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You've Hired Perfect Associates - How Do You Keep Them?

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The scene has played out too many times to count. You've hired the perfect leasing specialist, community manager or any other key community team member. Their impact in their first year is immeasurable . . . and they're gone.
Hiring the perfect associate is one thing. Keeping them is an entirely different challenge.

Much research indicates that retaining high-performing associates is highly correlated with the culture of an organization. In fact, according to Fortune magazine, companies on its "100 Best Places to Work For" list, which measures employee satisfaction based heavily on culture, have 33 percent lower employee turnover than that of the S&P 500.

"Employee satisfaction and engagement is driven by faith being shown in them, education and career development opportunities, the work environment, the company caring about the team, and, for millennials, the company supporting causes they feel are important," says Doug Miller, President of ManagInc, which helps apartment owner/operators develop world-class cultures rooted in corporate social responsibility. "A Gallup study shows that companies with high employee engagement are 44 percent more profitable.

"This makes sense. Happy employees are naturally going to provide better service, which drives resident retention. And happy employees don't quit, which has an enormous impact on business performance."

Hiring the ideal team member is challenging, but sometimes perhaps even more so could be creating a company culture that will keep them. Midsize owner/operators, like ROSS Companies and CAPREIT, have created those cultures with benefits programs designed to retain ideal team members.

"If you lose a good employee, you always ask yourself a lot of questions," says Terry Brewer, Vice President of Human Resources for ROSS Companies. "What could we have done better? What could we have done differently? Why is this person leaving? You've obviously invested time and training into that person at that point."

As part of the world-class culture it has created, ROSS Companies created several unique programs to demonstrate its appreciation for well-performing associates. Many include financial bonuses and paid days off. The Sales Circle of Excellence, for instance, provides a ROSS-branded $250 Visa gift card and a paid day off for gold winners, and a paid day off for silver winners. At the company's annual recognition event, gold winners receive an extra $500 and silver winners an additional $250. ROSS has a similar program for high-scoring customer service associates.

Among the most coveted rewards at the company is "Earn Yourself a ROSS Day," in which team members who have perfect attendance receive one additional day of vacation each quarter. Pre-scheduled vacations or personal days do not count against the team member.

Other unique ROSS programs of note include:

The Lend-A-Hand program allows team members to volunteer to work additional hours at other ROSS communities that may need assistance. This serves as an outlet for team members to earn additional dollars at peak seasons, during the holidays or summer vacations.
In ROSS' Career Apparel Allowance program, every September, team members in the leasing and business office receive a $500 apparel allowance to utilize to purchase business apparel. Maintenance team members receive $250. Leasing and business office team members also have the option to receive an additional apparel loan of up to $500, which is repaid in payroll deductions over the following year.
The Lifetime Learner program encourages team members to take advantage of the 500-plus courses available to them at the company. The team member who completes the most Web-based trainings each quarter receives a $50 Visa gift card.
In the Hot Shot Program, team members are nominated and recognized by their property managers or regional property managers for exceptional performance each month. Recipients receive up to a $100 Visa gift card.
In the Mentor Program, team members are nominated based on specific criteria to join the mentor team. As mentor relationships are established and successfully completed, each mentor receives $100.
The Professional Management Program serves as a steppingstone for exceptional performers by providing recognition through further career development.
"Recognition is important," Brewer says. "Most team members should be paid fairly when they come in the door. We have found that compensation typically isn't the reason someone leaves a company. It's more often about feeling appreciated and having opportunities for growth."

At CAPREIT, part of the process for retaining associates is creating an atmosphere that fosters professional growth.

"The reason people stay here has a lot to do with the culture," says Miguel Gutierrez, COO, CAPREIT. "It's an environment where people work very hard, but there are good relationships among the teams. People know what to expect from one another, so there's some strong accountability. It's a family atmosphere where people are treated with respect, and that's gone a long way to keep people here."

That's not all. In addition to providing a platform for growth in the day-to-day environment, CAPREIT further instills unity through its team activities. The company's annual conference, attended by property, maintenance and corporate managers from across the country, consists of two to three days of various activities and some fun built into the experience. 

Such activities during the past few years have included dinner cruises, a Washington, D.C., Monuments and Memorials Tour and a trip to Maryland Live! Casino. The company's senior leadership retreats have included trips to Hershey, Pa., and the Historic Inn of Annapolis. The various team-building activities aren't reserved solely for conferences and retreats, with trips to the bowling alley and Washington Nationals games known to occur every now and then when the office closes early.

It's not only the home office in Rockville, Md., that participates in team activities. Regional property managers stage many with their onsite teams and have added an entertaining component to their team-building activities. The activities are themed around "FACE IN," CAPREIT's set of core values. The acronym symbolizes family, accountability, community, excellence and integrity.

While CAPREIT clearly is keen on bond-forming, team activities, the company also rewards high-performing team members with its annual bonus program. All while providing them with a platform to make a difference.

"I like to empower my team," Gutierrez says. "I can't be an expert on everything, so I rely on them to be masters of their areas and defer to them to make lots of decisions. I think the empowerment is important because team members feel like they control their destiny and control the business they're responsible for, so they're accountable for those results. Rather than just following orders, they can do well on their own merit." 

Paul Willis is a Client Manager for LinnellTaylor Marketing. 

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