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Observer Effect

By Paul Rhodes

Recently I had the blessing of teaching a Certificate for Apartment Maintenance Technician (CAMT) class in Houston in a room right next to Rich George (the NOI Coach) whom was teaching a Certified Apartment Manager (CAM) designation class in the adjoining room. (I’m not sure it was much of a blessing for him and his students as, neighboring rooms have mentioned that I can be a little loud…)

One day we decided to perform a short experiment. As I was speaking to a group populated by mostly on-site maintenance personnel, and he was speaking to a room of mostly on-site administrative personnel we asked each group the same question. We then listed the answers to this question on a flip chart and in the afternoon swapped rooms for a short time to present the findings. The results were interesting…

The question we each asked was “What challenges faced in this room does the other room need to understand?” The results from the CAMT class that I presented to the managers were as follows:

  • Legibility and better information is needed on service requests (more detail is better)
  • More complete communication from the Admin staff to Maintenance staff is needed
  • Maintenance is typically not included in decision making so we don’t understand the reasons why something is done a certain way; “Just get it done”
  • The office needs to understand the power of unintentional promises: for example when they tell a resident that a tech will be “right there”, the resident expects them now, not after other higher priority service requests are completed
  • Please have a respect for my time after hours. (Even when on call results in not having to respond to the property, it is a stressor just to be on call) or Don’t hold service requests till the end of the day.
  • Why does there have to be 2 separate teams on site? Don’t we all have the same goals?
  • It seems that our priorities don’t match, what is important or urgent to maintenance doesn’t seem to carry the same weight for the office.
  • Why is there not cross training or opportunities for the office to see just how long it takes to do a task or job?
  • What happened to regular full staff meetings?

Rich asked the same questions to the CAM class and these were his results:

  • Maintenance needs to be more flexible
  • Please have a greater attention to detail in tasks
  • The Maintenance department needs to do a better job at training and delegation; this is expressed in a greater need for teamwork out of that department
  • Communicating processes and tasks is a difficult thing to pass along to the maintenance department
  • Please show more respect for the privacy of residents
  • Why is there an “Us versus Them” mentality?
  • Please embrace technology
  • Please embrace change
  • We need more initiative soulutions from maintenance technicians
  • The thought that “residents are ignorant” is a wrong one for a technician to have

Rich and I thought it was interesting and surprising at just how many of the topics were similar between the rooms without us prompting answers.

I bring this information to you, dear reader, not to solve these problems but to introduce a thought in our property operations. The thought is based upon Science…

In physics there is a scientific principal called: The Observer Effect. It states that just the act of making observations changes the outcome of the situation. Liken this to checking if the coffee in your cup is cool enough to drink. No matter how small you sip it, you will remove a little of the coffee from the cup, changing the volume and removing a slight amount of heat in the coffee have left to drink.

What would happen if we asked this same question to the staff at the community; what would the responses be?

Even if we didn’t try to change anything based the answers that were given, what could change about our respective roles, if we just asked the question to our teams and discussed the results?

I’d like to see that…