When Corporate Culture Starts With People
How do you build a strong organization that motivates employees and increases their loyalty? Executives reveal their strategies.
It all starts with people. This seems to be a unanimous belief among multifamily players when it comes to building and fostering a strong, successful and healthy corporate culture. And when employees, business partners and residents all rally around the same views, there’s no limit to how much a multifamily company can grow.
“We believe our people are our greatest asset and the reason for our success,” Alexis Vance, chief marketing officer with RPM Living, told Multi-Housing News. Overseeing more than 112,000 units, RPM is one of the largest property managers in the country.
The NRP Group is another large multifamily player that knows that the best way to grow a business is to uplift and build up the diverse people within the company, according to Senior Vice President of Human Resources Tracy Miller. The employee-centric culture encourages each team member to put their talent and energy to work every day, knowing that they have personally contributed to the growth and success of the company.
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“Building a strong culture of diversity, equity and inclusion within an organization is a long-term initiative that requires constant education to make true, meaningful progress. It has to become a part of the fabric and ethos of an organization—not merely a marketing tool leveraged to appeal to and recruit talent,” Miller said.
Nowadays, candidates can easily spot companies that don’t have an authentic corporate culture that inspires team members and encourages them to progress. The elements that make up a strong corporate culture look good on brochures and websites, but they mean nothing if they don’t translate into actions. John Foresi, CEO of Venterra Realty—a company that has more than $4 billion multifamily assets under management—sums up his company’s culture as “what we do when no one is looking.”
“We aren’t in the apartment business, we’re in the people business,” Foresi said. “The interactions that our colleagues have with our residents are what make our business. Any property management company can provide landlord services, but our care differentiates us in the industry.”
Core values and beliefs bring people together
And genuine care is just one of the core values that can lay the foundation of a strong corporate culture. Trust, integrity, respect and teamwork are foundational to many multifamily businesses. Fostering a sense of community from the top down is also paramount when building a corporate culture that resonates with both employees and candidates. And these focus values often remain in place even when a company changes its investment strategy.
When Mack-Cali Realty Corp. rebranded as Veris Residential in December 2021 and transitioned into a pure-play multifamily REIT, the company’s core values played a key role in building its new path to success, acting as the glue that held teams together.
“When you show that you are empathetic to the real-world needs of employees, they can be more attentive to the real-world needs of the business,” COO Anna Malhari told MHN. According to an independent-party survey at the company, 90 percent of its employees feel like they are treated fairly based on gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
Malhari is a strong believer in an open-door leadership philosophy. She makes herself available to all employees, irrespective of their position within the company and she also regularly visits properties to make sure company values are reflected in the way employees interact with residents. “At the end of the day, success involves people. Good leaders need to be a part of their company culture in every way,” she said.
People stay longer when they’re heard and appreciated
A company’s culture plays a key role in its profitability, reputation, attraction and retention of employees, according to Consultant & Leadership Coach Maria Pietroforte. “When the team is engaged, they will naturally perform at a higher level. This saves time, generates new ideas, encourages extraordinary service, improves reputation scores and much more, resulting in a healthier bottom line and talent pool,” she said.
It is no secret that one of the biggest challenges for anyone in a leadership role today is to retain the most talented and capable employees that want to be part of the team and resonate with the company’s culture, Foresi noted. One way to do this is to make sure all members of the staff have a healthy work-life balance and do not suffer from stress or even burnout.
“If we do not achieve this balance, the turnover among our colleagues will be high which, in turn, makes it impossible to achieve a market-leading living experience for our residents, which is always our objective,” Foresi said.
A healthy lifestyle that extends beyond the office is also vital for RPM Living leaders. “Setting boundaries and adhering to those boundaries is key to finding work-life balance and achieving sustained success,” Vance said. RPM supports this by providing a flexible work schedule, competitive personal time off, wellness perks and discounts.
At Investors Management Group, a national apartment investor with a current portfolio of 4,800 units, all team members are encouraged to make their voices heard and participate in every meeting, including investment committee meetings, which are traditionally held exclusively among top leadership. This way, every employee can express an opinion or ask a question, according to IMG Principal & Co-President Karlin Conklin.
“Reducing hierarchy and valuing everyone’s unique contributions has significantly boosted our staff’s motivation, innovation and productivity,” Conklin said.
Another important aspect that weighs heavily in an employee’s decision to stay with or leave a multifamily company is recognition and getting credit for their successes. This is particularly important within brokerage companies, where agents are very competitive and need to feel valued and supported.
“Oftentimes in real estate, agents under the same brokerage are taught to see each other as competitors, creating a tense and stressful workplace. To break that pattern, real estate companies should focus on celebrating individual success as much as company success. Agents, employees, and leadership should view each other as assets and resources, not as competitors. The success of one is the success of all,” Matthews Real Estate Investment Services COO Duerk Brewer told MHN.
Eradicating toxic corporate cultures
And while competition can lead to progress, growth and innovation, it can also damage company culture if things are taken to extremes. Lack of communication and equal treatment of all employees, negativity and staff burnout often result in a toxic work environment. This can further lead to conflicts among employees, reduced productivity and even lawsuits.
“While a positive culture can’t simply be put in place or bought, the same can be said about eradicating toxic culture,” Vance said. “You can’t buy your way out of it or simply ‘remove’ it overnight. It’s important to listen to your associates. If one associate thinks or feels something, odds are there are many more that do, too. Being able to receive feedback and make actionable changes based off that feedback is the first step to eradicating toxic culture.”