Inspiring the Team

How Western National Property Management uses creativity and a pinch of fun to keep its people motivated, challenged and happy.
Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash

Serving as a team leader is particularly demanding at a time when a labor shortage is nearing epidemic proportions. The challenge of finding and retaining qualified employees is no small challenge for smaller and emerging real estate companies. In a recent survey by Globoforce, human resources executives cited retention as the top workforce management challenge. Rewarding, motivating and inspiring teams is imperative.

As president of Western National Property Management since 2010, Laura Khouri is well acquainted with these challenges. She directs strategy for the company, which is the property management arm of Western National Group, and oversees operations for a 180-asset multifamily portfolio. 

Khouri spoke with MHN about motivating and retaining employees through engaging experiences and productivity-enhancing events.

What have you found to be some particularly effective ways to inspire and  your team?

Khouri: One of the ways that we do this is through our annual leadership conference. Our entire company, including property managers, maintenance teams, leasing agents and our executive team, closes down our offices for the full day and gathers for this conference. Our main goal is to make the conference different from any other conference they’ve attended, and one that they will remember for years to come. It is filled with unique speakers and activities to promote and inspire our team.

This year, our keynote speakers were The Passing Zone (John Wee and Owen Morse, the comedy duo and America’s Got Talent finalists). If you’ve heard of them, you are probably asking yourself, “How do jugglers that juggle chainsaws relate to leadership?” The answer is simple. Juggling, especially dangerous objects that could injure your partner, requires a variety of key leadership traits such as teamwork, trust, consistency and strong communication. As the keynote speakers, The Passing Zone discussed these key characteristics and why they are essential to building true leaders, all while providing an entertaining learning experience for our employees.

Laura Khouri, Western National Property Management

Khouri: The annual conference is part of a formal program. We have a team in-place that is responsible for the ideation, planning and execution of the conference. That said, the fundamentals we incorporate into our annual conference are something that we implement throughout our offices, the properties we manage and the way we work together as a team on a daily basis.

What are the challenges you encounter when trying to inspire your team?

Khouri: Leadership conferences are not a new idea, and many seem to blur together as a monotonous group. We want to ensure that our employees actually enjoy our conference, which is why we always offer unique opportunities such as the America’s Got Talent performers. When your employees are engaged in the program, they are much more likely to retain and implement the concepts they’ve learned.

What was the initial motivation for this program? How long has it been in place and what are the results?

Khouri: We have been hosting this annual conference for more than 23 years. Each year, it has evolved into something bigger and better. Our initial motivation was to inspire our employees and provide them with the newest tools in serving our clients.

Over the years, it has evolved into a day of learning, but mostly a day of appreciation and giving. Today’s workforce, especially the Millennial generation, places a significant emphasis on giving back and social impact. This is also ingrained in our DNA as a company.

During our conference this year, our team gathered in groups where they were tasked with building a water filtration system that would be sent to refugee camps in Uganda. The caveat was that one individual was blindfolded building the water filtration system while the rest of the team gave direction on what the person’s next steps were. This relates back to teaching teamwork and out-of-box solutions while also having a social impact. On the day of the conference, our team built more than 85 water filtration systems, which will provide clean water for thousands.

Can you measure it in terms like better productivity or employee retention?

Khouri: One of the most important components of our annual leadership conference is that in addition to learning leadership tactics, the conference is filled with (examples of) employee appreciation. Throughout the day, we host awards, raffles for employees to win prizes, and family style lunch and events.

The combination of learning new skills and demonstrating that we truly care about them and appreciate their hard work definitely translates to happier and more productive employees. After our leadership conference each year, we see a spike in productivity, eagerness of our employees to excel in their roles and a happier overall company culture. We want to empower our employees and believe that events such as this truly have an impact on their long-term growth and productivity.

Who is responsible for implementing these strategies?

Khouri: While our executive team is at the forefront of coming up with new and unique ideas to inspire our team, we are not a pyramid, top-down company. Our company culture exemplifies collaboration, and ideas are welcome at any level. We encourage our team to bring us ideas on how we can further deliver on our goals to provide the best service to clients, our employees and our communities.

Finding and retaining qualified employees can surely be troublesome nowadays. Do you expect things to change in the year ahead? 

Khouri: We believe that you attract what you give. Our company is focused on creating a positive, fulfilling and strong culture. As a result, we are a group of hardworking and dedicated individuals and seem to keep attracting that same type of employee. We are confident that this will remain the same in 2019.

Photo courtesy of Western National Property Management