How to Manage Properties: Detectives on Assembly Lines
Employees shouldn’t be mind-readers or push-button robots.
Royal Rose Properties has built its business model with an eye toward the long term, both in terms of how to manage properties on the daily, and in terms of how we treat our business from a big-picture perspective. But this creates an interesting bit of “corporate dissonance” – the dissonance between wanting everyone’s tasks to be documented and repeatable, and wanting everyone to be constantly alert and proactive and not necessarily blindly following those documented, repeatable steps.
Best Practices are Best for a Reason
Almost all of the jobs within Royal Rose Properties have documentation for every task they perform – documentation that is detailed enough that if someone unexpectedly “gets hit by a bus and can’t work”, someone else can in theory step in and do their job…just more slowly. We have hired people with backgrounds in process analysis to go over our training materials and revamp them so that they’re as easy as possible for a newbie to follow. In some cases, we actually have step-by-step workflow documents that consist of page-long “routines” for every major task, all internally hyperlinked together so that a worker can literally just start at the beginning, click through each phase of the overall workflow, and then easily note for the next time they come back to that task, “Next step: 5c – contact owner for approval” or something similar.
The advantages of this should be obvious to anyone – not only is it pretty easy to get started if your major workflow is that carefully documented, but it should be pretty rare for anyone to miss a critical step (unless they get cocky and decide to run without their workflow document open to check on). Most importantly, everyone within a given Department can step in and take over for someone who is sick or on vacation without really even missing a beat, because it’s always clear where in the process each task was paused.
But It’s Always More Complicated Than That
We have lots of sayings around RRP, repeated by all as a way of enforcing the culture. For example, we don’t say “Have a great day” – we say “Make it a great day.” One of the more common sayings we have is, “Be a detective, not a push-button robot.” In other words, even though we go to significant efforts to document our workflow and proceduralize everything we can, we recognize that you can’t follow those procedures blindly. If you’re just checking boxes and moving down the list, you’re going to miss something important that should have changed the way you treated the situation.
It’s easy, when you’re first starting here, to get into the habit of checking your workflow to make sure you didn’t miss a step – but it’s also easy to think that because you did everything on your list, you did everything…and that’s just not how reality works. The checklists are a minimum, but if you’re not proactively asking yourself “is there any reason why this should be treated differently at this point?”, you’re going to eventually miss a detail that should have changed what happened next.
The Resolution is Engagement
Fortunately, the dissonance between proceduralization and proactive thinking has a resolution. It’s found in engagement – the degree to which your workers are willing and able to dedicate their “discretionary focus” to the job. A worker that is disengaged will mindlessly fall back on procedure and do the bare minimum (at best – it’s possible to disengage enough that even checking all the boxes seems like it’s not worth the effort!) A worker that is engaged will be interested, not just busy.
How to keep workers engaged is a whole set of other articles, and maybe we’ll do those in the future – but for now, here’s our super-simplified crib notes:
• Challenge them without making them feel like they’ll never succeed,
• Use non-monetary benefits to motivate,
• Give the workers as much autonomy as their skill set and personality will allow, and
• Create a culture of teamwork, mutual support, and upbeat energy.
Do those things, and your workers will look forward to coming to work each day – and they’ll want to kick butt at their job.