How to ACE Onboarding and Team Member Engagement
By Jennifer Moran
The first few days of a new job can be among the most exciting and terrifying moments in a career. The potential seems limitless but learning lots of new systems and skill sets can be daunting. Getting the onboarding process right in these early days can set the foundation for team member loyalty and success.
According to a 2017 Society for Human Resource Management report using statistics compiled by onboarding software company Click Board, 69 percent of employees who experience a great onboarding process are more likely to stay with a company for three years. Additionally, organizations that use an established onboarding program see a 50 percent increase in new-hire productivity.
These results highlight why it is especially critical for the residential property management companies to master onboarding. A successful and dynamic onboarding period can set up your team for great success or lots of headaches. Multifamily property management companies can’t just stop after a 30-day or 90-day onboarding period. Consistent engagement is crucial to ensure that new skills are cultivated and nurtured over time. Those skills then grow, leading team members to reach new heights and take on expanded responsibilities.
Further, a successful onboarding process should be applicable to all team members, regardless of their role. Yes, some managers will need additional training, but the foundation should be the same for all.
These goals may seem like lofty aspirations or unrealistic in today’s hectic work environment, especially on-site at apartment communities. Acing the onboarding process and continued engagement will take time, resources, and commitment, but it’s attainable and the results are worth the effort.
In fact, mastering the onboarding process can be achieved by following what I refer to as the ACE strategy: Accountability, Consistency and Engagement.
Accountability is the first component of the ACE strategy because it’s crucial to everything else. Welcoming new team members offers the perfect opportunity to establish a strong and positive relationship. To be certain, it’s the ideal time to gain trust and clearly communicate expectations. It’s important that expectations are set for new team members, their managers, and training staff to ensure accountability for everyone. Trust is built when that accountability runs in multiple directions.
Setting those expectations should happen even before a new employee’s first day. At HHHunt Apartment Living, a member of the onboarding team contacts a new team member before they officially join the company to welcome them and share information about what they can expect. Communicating early helps build that vital trust and ease concerns a new employee might have.
That accountability is further reinforced by consistent follow up at the 30-day and 90-day milestones. Honesty during these check-ins with a new team member is paramount. For example, members of the onboarding or training team should share feedback from the new employee with his or her manager, which can help prompt the manager to intervene early if any concerns arise. These check-in conversations don’t have to be lengthy and are typically conducted via phone calls.
Finally, accountability also should mean learning from others. A new assistant community manager recently noted the following during a review period: “The training offered by HHHunt is hands-on and sets you up for success within the company immediately. You receive the opportunity to travel to other communities and meet with other co-workers.” This ability to interact and share lessons across properties resonates strongly during the onboarding and training process. It’s yet another way that residential property management teams can hold themselves accountable to helping each other, and the entire company, grow.
Components of the ACE strategy build on one another. That’s why consistency is a factor in ensuring accountability and vice versa. Consistency also is key in terms of the structure and content of an onboarding program. All employees, regardless of position or whether they’re on an office or service team, should receive the same foundational training.
This consistent approach offers many benefits, two of which are notable. First, developing the same foundational onboarding is more efficient than trying to tailor the process to each new employee. It’s also easier to ensure company standards are uniform throughout an apartment portfolio. Second, consistent onboarding allows a residential property management company to better maintain a unified customer experience. With more than 20 apartment communities across four states, we believe that a potential resident in one community should have a similar positive experience to any other community, whether its five miles or 500 miles away.
A common foundation to onboarding should include the same topics and delivery of training. For example, a mix of in-person training sessions and virtual learning will provide a variety of learning formats to meet new employee needs. Core onboarding classes should include Fair Housing, workplace diversity, and workplace harassment. New Team Member Orientation is offered to all new team members within their first 30 days and covers specific company and operations information but more importantly, introduces the company culture. Additionally, we’ve seen success with adding core classes that focus on customer experiences. All team members participate in these customer experience classes because all employees represent the company and are likely to interact with residents.
The best onboarding programs build on these foundational classes with additional training customized to specific roles. For example, leasing consultants will need leasing best practices and must learn how to manage on-site software. Likewise, service technicians will receive specialized maintenance and safety training. Finally, managers must complete more intensive training related to financial management, leadership, and emotional intelligence.
Thus, consistency exists on two levels. The foundational onboarding classes are intended for all new employees and in-person classes purposefully include a mix of leasing and service team members. Then, specialized training is the same for specific team members and positions.
For onboarding and training to be successful, ongoing engagement must be part of the strategy. Engagement can take many forms, but HHHunt has found two that are most impactful on new and recent employees.
First, residential property management companies should invest in continuing education opportunities for all team members. That education must continue past the 90-day milestone. HHHunt established HHHunt University to provide a wide array of educational and training programs for employees. Participation in these ongoing programs occurs on company time and most classes are open to any employees. Accessibility is another consideration, which is why virtual learning tools can be a powerful supplement to instructor-led training.
This commitment to support the growth potential of team members and allow open enrollment has boosted engagement among employees. Interestingly, classes on emotional intelligence are among the most popular and a prerequisite for certain management-level positions. So, not only can a residential property management team enhance engagement, it can get an early indicator of team members who are invested in their career long-term.
Perhaps the most important practice regarding engagement is that it doesn’t just refer to new employees. Managers who oversee new employees must be directly involved and engaged in the training process. It’s imperative for buy-in from managers to ensure that training lessons are followed and take hold. Collaboration with a new employee’s manager also connects back to the program’s accountability.
A service manager, who was recently promoted from service tech and joined HHHunt less than a year ago, shared his perspective that engagement is crucial to success because the company strives to put employees in the best possible position to grow. He writes, “A big part of that success comes from the bond and relationship they create with you from day one. I was very pleased with how quickly I became acclimated to my new working environment and that was greatly due to how everyone embraces you.”
To encourage manager engagement, ensure that they’ve participated in any new or updated training programs, so they understand new approaches and best practices. Additionally, trainers should contact managers at the 30-day and 90-day marks to check-in about the new employee and remind them to reinforce skills learned during the onboarding. Finally, weekly on-site meetings at the community level always include a training message and tip. Plus, the training team provides updates at the end of each month so that employees understand what should have been covered during the month.
This final tip highlights the interconnected nature of the ACE strategy: accountability, consistency and engagement are built on and support one another. Implementing a robust onboarding process and ongoing team member engagement takes the proper investment of time and resources. As residential property management teams will discover, that investment will produce more dedicated, productive, and loyal teams that deliver improved customer service and results.
Jennifer Moran is Director of Training and Management Development for HHHunt Apartment Living, which develops and manages multifamily communities. She oversees the company’s onboarding and training for all team members and manages HHHunt Apartment Living’s learning management system. She can be contacted via email.