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Stephanie Anderson: The Importance of Getting Staff Onboard and On Point

Stephanie AndersonStephanie Anderson has been on the job just over a month as a portfolio manager and onboard specialist for the Franklin Johnston Group, but she is already making a big difference for this Virginia-based apartment developer. She not only oversees three of the company's communities, she plays a key role in the recruiting and training of new staffers. 

Anderson started in the business seven years ago as a part-time leasing consultant and worked her way up through the ranks. She comes to Franklin Johnston after having served as the Senior Community Manager for Management Services Corp.'s (MSC's) Harbor Village Apartments in Richmond, Va. More importantly for her current position, she served on the MSC Legacy Training Committee, which offers continuing employee education. She had also served as a training mentor for new employees.

She sat down with Operations Insights recently to discuss how she is taking what she learned at MSC and is applying it to her new responsibilities at Franklin Johnston.  

What follows is our chat:

NATIONAL APARTMENT ASSOCIATION: What are your current duties and responsibilities?

STEPHANIE ANDERSON: I oversee three properties in my portfolio, but that is just the smaller portion of my job. The big picture of what I do is what's called onboard specialist. That means I am actively involved in the recruiting phases of new employees. Once the employees are hired, I bring them on and do a new employee orientation with them. I talk about the history of the company and all of the wonderful things they are going to be exposed to with the company. I mentor both current and new employees. I provide educational resources to them, everything from online training to in-classroom training, promoting the NAAEI designation. You name it, I do it!

NAA: Why is it so important to onboard staff correctly?

SA: All too many times, we find in this industry when people are hired, we need someone pretty quickly. We don't have what some would call "a bench," which is what my company is promoting. We get employees ready to take that next step up. So, when a position becomes available, we have somebody already trained and ready to go. The onboarding process means that we have more time to bring people on slowly in the company -- to interview and find the perfect candidate that not only fits the position, but fits our company culture. Once we bring them on, we want to make sure they are trained right. We don't just want to throw them in. I remember my first day years ago. They said, "Here are some floor plans, here is your computer, and have at it." That's the way the industry has been set up, and we don't want to do that.

NAA: And you've only been on the job a month?

SA: Yes, but we're a brand new company. We just opened this year, and we went from zero to 6,000 units overnight.  Life is just a whirlwind right now, and the great part about it is we get to set the standards and decide where we're going to go from here.

NAA: In just the first month, how have you already been able to put your personal stamp on things?

SA: The great news is the company hired me because they saw that not only was I a go-getter, but that I have a lot of great ideas that they wanted me to implement here. What I have done so far is start a new online training program called LeaseHawk, offering a university set-up called Wings where I can go in and set up specific tracks for our different positions here. What I'm talking about is taking, let's say, an assistant property manager. He or she is ready to be a property manager, but there are no openings yet and that person still needs some additional training. He or she is able to go in and take the classes I've picked for him or her that I feel is going to take someone with the assistant property manager knowledge and get them ready to be a property manager. Think about it from the standpoint of college. You know that in order to get your degree, you have to take certain classes. You do have electives, just as this program also has electives. But you have your basic courses that you need to get that degree. This is very similar. You have a goal in mind to take the next step up for promotion, and these are the classes that are going to greatly prepare you for that next position. We're also going to coordinate that with some one-on-one training and mentoring by me and some on-site training by anyone else who is already involved in that position.

NAA: Did you run a training or mentoring program at your previous job?

SA: I did. We had a training program called Legacy, and it was named that because we were giving a gift to our employees to make them better at what they do. It was not only for new employees, but current employees as well.

NAA: Congratulations on winning the 2013 NAA PARAGON Award for Certified Apartment Manager of the Year.

SA: Thank you! That was definitely a highlight of my year for sure.

NAA: You were able to achieve a 99 percent occupancy at Harbor Village Apartments. What were some of the initiatives that helped you do that?

SA: At my last company, I was given the opportunity to be creative. Every community has a pool, a staff. We all have similar amenities and floor plans, give or take some square footage. But what's important are the little things that set you apart. One of the things I did was create the Extra Mile program. It started at my property and then went companywide. I plan to roll the program out here, as well. What we did was create these door tags that maintenance would put on, let's just say, one building a week depending on the size of the community. The goal was to get to each building roughly twice a year. The tag would read: "We want to do what you need help with in your home. Let us know." The residents would then take the tag and tell us what they needed done, whether it was some pictures hung or their garbage disposal unclogged. It benefited the resident because it gave them the sense that we really wanted to help them and that they are not a burden. From our aspect, it not only helps in that the resident feels good but we're getting in each unit to make sure that routine maintenance is also taken care of. Because we are going the "extra mile" for them, we would also attach a package of Extra gum to the door tag. It was cute, people loved it, and it got rave reviews. It definitely helped with resident retention. Mind you, during this time, we were doing up to 9 percent rent increases on our renewals. We had to keep doing little extra things to create more value, since we weren't offering any new amenities yet the rent was going up.

NAA: Do you have any other "creative" stories you'd like to share?

SA: I love DIY stuff, or "Do It Yourself." If you go to Peachtree and Great American, you can buy some cute things on there. But if you're buying there, so are your competitors. You really have to stand out. So, I taught my staff to always do the DIY stuff. Water bottles, for instance. You can put your own logos on them. You go to Sam's Club, you buy a package of water bottles, there's 24 of them, and using a Publisher program you might already have on your computer, you create your logo, and you put it on the water bottles, and display them in a clear-glass refrigerator in your rental office. Your vendors or your prospects walk in, take a bottle, and they're carrying it all over to all the places they are going. It's free word of mouth, yet we're offering a service in that we are giving those thirsty a free product.

NAA: What a great, little basic idea!

SA: It's so cheap and so easy. You can pay companies to do this for you, but most properties are on a pretty strict budget. Any way you can cut costs but still not cut what you are doing is a plus.

NAA: This article is going to run in our November issue. So, is there anything coming up in the last part of the year or in the first quarter of 2014 that has you excited?

SA: We are a development company. Right now, we do a little bit of third-party management. But predominantly we build properties from the ground up, and we take it all the way through the management process. We have a lot of new developments that are coming in the area. We have some in the Northern Virginia area and some in the Peninsula and the Virginia Beach area.  As a result, we're really excited about what 2014 is going to bring for us. For me personally, what we are looking to be as a company is best in class and the preferred employer of choice. We want to have a long waiting list of people who want to work for us.

By Teddy Durgin
© Copyright 2013 INFORMATION, INC.

Operations Insights