen, and  porters. Our managers must be able to deal with the issues that come up, such  as sick leave and holiday/vacation scheduling, and job-related injuries and  disputes. Most buildings do not have more than a few employees, but as a  management company, you are working with multiple buildings and you have to  deal with the issues that a larger firm would have: larger staffs, even though,  technically, these workers do not work directly for you.”  

 “We specialize in managing smaller co-ops and condos. Because of our specialty,  we feel that the human resources involved in this context include, not just the  staff, which may work for the condos and co-ops, but the shareholders and unit  holders as well,” says Ralph Westerhoff, president of Brickwork Management Inc. in New York City.  “These people are often a wonderful resource for helping to improve and enhance  the properties in which they live. This context also extends to the resources  who regularly work for the property. In the end, we try to treat everyone with  respect.”  

 Value Your People

 Well-trained, positively-motivated employees enhance the appeal and ambiance of  a property, adding to both the real and perceived value. Who does the hiring,  the training, and the evaluations of staff may vary between properties, but  generally speaking, the board of directors and the property management company will work together to achieve the best results.  When an effective system is in place and working well, the board will  communicate their expectations for staff performance to the manager, and the  manager will develop and enforce the policies, and be held accountable to the  board. The manager will generally act in an advisory capacity, before, during, and  after new staff is brought on, while the actual hiring of new employees is  usually a board function.  

 “The board/association creates the policies, which govern how they want the  building to run,” says Carro-Caputo. “With the help and direction of the agent, they create the schedule for their  workers, the duties and tasks for the employees, and how they wish the staff to  interact with the building’s residents. An actively-involved board is a good thing. Most board members live  at the property managed so they are the sounding board for the residents.”  

 “The role of a building or association’s board in managing their staff in a smaller property is vital,” says Westerhoff. “There is usually a lot of interaction between the staff and the board members as  they run into each other. That can also be a source of friction, which the  property manager has to lubricate and smooth over. We ask that our boards let  us know if they make specific requests of staff, and to generally have us give  directions to the staff. This makes for consistency of message.”  

 Experts agree that it is inevitable that a board or one of its members will  provide some direction to the staff. An example would be simply informing the  staff of something they observe in the building that needs attention. The  management company should embrace this type of interaction between the board  and the staff. But major matters such as communicating policies and procedures,  providing feedback on job performance or discipline needs to be a joint effort  between the board and the management company.  

 Keep it Simple

 Westerhoff utilizes a web-based program designed to ensure consistent customer  service. His goal is to provide each company associate with the needed tools to  deliver solutions for each client property. “We use off-the-shelf software that generates reports that boards understand and  we tweak it for each building” he says. “Most property management software is overly complicated, and we’ve discovered most people who are supposed to be using it have little or no idea  of what it does,” says Westerhoff, adding that the software reports are also confusing and  difficult to understand. “If you use technology that’s readily available to everyone, including smart phones, apps, email and  tweaking to standard software, you’ll stay on top of your client’s needs and be able to respond effectively and efficiently and give them  information that’s understandable.”  

 Avoid Common Mistakes

 Westerhoff, who oversees a staff that includes professionals in architecture,  construction management, government affairs, city code and financial and  administrative services, says he's seen new property managers make many  mistakes, such as failing to be accessible to staff and residents alike.  

 “Good management really stems from being available, listening and taking concerns  seriously,” he says. “We make a point of dealing with shareholders and unit holders, not just the  boards of the buildings we manage. It’s the best way to truly understand the culture of a building and its needs.  Another complaint we invariably hear from boards is that their management  companies haven’t planned for their needs. So it’s a shock when the façade needs to be done, or the roof replaced, and there aren’t funds to do it. Buildings want long-term financial planning and leadership and  guidance.”  

 And, says Simon Sarwa, CEO of Brooklyn-based Trillion Asset Management, “a common mistake building managers make is that they don’t realize that everything is based on relationships: relationships with vendors  and unit owners.” Sometimes, he says, “property managers miss that part because of the pressures. For example, unit  owners say they want a competitive rate but as an advisor for the building, you  have to focus on the quality of the work. If you don’t, it could end up costing the building more money than necessary.”  

 “Every building is different,” says Carro-Caputo. “The biggest mistake I see is when a manager thinks that the methods used in one  property must be used in another. Legally speaking, obviously, the rules are  the same when dealing with city agencies but the policies made by building  boards vary considerably, and you need to adapt to how one board wishes to run  their building versus another, while still making sure that these policies all  comply with the law.”  

 Learning More, Doing Better

 Education and training for managers is available from a number of sources.  

 “Most agents take various classes in real estate whether its management  techniques, building finances or project management,” says Carro-Caputo. “However, experience is the best teacher. I have found that making mistakes is  the only way to learn what not to do in the future. The quicker a manager  learns what works the most effectively in any situation is a sign of how good  an agent will be. Also, keeping up with all new developments affecting  buildings is extremely important. A manager who takes the time to keep informed  is a skill that must be learned quickly.”  

 “I think the best way for a property manager to learn his or her craft is to work  with an experienced manager, one recognized for successfully listening and  producing for his or her clients,” says Westerhoff. “In our case, we learned the tools of our trade by managing our own co-ops and  condos, because that’s the environment we understand and in which we know how to deliver for our  clients. I also think that professionals, who have a consulting background  often have the service mindset which the job of property manager requires. My  partners and I all come from consulting backgrounds,” he says.  

 Resources Available

 For education, networking within the property management arena, and leadership  training, few resources are as helpful as The Cooperator, as well as The  Cooperator's own annual Co-op & Condo Expo, held at the Hilton New York in Manhattan every spring. (Visit  www.coopexpo.com for information and registration info on the 2014 event.) In  addition to the publication and trade show, industry experts also recommend the  Hudson Valley or Long Island chapters of Community Associations Institute and  the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM), which has a local chapter in  St. Albans that serves the greater New York area.  

 The Pomona, New York and Commack, Long Island-based CAI chapters serve the  educational, business and networking needs of community associations in the  greater New York area. With nearly 60 chapters worldwide offering services and  programs to its members, membership in CAI includes condominium, cooperative,  and homeowner associations and those who provide services and products to  associations. For additional informational on CAI and its chapters go to  www.caionline.org. For information about IREM’s Greater New York Chapter No. 26, call them at 212-944-9445 or visit  www.iremnyc.org.  

 Overall managing human resources is about providing excellent service, working  as a team, sharing successes, failures, and training to continually improve  performance—and of course, having a dose of humor never hurts. Humor and recognition for a job well done are both excellent teachers and  motivators, and the best managers know that. When individuals learn to work  together as a group, and/or a team, cohesiveness is often experienced as a  result of mutual positive attitudes. Experts agree that in the end, the only thing that matters is what should be  done for the greater good of the property and doing whatever is necessary to  get the job done.       

 Anne Childers is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The  Cooperator. Staff writer Christy Smith-Sloman contributed to this article.  

 

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