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Finding a home Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2010

Tom Roses could see that The Continental Group Inc. had a lot going for it.

The property management firm had grown from a fledgling company with a handful of employees to one that had subsidiaries to handle all of the maintenance issues that might arise for its 1,300 condominium and homeowners associations.

But as the company kept growing, the list of issues needing attention kept growing and the challenge of making it all fit together seamlessly was getting more difficult. Roses was concerned the right hand didn’t always know what the left hand was doing.

“Continental owned a lot of companies throughout Florida,” says Roses, president of the 5,500-employee company. “There were multiple brands, multiple processes and various systems. One of the things that was happening was through the growth, there was starting to be overlap.”

Different brands were in some cases competing for customers in the same demographic or in the same territory.

“It wasn’t a good long-term strategy,” he says. “My goal was to unify the organization.”

Roses wanted to eliminate the confusion so there would be no more overlap. Employees needed to understand their roles and responsibilities, eliminating the confusion between markets and brands. As a result, no matter how much bigger the company got, the solution would need to be the guiding force to keep it all aligned.

“How do you create an organization that becomes scalable and able to replicate?” Roses says. “The challenge becomes establishing the right culture so that as you send people onto the far rungs of wherever your region is, they bring that culture and they bring what the company’s values are all about.”

Figure out what you need

Roses could see the confusion in his company, but he needed to know exactly what was causing the uncertainty before he could begin to fix it.

“It’s establishing a gap analysis,” Roses says. “You need to understand what your needs are. You need to identify where you want to get to and where your people are at and what’s that gap. In some situations, that gap needs to be filled in four weeks or sometimes that gap needs to be filled in four years.”

Roses determined what his company needed was a common plan that outlined what to follow and that the best way to achieve that would be through training. He needed to act quickly or the confusion that existed might begin to affect the company’s relationship with its clients.

“People moving into planned communities are well-educated and intelligent people,” Roses says. “They are looking for you to be running a business, not just be a clerical person in the office depositing a check that you bring to them on the first of the month. Our needs have evolved.”

He also knew he had to involve groups of people in the development of the training. He had to make sure it was a fit with the company’s workplace culture and something that employees would eagerly pass on to others.

“It’s making sure that it’s not done in a way where you’re saying, ‘You’re doing it this way because I’m telling you to,’” Roses says. “People need to buy in to the process and they need to own it. If they own it, then they can pass it forward. If they’re just being told, ‘This is the way you do it’ and they don’t own it, it’s going to stop there and it will probably fall off. It needs to be a repetitive process where everybody is acting the same way with each other.”

The result would need to be a training course that would help employees provide better client service and, at the same time, strengthen the company’s culture by presenting more opportunities for individuals who got excited about enhancing their skills. It would also eliminate the confusion within the organization about who was supposed to be doing what.

He started by gathering his senior leaders together from across the state and along with an outside training organization, began to collectively assess the company’s needs.

“People that worked for other brands were mixed in with other brands,” Roses says. “It was the first opportunity of getting people to look at how people do business in other parts of the state and in other companies. The whole idea was learning from each other and taking what’s good and coming to a conclusion as a group what is really best practice and what the philosophy was of what we were trying to accomplish.”

When you play an active part in talking about a program and asking questions and showing your enthusiasm and curiosity for it, you only help in your efforts to earn support from others.

“It wasn’t like I said, ‘OK, HR, go ahead and find somebody to do this and this and this and bring me back trained people two years from now,’” Roses says. “Like in everything, I come up with the idea, I give it to people that like a challenge and they come back to me with things they want to recommend. Then I review the process, and if it feels right, I’ll make that decision. If it doesn’t feel right, I send them out to do more homework.

“By getting them involved in looking at it and having to present, they tend to own the process. Then all I have to do is rubber stamp it as opposed to me having to convince them that it’s good. They have kind of ferreted out all the problems.”

All this effort is contingent on your ability to identify the big problem at the beginning and make it clear to everyone what you’re working toward.

“It’s really understanding and having a clear vision of what the goal is,” Roses says. “If I did not believe that we needed to have a certain level of leadership and a certain level of competency two or three years from now, I wouldn’t have spent the hundreds of thousands of dollars I’ve spent. You have to have your finger on the pulse of where your business is going to go and what your needs are going to be going forward.”

One of the keys to solving any problem is to not approach it as a problem but rather as an opportunity. If you spin it positively, people are naturally going to be more excited about taking part in the project.

“We are all challenged in life,” Roses says. “We live a fluid life and things happen. It’s all how we face those challenges and whether we make those challenges opportunities to learn and adapt or we just see them as problems and headaches. These challenges are truly opportunities to make a difference and make the client see you through a different set of eyes.”

Engage at all levels

Once the program was created, Roses spent a lot of time with his people talking about the training, even on his lunch hour.

Whether it’s a working lunch, a brown-bag lunch or a power lunch, many leaders use the time from noon to 1 p.m. to gather a team and work on a particular issue affecting the company. But to really make this time count, you have to use the opportunity to speak to your people and engage them in a conversation. This is especially important when you’re looking to implement something like a new training program.

“I explain to them what’s going on,” Roses says. “It gives me an opportunity to communicate the vision and the culture of what I expect out there. It’s m aking sure it’s getting to the field because they heard it directly from me.”

Roses also brings along a person whose primary responsibility is to take notes on whatever is discussed during the meeting.

“I take someone with me that is the scribe,” Roses says. “Not the spy, the scribe. They are writing everything down as to who is making what recommendation and so on.”

It enables Roses to know what was discussed and follow-up for more information or respond to questions that might have come up at the lunch.

You can’t rely entirely on meetings in the boardroom or surveys to give you all the feedback you need to implement new programs. You need to get out and talk to your people in multiple settings.

“When you’re in a large organization, there is a bureaucracy, and that bureaucracy tends to create barriers in communication,” Roses says. “The message doesn’t get to where it needs to get to. So by modeling the behavior of listening to those people, my hope and my intent was those people who are leaders below me would also do the same thing. They would take the time to listen to those people that report to them and get their deal as to how we can do things better and then bring those ideas back up and champion them. It’s one thing to have an idea and put it on a piece of paper and not do anything about it. The next challenge is to get people to champion a cause.”

The meetings helped reinforce Roses’ idea that the training is meant to benefit everybody and bring the entire organization closer together. It’s not just for senior leaders or people who have dreams of flying up the corporate ladder.

“It’s important to remember that how people are treated is how they are going to turn around and not only treat the external client but how they are going to feel about the company,” Roses says. “If they feel good about the company, they are champions there and that’s what is going to help the company grow. They are all basically salespeople for your organization.

“It’s about pushing that culture out there. Those people that are out on the front lines, they are the face of the company. They are the ones that provide the service. They are either going to be rude and mop the floor in front of someone’s feet or they are going to say, ‘Good morning Mrs. Smith or Mr. Jones,’ and they are going to ask if they can help them with their bags. They are going to be the ones to show them that they respect that this is their home and their property and they care about it.”

If you show your people that you value them, they are much more likely to value your ideas.

“It’s getting leadership to realize that not only can we learn from our subordinates, but what we have to do is empower our subordinates to bring opportunities to us,” Roses says.

“It would help us move the needle a lot quicker to satisfy our clients. When you’re so far removed from the client, it’s very difficult to get your finger on the pulse. … You try to identify those people that are successful at promoting the culture, and as you identify those people, those are the ones who get promoted and are provided opportunities for growth.”

Sell service

With the real estate market continuing to struggle, Roses knows that service will be a key to his company’s success. It makes the training he has put in place at The Continental Group even more vital.

“Real estate is not where we’re going to grow the business in the next two or three years,” Roses says. “Development isn’t going to happen. We’re growing through acquiring existing associations and providing services to those people. How can we help them reduce their expenses?”

The recession gives you an easy target to point to in rallying your employees. You need to find ways to reach your people and rally them around a common cause that they can pass on to others.

“My thing is more about providing opportunities for experiencing things or challenging people, which is my method of coaching as opposed to telling people to turn left or turn right,” Roses says. “I used to be a school teacher. Parents had the kids, but then I educated them and they became something. I was also a coach, but they weren’t my kids either. How do I affect people’s lives while they are with me? And then when they are not with me, am I still affecting their lives?”

How to reach: The Continental Group Inc., (954) 925-8200 or www.thecontinentalgroupinc.com