Process purge: how much time could you get back?

Sometimes we get hung up on processes no matter how frustrating they are, just because they’re familiar. But paring back lengthy processes that have become standard for property management could actually save you and your team hundreds of hours over the course of this year alone. Brock and Kathryn look at why processes in property management get so overwhelming and suggest easy hacks to keep things just as effective, but faster and simpler for all.

Process – who needs it anyway?

The whole point of a process is to get everyone doing something the same way. Done right it’s the bedrock for delivering a customer experience to a really high standard, every single time. But process overload can have exactly the opposite result.

Take the humble checklist. Checklists have been a staple of property management for so long we can remember gluing them down to our clipboards back in the days before tablets were invented. And a checklist is definitely a useful tool. In situations where you have a process to stick to, a checklist means you don’t have to rely on your memory to make sure you follow every step.

But when there are upwards of 25 things on a checklist, going through it line by line becomes a massive waste of time. And given how busy your average property manager is, they could well start to ignore their checklist, and end up skipping an important part of a process. When processes get out of hand and your people are resorting to cutting corners just to make it through the task in hand, you’ll end up with patchy and inconsistent service. And that’s exactly what you don’t want owners and tenants to experience.

Why process becomes a monster

So why does a perfectly logical and useful process turn into one of these monster marathons that even the most dedicated property manager can’t be bothered with? In our experience, processes do start out as relatively simple ways to make sure everything gets covered off. But after a while something goes wrong, in spite of the process. And that one negative event can be enough reason for an agent to add another step to the process to keep it from happening. Then something else crops up and there’s another hoop to jump through. And so it goes on.

This is what a risk elimination strategy looks like. It’s not risk management – that’s about making a reasonable investment in preventing something bad that’s reasonably likely to happen. When 90% of your process is there to try and stamp out risks altogether, then you’re – ironically – asking for trouble. It might work sometimes, but as we’ve just mentioned, when processes break down due to complexity overload, things don’t happen by the book and even more risk creeps in.

It’s easy to be this risk averse when you’re no stranger to those words every property manager dreads – “I’ll sue.” This fear of litigation can make any problem, no matter how unlikely it is to happen again, seem like a serious and constant threat. But instead of trying to eliminate the negative, it makes way more sense to keep processes thorough, yet simple enough to be practical. And you commit to managing exceptions as they happen by upskilling your team for handling the unexpected.

Balance process with interpersonal skills

This responsive approach and attitude can be a lot better for your business and not just because it can simplify your processes. Difficult moments are part of any busines, and property management is always going to have its fair share of conflict cropping up. Burst pipes, noisy neighbours, you name it, we’ve dealt with it. And no amount of process is going to save you from having to handle tricky situations like these.

What will help is the interpersonal skills it takes to communicate and de-escalate things with owner and tenant when things don’t go their way. And when people get used to relying on process to keep them out of trouble, they’re perhaps a little less prepared to rise to the occasion when skilful communication is called for.

Working in a very process-driven way can also limit opportunities property managers might otherwise have to really show clients their value. When you’re just following a list, punching out and processing endless proforma documents, it can feel very transactional, for tenant, owner and manager. Everything has to be done in writing and no-one thinks to pick up the phone and have a chat when a lease renewal is due or to arrange an inspection. This can get pretty dull for all concerned and without a bit of variety and a personal touch, property owners can start to question just what they’re getting for their fees.

3 steps to a happy medium

We’re not suggesting for a second that processes aren’t important or helpful. But they should be fit for purpose. And that means simple, relevant and easy to follow so that everyone in your team can get on board with them. Plus, they won’t be too busy working their way down their lists to make time for a few friendly conversations with tenants and owners.

Here are our three simple steps for getting your processes into better shape:

  1. Want to know which processes need attention? Start by sitting everyone down and checking in with how they’re actually doing things. Be clear that you’re not trying to catch anyone out and that this is their chance to help everyone in the business have an easier time of it. Getting everyone together to do this also helps them to feel involved and have ownership of how they go about their work.
  2. This process audit doesn’t need to be complicated or daunting. Just grab a notepad and jot down steps in a process. Then ask everyone why they think they’re doing them, what takes up most time and what value they add. This can give you a read on which processes need some minor renovations and which would benefit from a complete demolition and rebuild.
  3. To keep on top of process creep, encourage your team to have curiosity about how things are done. Let them know it’s good to question things and invite them to share ideas for shortcuts with you and each other. Building up these ideas, testing them and keeping those that work well for all – team, tenants and owners – can do a lot for making your whole property management operation more efficient.