Confidence. Trust. Results. 3 attributes we could not possess if we did not build our business on integrity. Although the definition of the word integrity may differ from person to person, the meaning we give to this word, and live by is:
- Doing the right thing when no one is around
- Being honest, open and truthful
- Taking 100% personal responsibility for how something turned out
- Having a strong moral compass, and considering the greater good
Without integrity, our business cannot function. We are taking care of your home, and your investment. A high level of trust is given to us to be able to do what we do; we believe it may take years to gain someone’s trust, and just a moment to lose it. By following our principles no matter what, we are able to quickly earn our client’s trust, and that is where we can make the biggest difference. Work is more efficient, smoother, and easier because instead of fighting, convincing, manipulating and controlling, we work together for a plan of action that is mutually beneficial. Once a few owners, residents, and staff are seeing that someone cares and respects them, their trust levels increase, and a critical mass can be achieved. This is when the building starts taking on a whole different feel. A new level of trust and respect shows up, and people start working together to form a productive, responsible and connected community.
I grew up extremely shy. In fact, when the babysitter came over, I would hide for most of that time, and only peek out a few times before running back to my room. I didn’t really get the impact of my shyness until I was about 24 years old. It was my first job out of university selling industrial equipment and supplies in a new city, and a new company: knocking on doors, and cold calling. The thought of asking complete strangers for business kept me awake at night. I was absolutely petrified of asking people to do business with me, and it was the hardest thing I had ever done before. Anxiety started to creep in, and I felt scared all day, and avoided making phone calls and meeting potential clients. Facing a customer seemed harder at the time than walking around the world. As a last ditch effort, I went to the U of A’s Psychiatry department, where they prescribed anti-depressants, and a 52 week, once a week group therapy session. My confidence was low, and I could not explain what had happened to me although I was somewhat happy to start feeling better.
Fast forward 6 years, and I found myself moving to Vancouver to be an actor and model. As I only made $900 in 6 months doing that, I needed to find a way to survive. Since I grew up on a farm, had owned my own house, and worked in construction I thought maybe I could do some handyman work in some of those apartment buildings I saw down the street. 3 weeks later, I got a phone call from the Property Manager of one of those buildings and within 3 years, I was 60 feet in the air on a rented genie lift doing an $82,000 paint job with 7 guys working for me. Despite completing the job on time, and on budget, I chose to shut down that company; the fears of something going wrong, or someone getting angry at me worried me constantly, and I was fearing for my health again.
A couple years later an old property manager client convinced me to come and work as an employee for him in 2007 and soon found myself a building supervisor of a brand new strata condo complex of 500 suites. I spent the first 3 weeks reading a book by Ernest Hemingway. I had no idea what to do. Nobody told me. My training consisted of a tour of the garbage room, the key box, and picking up blueprints from the developer. It lasted less than 2 days. I would see my property manager about once a month. It was frustrating trying to get things done, as I didn’t feel I had to authority to do anything more than just watch over things.
Over the next 3 years I developed a manual for high-rise condominium maintenance as a way to organize and keep track of everything that required attention. I trained 8 staff, 5 of which are still in the same business today. I became one of a handful of trusted, and exceptional building supervisors in a company of over 50 employees. But I still wasn’t happy. Something wasn’t right. I thought that there was always something better, and it wasn’t what I was doing. Looking back, I know now that because of my intense fears of being judged, or considered by others to not be good enough, I rarely connected with people at work. So I quit again, but this time I thought a solo ride to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and back would fix things.
A few months after returning, I found myself with a building supervisor job in Surrey, BC. Part of me wanted to jump right back on that bike and drive through some of the most dangerous places in the world rather than go to Surrey. Honduras, for example, has a murder rate of 92 people for every 100,000 which is the highest in the entire world. What was so bad about Surrey?
First, it felt like some sort of punishment that my company was forcing me to take, as if I wasn’t good enough to work in Vancouver. I also had peers in the industry tell me that the building I was to take over was plagued with problems, as well as friends who told me all about the dangerous neighborhood. In fact, the building was located right at ‘ground-zero’ of the North Surrey/Whalley district which had traditionally been the highest concentration of drug-dealering, prostitution, homelessness, crime and violence. But all of this paled in comparison to my own fears of not being good enough, and having to experience anxiety, and pain in a work environment.
When I did eventually get to the building, it seemed so overwhelming to have these two massive 36 story towers with almost 700 suites as my responsibility, and only the developer to talk with and get some sense of what the building was made of. Structurally, I ended up gaining immeasurable and valuable information from the developer who shared with me what I needed to know to maintain the building properly, and find everything. But it wasn’t until people started moving in when I found my true purpose.
As I had mastered the physical building, I had a lot of extra time to spend with the residents, and later, maintenance staff, concierge, and trades/subcontractors. It was surprising to me how many things were not working when I chose to stand around the concierge desk and listen to the interactions with residents. There were so many complaints that did not get listened to, and problems that remained unaddressed, or unresolved. Oftentimes the resident seemed to feel as if their problems were completely ignored. It gave me the impetus to ‘step up’ my own personal investment in the building, as I liked the idea that I could be of service to someone, and solve their problem.
From setting up daily meetings with staff, and regular check-ins throughout the day, I was able to create a team environment where individuals were held accountable to what they promised to do or get done. They also learned and developed more of an empathy for residents, going from a ‘it’s not my problem’ attitude to ‘wow, that person is really hurting. Let’s see if there’s something I can do.’ How I achieved this was not easy, but it was simple. And I did it alone, without support or encouragement from others.
I found out that so many people get caught up with their own daily dramas of life that they are not really present, and tend to get overly emotional. To be the best in customer service, I saw the need to have my life, and my own inner thoughts and feelings clear so that I could be present for someone else. Issues could be dealt with quickly and easily, and issues that seem to go on forever avoided.
It was in the providing of customer service where I found my joy. Although I found that customer service was not always synonymous with strata condo living, it gave me a sense of purpose and a reason to come to work everyday. I faced 250 lb. drug dealers with tattoos on their neck, suites that were ravaged by prostitutes, 42” tvs getting thrown off the 23rd floor, suicides, and residents that yelled and screamed at me, just to name a few.
Unlike my previous job experiences, this time there was no stress, no worry, and I felt happy. So why the big change? I believe it was because I had found a purpose that I was committed to. I felt in control. And I was all in. Gone was the incessant mind chatter – am I doing the right thing, is there a better job out there for me? As the level of my commitment to the residents of the building was so high, I was able to overcome most of the people problems. There weren’t many people who could match my commitment in a dispute, or an issue. As I was willing to listen to them, and firmly ask what I needed from them, we were able to resolve the problem easily. What I found out is that I can create amazing things when I am committed to something at the highest level. And something that’s not directly for me, but for others. And what I found in strata condominiums is I found a community that was just waiting to come together. I found a community that was just waiting for me.
We find that by being experts in dealing with people directly and face-to-face, the lengthy back and forth emails, costly litigation and hostility can for the most part be completely avoided. So many complaints can be resolved quickly and easily, and some require more work and commitment. And if we can solve 80% of the problems within 24 hours, we feel that is commendable on our part. The ‘bedrock’ of our plan of how we do that is by sticking to a daily regimen of inspection, and resolution. By showing that we know what is going on in the building, we can present ideas to the strata property manager, and the strata council in a knowledgeable and professional manner, Also, by being visible, accessible, and open while working in the building, residents feel more comfortable sharing their concerns with us. We then get to understand their perceptions intimately, and may be able to improve the quality of life in the building
How refreshing would it be to have a building maintenance team that sincerely asks you about your experience in the building? What if the people on that team had the skill, ability, and confidence to make those improvements? Our unique relationship with the strata council, and the property manager can allow us to quickly resolve issues that are negatively affecting the experience of the resident.
The basics of great communication, in our minds, is to 1) listen fully 2) understand the person’s point of view 3) repeat back to them their concern, or request 4) do anything in our power to resolve the issue for them.
We are able to pass on significant savings by doing many jobs in-house. Instead of spending money that does not give a long-term return, you can invest in on-site staff that could learn, and grow, along with you. You could have a professional, caring, results-oriented person that is loyal to your strata corporation, and committed to protecting your investment. By showing our ability to save you money, we can justify our services and may even be able to pay for ourselves.
One of the most exciting opportunities for us is to promote energy savings in your building. We feel it not only saves you money, but benefits the environment. Through analyzing consumption data, and having the ability to control how the building’s mechanical systems operate, significant cost savings can be realized in the tens of thousands. As there would be an investment up front for these savings, it is absolutely crucial that the building supervisor is able to attend the monthly strata meeting. For the strata council to confidently decide on such an investment, they need the education, and information from someone who understands the workings of the building. Otherwise, these kinds of ideas do not get past the conceptual phase.
Although it may seem logical to spend $30,000 on a high efficiency boiler that may have a 2 year payback, a council may find it difficult to approve it. They would absolutely require someone they trust and have the confidence in to approach them with the idea. And that person would probably have to have shown them month to month improvements, and solid results before they would trust that person’s opinion. That is why our service is so special.
As mentioned, we understand that for us to be able to sell ideas that require a large investment we must be able to show results with smaller items. Changing light bulbs in the elevators can represent a $56 savings in electricity and labour alone. Performing a drywall repair in-house instead of calling an outside company can save $400. These types of items would be included in our monthly report to the strata council to build a reputation for saving money.
How long do you want to lose great owners and tenants that leave your complex? How long do you want to suffer seeing your investment get run down? Through providing excellent customer service, resolving issues quickly, and getting jobs done, the residents of your community can start believing it is a great place to live. This, in turn, motivates them to take more care of their common areas by picking up after themselves, and volunteering to help. The development of relationships in the building could achieve anything from starting (or maintaining) a Blockwatch program, organizing a bowling night for residents, or having a BBQ. Although difficult to put a dollar value on this effect, we have found that the presence of a strong community can have a direct correlation to enhanced property value, and the reduction of criminal activities such as vandalism and theft.