Making the Grade Evaluating Management Performance

Making the Grade

No matter what the job—be it flipping burgers at a chain restaurant or running a multinational investment firm—employees should be given periodic reviews of their performance to assess how they’re doing and identify both their strengths and areas where they could use improvement.

Given that the property management field is a client-service industry, assessing how individual managing agents serve their residents and associations is critical to a management company’s success. Firms and individual employees can benefit from this evaluation.

It’s All About Service

“We are in a client service industry, and it’s important for us to gauge whether our employee is providing top-notch service, and serving the clients at the highest caliber possible,” says Ted Tucker, vice president of management and operations for Taylor Management Co. in Cedar Knolls, New Jersey.

Once upon a time, manager evaluations were done once a year. Employees would clock in their time, wait for their annual job evaluation — along with the possibility of a raise or promotion—and then repeat, same time next year.

Times have changed, however. While some management firms still do once-a-year evaluations, many have decided that may not be the best, most effective way to gauge their employees’ performances. Today, companies have supplemented annual reviews with other, more frequent methods of appraisal and evaluation.

Curt Macysyn, executive vice president of the Community Associations Institute (CAI) in Mercerville, New Jersey and a property manager himself, says that how often a manager is evaluated depends on both the person’s contract and the needs of the community, but agrees that evaluation should be ongoing.

Once way to achieve that is to call upon the resources of seasoned veteran agents to act as mentors to their less experienced colleagues. Regardless of their approach however, any good management company will touch base with their client communities on a regular basis via such evaluation tools as surveys and questionnaires, enabling them to hear directly from clients about how they are doing and what could be improved.

Forget Yearly Evaluations

According to J. Brian Peters, senior managing director of Rose Associates in New York City, the starting point for evaluating individual managers is the level of supervision provided by the management company.

“Our company has a supervisory structure where our property managers report to officers, each of whom oversees 15 to 20 properties,” he says. “The officer is involved with each manager and property on a literal daily basis, so there is opportunity for immediate assessment and development of the property manager.

Larry Sauer, vice president of business development for Wentworth Property Management in West Long Branch, says that his company also reviews management performance on both a formal yearly basis, and on a more frequent, informal basis. “We have monthly and quarterly meetings with our managers and regional supervisors,” he says.

The reasoning behind these more frequent evaluations is to prevent surprises from occurring, and to enable the company to nip any potential issues in the bud.

“We shouldn’t have many surprises if we have monthly meetings and review our properties on a monthly basis,” says Tucker. “We also have a color coding system and would even change a manager if they weren’t working out at a given property. This evaluating is all done on a regular basis.”

Evaluation Techniques

The pros largely agree that what a management company should consider first when evaluating their agents’ performance is the goal of the evaluation itself. Is it to improve the manager’s productivity, to increase his or her motivation to improve communication or to develop a team effort in accomplishing certain goals and objectives? Once the goals are determined, the company can then continue with the evaluation, keeping the objectives in mind and measuring the agent’s performance against them.

There are many different techniques to evaluating management performance. Some common techniques include a rating scale—awarding points from one to ten, say—as a way of evaluating performance. Other companies use a question-and-answer technique, where questions are asked of the manager’s performance and the evaluator answers in essay form. A combination of these techniques can be used as well. To evaluate their managers, Tucker says his company uses various methods including a “buddy system.”

“We started this system about seven years ago where experienced managers and supervisors work closely with newer managers,” says Tucker. “The less-experienced managers have someone they can go to, and we have managers who are monitoring the situation so the problems don’t slip through the cracks.”

Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s once said, “If you work just for money, you’ll never make it, but if you love what you’re doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours.” For his part, Tucker champions the use of surveys to find out how satisfied clients are with the level of care they’re getting from their managing agents. “Junior executives will call them and ask if they would refer us—and if not, why not,” says Tucker.

To help evaluate their performance, Wentworth Property Management meets with the client at least once a month for review. Rose Associates encourages their clients to provide regular feedback to the company and to weigh in on key criteria such as their manager’s responsiveness, knowledge, and supervisory skills as well as the physical and financial performance of the property.

Macysyn says that a good property management company will communicate with their manager and the board at least several times a year to prevent being caught out there by unexpected problems. “Don’t let things fester,” he says. “Sit down and talk regularly so that nobody is blindsided and go over routine matters. What you want is a good symbiotic relationship with the community.”

Though those interviewed for this article say they’ve never seen it done, a board wishing to initiate their own review procedure for their managers can use the same criteria the management company has on their own forms. “It’s a great place to start,” says Jaime J. Raskulinecz, CEO of Rainbow Property Management in Verona, New Jersey. “We look at work performance, initiative, problem solving, attendance, responsiveness, supervisory skills and resident relations.”

Red Flags

Of course, all companies are hoping for perfect evaluation scores for their managers, but it’s an unrealistic expectation. While you may have a terrific property manager, it’s normal to expect that there will be the occasional problem. However, if a minor issue becomes bigger, or the regular evaluations begin to uncover more red flags, there may be a problem brewing on the horizon.

“Probably one of the earliest warning signs is assigned items not being promptly closed out,” says Sauer. “This may be related to the property manager’s knowledge—them not knowing what to do—or their workload—them having too much to do at the moment. We encourage our clients to bring any concerns to our attention immediately so that we can support the property manager’s efforts.”

Sauer says that other red flags on a manager’s performance include a lack of timeliness, or a slow responsiveness to clients’ concerns.

To Mario Spoleti of Sterling Property Management Services in Red Bank, New Jersey, having no red flags is a big red flag to him. “In my opinion, the biggest red flag would be a manager’s assurance to a board that there are ‘no issues.’ There are always issues with properties and the management of them. Other red flags would be a slow response time to issues and whether they get done right the first time.”

Address the Problem

There are various steps a management company can take to rectify a negative overall evaluation, or to correct a problematic item on an otherwise good evaluation:

Make sure it’s not personal:In some cases, a property manager just might not be a good personality fit with the building residents or board. Perhaps the property manager has a Type A personality that serves her well with the intense nature of the job, but might clash with the residents who are mostly laid-back retirees. In more severe cases, that personality conflict can become a personal one between a resident and a manager.

“It’s about relationships,” says Tucker. “We have to make sure we are putting the right manager in the right community. Personalities may clash even though they are doing their duties. It’s fairly obvious if the management isn’t fulfilling their obligations. The collective board will tell us that we have problems. However, if it’s one board member who’s complaining, we have to dig a little deeper through that to make sure it’s not a personal agenda against the manager.”

Provide managers with additional education:Your property manager might be strong in some areas—tenant relations, for example—but may have trouble when it comes to handling building systems or dealing with financials. Once you uncover the manager’s weaknesses, provide the tools to strengthen those areas. Many companies offer or facilitate online management courses for their managers in areas where they may need strengthening and monitors their progress.

Mentor them:As mentioned earlier, a senior manager with more experience can help the less-experienced managers. They can work out problems or provide solutions.

Talk it out:“Discuss—in a very matter of fact way—whether a relationship is working or not,” says Tucker. “It shouldn’t be a surprise if they are going to lose a building. Some people are slated for this business and some are not. Are they accomplishing what they need to get done? Some take it personally and want it done their way, but you need them to work with the board and the community.”

Provide incentives:Although the property management firms mentioned in this article either did not have, or disclose, any financial incentives, it is possible to provide bonuses or other financial incentives for meeting goals.

Make a change: Bottom line—is if the manager isn’t doing their job, you may eventually simply need to switch managers. “There can be a fatigue with the current management and any good contract is going to protect the management company and the association,” says Macysyn.

A good management company should perform regular management evaluations as well as changing evaluations to meet the current needs of the management company. For example, if your evaluation method has been used for two decades, it might be time to reevaluate it and add more updated information and questions. It’s also important to remember that a management job evaluation is about how the employee conducts their job and it is not on the personality of the manager himself.

Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and author living in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Related Articles

Handling Harassment in Multifamily Housing

Handling Harassment in Multifamily Housing

When Trash Talk Turns to Transgression

Living by the Rules

Living by the Rules

Making—and Enforcing—House Rules

What New Boards Members Need to Know

What New Boards Members Need to Know

(And How to Learn It)