Winning the Fight for Talent

December 4, 2018 |

Updated August 4, 2021

6 minute read

Finding the right talent starts online. Learn how a company evangelizes its employees to find talent and revamped its organization structure to provide career paths for those associates.

Alex O'Brien

Regardless of how good your strategy is or how sparkling your apartments are, it is hard to be successful if you don’t have the right people. Human talent is the defining factor in success.

Finding talent, developing it and molding it into a cohesive team is something that Alex O'Brien, Chief Operating Officer at Cardinal Group Cos., spends a lot of time thinking about. At Cardinal, O’Brien has not only upended the traditional Regional Manager model, but also has focused on connecting with perspective employees well before they even know they are looking for a new job. 

You can find out more about how O’Brien views talent in this rapidly changing environment during his "The Value of Talent" talk at CampusConnex next February 12-13 in Orlando. Here’s a sneak preview.

How important is it to have qualified talent?

O’Brien: Most of what you hear is that automation and artificial intelligence could make positions – such as leasing agents obsolete. We are at this crossroads where the importance of talent will be minimized in the future, but right now attracting talent is essential. Talented people who want to stay in an organization and grow their careers have become more important than ever—both on the sales [leasing] side and on the maintenance side. 

If it’s hard to find good people, you must make good people. That’s been a big part of our success. Many of our current Vice Presidents and Directors started in the organization at lower-level positions. We have hired young talent and continue to groom it into senior leadership roles.

How are you finding those good people? 

O’Brien: We just relaunched our website. A lot of property management firms use their websites to focus on the client. But the clients already know about your company. Our website is designed to attract people to work with us. It’s a recruiting tool. Very few ownership groups decide to hire you based on your website, but a hell of a lot of people who are researching where to work are on your website reading about your culture and leadership. They are really taking a deep dive into what makes your company different. We are really focused on building something unique and on the Cardinal Culture, which has been a huge part of talent attraction and retention for us.

How has technology shaped your recruiting strategy?

O’Brien: We are trying to get people interested in Cardinal Group, especially those that are gainfully employed and who have other employment options.

We want to show them the heart of the company—what it is like to work here and why people love to work here. We focus on connecting with potential employees on social media. We can connect with them up to a year in advance and lay the groundwork of the relationship. 

We want to show them about Cardinal and the opportunities that we have. We continue to do that on social media and on Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin. We want to evangelize our workforce so that it’s not just a corporate posting. We want people on our team telling the world how much they love working at Cardinal Group.

That is huge for recruiting talent. A lot of people we interview tell us that they have been watching Cardinal for six months or a year before they decided to apply for a job.

What do you post on those social channels?

O’Brien: We have short videos and pictures of communities that we manage and our teammates post details about their career journeys. That is a powerful first step. It’s a huge part of the recruiting platform and strategy. We want people to self-select and say they want to be a part of our culture. When they come in with that attitude, they usually have positive careers at Cardinal Group.

Tell me about your operating structure and what sets it apart?

O’Brien: We’ve focused on a different operating structure. The traditional model is that a leasing All-Star had to learn payables to get a promotion to assistant manager. Then they would add other skills to become a manager. That became the upward path in the industry.

We’ve opened channels for specialists to advance and utilize their skills. We have created many career paths, including the Sales (Leasing) Manager advancing from onsite to Area or Regional Leasing Manager. By doing that, we create a lot of excitement. People can focus on what they like and what they’re good at. We don’t want a bookkeeper to stop focusing on bookkeeping and learn about leasing because that’s the only way they can get promoted. 

Who takes the traditional Regional Manager role in your portfolio?

O’Brien: We have a dedicated role called the Portfolio Manager. Our Portfolio Managers focus on strategy, financial review and setting rents—things that create value. But a traditional Regional Manager often spends time with smaller things--such as employee complaints and customer issues—so they don’t have time for the high-end strategic planning.

Our Portfolio Manager has a three-person dedicated team assigned to them, which allows them to do the things the industry wants Regional Managers to do by unshackling them from a smaller work. These specialists include a focus on Operations, Sales and Accounting.

How do you identify people who can move up in your organization?

O’Brien: To set people up for a great career, you must hire the right employees.  Our stated goal is “ Give Hiring Managers the best chance to make the best hiring decision.”

For us, the thefirst step is to use an assessment tool to learn more about the candidate and the “fit” in the position.  We use WonScore by Wonderlic but there are plenty of options to choose from.  

After that and a resume review,  we utilize a video-interviewing software so we can truly learn about each applicant.   We truly believe that video-interviewing on your smartphone will be commonplace in the next few years – replacing dated methods like phone screens.  

Hiring the right person is subjective. Many say that if the person does a good job, then I hired the right person. That is a fallacy. There could have been three better people in the applicant pool and just because the one you hired worked out doesn’t mean it was the right hire.

Conversely, if the hire doesn’t work out, it doesn’t mean it was the wrong hire. It means they didn’t jive with their manager or they had an event in their life and they were unable to focus on work. So much goes into it.  

How does career advancement happen at Cardinal?

O’Brien: I think there’s a mix of quantitative and qualitative factors and every organization must get that right.

We’re constantly ranking our employees based on performance. We use a lot of data and have 10 specific KPIs that we are measuring. Examples include everything from CNOI performance to online reputation, collections, lead follow-up and more.

We take them into account for ranking our managers and our operating teams. We add a qualitative measurement from the manager that is in tune with a quarterly check-in performance plan.