I recently had the opportunity to meet with someone who explained her success to me in a way that made me smile.
"What's your secret?" I asked. "I saw you step into this project three times since we started it. You were there in the beginning to get things started. Then you left and things took a dive. You came back and things improved. Then you left and things went down again. Now you're back and things are great!"
I was sitting across the table from a woman who had just made us $2.6 million dollars. It wasn't all her doing, but she sure made a huge difference! When she was there, operations looked good. When she left, performance slacked off. I wanted to hear in her own words what she thought about that. As we sipped sweet tea, she explained.
"It all comes down to people." She said with a smile. "They're the magic behind any great operation."
Her name is Julie and she's a property manager. We talked for nearly two hours. I asked her in more than one way that "what's your secret?"question. There was no management trick I didn't already know. There was no schedule or medicine she put in employees breakfast cereal. She very simply lead by example, expected the best, communicated clearly what was expected, and held herself and others to a high standard.
She told me about this person who needed time off to be with family. She told me about that person who liked to go above and beyond and was rewarded for doing so. She spoke about loyalty, encouragement, and accountability. At every conversation turn, people were the focus. I refilled her glass from the pitcher on our table.
She recounted the great tornado of 1978 and the effect it had on her as a child. She talked about sharing her free time with the community to help them get and stay prepared for tornados and other significant weather events. Her entire life was passion and people - other people around her.
This team had made us a lot of money. Together, we delivered on a promise made in 2009 when we bought that property. Everyone would leave the closing table better off as a result, but the ride wasn't without challenges.
We took $500k worth of damage to several of our roofs by hail before we ever bought the property. That damage wasn't caught by the inspector during due diligence. We didn't pay dividends for some time in the beginning as a result. In the background, we were collecting the money from the inspector's insurance.
At one point, we had a manager who did his 8 hours and left. No connection with staff. The staff became complacent. No interest in doing better - in being better. When he was let go and Julie came in, she did what was necessary to make things right again. The staff were energized and followed suit.
Earlier that day, we toured the property. A young woman approached me while I was in the office. She was being terminated. She told me her story and why she was being let go. It was clear that she knew exactly why she was being fired and though she wanted another job, she didn't seem to want to argue the fact that she deserved it. There were tears behind her eyes, but she had done something wrong and knew it. Communication was working here and I could see it's effects even in a termination.
I noticed that both Julie and the head of maintenance picked up trash as they took me on a tour of our property. It was clear to me that they not only had a people focus, but also took personal pride in what they do. Picking up trash seemed like a reflex to them. They were responsible and I'm grateful that they were.
This experience was a great example of leadership, communication and a people focus at work. The proof is in the bottom line. The money made on this property exceeded our most optimistic projections - even in a bad economy.