While many property managers would like to believe their leasing offices are overflowing with employees who effectively demonstrate soft skills, such as spectacular verbal and written communication, amazing problem-solving capabilities, an attention to detail that is second to none, and the ability to think critically, the reality paints a much different picture. Today, finding employees who naturally display a high level of soft skills is rare because while the hard skills can be learned, the soft skills are often earned over time through trial and error.
Yet, a high percentage of turnover often reduces the opportunity for teachable moments on the front line. Fortunately, for those newbies who are willing to stick it out, and those who are willing to mentor and pass on knowledge, the multi-generational leasing office is the perfect place to impart soft skills wisdom and transfer those experiences from one generation to the next. Says Smooch Reynolds of DHR International, “I think any time two generations can exchange their unique ‘secret sauce’ to success, it becomes a mutually beneficial relationship. Certainly, the Millennials can offer a tremendous amount of knowledge and insight about the impact of the digital world, while the Baby Boomers can offer a little coaching about the most effective way to build relationships across generations.”
Consider these 3 ways to bolster soft skills in the multi-generational leasing office
1. Recruit the Right Attitude
The best person for the mentoring job isn’t always the individual with the highest leasing percentage, or the one with the most years of service. Albert Einstein once said, “Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty.” While the deep knowledge transfer of soft skills might flow naturally from the tenured generation to the new, there is much to be learned in the reverse direction, too. Boomers and Xers for example, tend to connect “soft skills” to communicating in a physical space, while Millennials better understand the conversations that start with a tweet, email, text, or instant message. In both cases, it will require a neutral attitude, willingness to gain new understanding, restraint from rushing to judgement, and patience. There is much to be learned and explored on both sides.
Idea: Communicate to the selected individuals that the goal is to transfer knowledge and wisdom in both directions. No employee should feel superior to the other—they are both mentoring. Set-up a “snapshot” meeting where the two employees can spend 15 minutes each sharing their general work/school experience, knowledge, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Establish a few 30-day goals, and then allow them to share with their supervisor the knowledge and experience they gained from their mentorship. Repeat.
2. Create a Feedback Loop
Somehow a process which was designed to be positive is often perceived as fear provoking and time consuming. Giving and receiving timely feedback in a loop is the most important communication that will take place in your leasing office. It is a process that requires constant attention and open exchanges. George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” A daily feedback loop should be activated as observations occur. The giving of constructive feedback and receiving of new directions should feel natural and continuous. In fact, the act of giving and accepting feedback is a soft skill, and like all others it takes practice to get it right.
Idea: There should be few surprises when you implement a day-to-day feedback loop. Encourage your entire team to build a feedback culture that crosses titles and positions. What did your coworker do well? What improvements can they make to their soft skills that will positively impact the team? Consider creating an anonymous “positive feedback” box in your office where all employees can catch their coworkers doing great things throughout the day. Don’t store feedback up – give it often.
3. Infuse Intrapreneurship
Front-line employees are the ones directly interacting daily with customers. Infusing intrapreneurship is encouraging employees to act like an entrepreneur within your company. The goal is to encourage employees to be highly self-motivated, proactive, and action-oriented even within the boundaries of your leasing office. Their ability to self-reflect on how customers respond to their soft skills, seek feedback from a mentor, and then offer their own ideas, is priceless. This experience-based learning style boosts confidence and drives ownership.
Idea: Present a soft skill you want your team to improve upon, for example ‘how can we make our first impression in-person greeting stand out from the competition?’ Present the challenge to all of your employees (office and maintenance) and let it incubate for a week. Ask each person to present a written solution or ideas for improvement. It is likely that each employee will tackle the challenge differently based on their perspective, generation, experience, position, etc. Intrapreneurship encourages employees to take ownership and gives them the freedom and support to succeed. They need to own the problem and the solution!
The ability to express ideas with clarity, to effectively engage customers one-on-one, to confidently present problem-solving solutions, to patiently listen to customer needs, and to comfortably communicate with all generations are the kinds of soft skills you’re not going to learn in school or on the Internet. A multi-generational leasing office will strengthen these soft skills by blending fresh insights and energy with wisdom that comes from rich experiences and perspective.
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions