Douglas D. Chasick, CPM®, CAPS, CAS, Adv. RAM, CLP, is The Apartment Doctor™, a Multifamily speaker and consultant specializing in restoring rental health to ailing apartment communities and management companies and the Senior Vice President of Strategic Services for CallSource®. You can find hundreds of articles like this in the subscribers-only section of NOI News™, his Internet based newsletter for Multifamily Professionals located at www.NOINews.com . Contact Doug at (888) 222-1214 or at Dchasick@CallSource.com.


 

TEN TERRIFIC TELEPHONE TECHNIQUES: Supercharge Your Performance on the Phone!

Regardless of how many computers you have in your office, your telephones are still the most important tools you have when we talk about leasing apartments - and based on what I've seen and heard, we don't use them very effectively. Start using these ten simple techniques and you'll be the envy of your teammates and a superstar in your company!

1. BE HERE NOW! I know that working in the onsite office feels like gift shopping at the mall at 5:30 PM on Christmas Eve, and it's very tough to focus on anything for more than a few seconds - I spent the first five years of my career onsite. However, I also know that whatever I didn't focus on either failed or had to be revisited.

So, when the phone rings, STOP whatever you're doing. As one sales trainer says, "You've got to learn to say goodbye before you say hello." So, STOP! Yes, I said STOP whatever you are doing, take a deep breath, clear your head, smile, and THEN answer that phone. "Be Here Now" - do what you're doing while you're doing it - if you're on the phone, then BE on the phone. All that other stuff will still be there when the phone call ends.

2. Remember - it's a conversation, not an interrogation. The guest card is a tool, not a script, not a list of questions to be asked in the exact order they are listed on the card. Yes, I know you're supposed to get all that information, and yes, it may be a shopper - and what if it's a real, live customer? They want to talk about what THEY want to talk about, in the order THEY want to talk about it, and they don't care about whether you follow company policy or pass your shopping report. So relax, get their name, start getting them comfortable and you'll get all the information you need to make an appointment.

3. Get their name. If you believe the old adage, "The more personal you make the conversation, the more likely you are to make the sale", please tell me how we can have a personal conversation with someone who's name we don't know.

Choose one: "Thanks for calling Doug's Apartments; this is Doug, how may I help you . . . ?"

a) "What's your name, please . . .?"
b) "And you are . . . ?"
c) "And your name is . . . ?"
d) "Sorry - what did you say your name is . . ?"

Need I say more . . . ?

4. SLOW DOWN! The most important (and often overlooked) step in any sales process is building rapport with the Customer. If you're able to capture their attention, communicate your enthusiasm, and demonstrate that you are here to help them, they will reveal all the information you need to determine if they are qualified and make an appointment with them.

5. Only get the contact information you need right now. You don't need to complete the entire guest card on the phone - since your purpose is to set an appointment, you'll be able to complete the guest card when they're in your office. Why bother getting all of their phone/fax/cell phone numbers and email if they don't want to be contacted at all? Instead, ask if you can follow up with them, and if they say "yes", ask how they would like to be contacted and get that phone number or email address - you can get the rest of the stuff when they come to your office.

6. Determine two or three needs or preferences that your caller has, and talk ONLY about those two or three things. I know that once upon a time, during the first week or two at the new job, we were asked to make a list of 50 or 100 reasons why people should live here. I'm sure your list is great, so just talk about the two or three reasons that your caller wants to hear - and save the rest for when they visit you.

7. Only talk about what they say is important - your caller is interested in only one thing: WIIFM (What's In It For Me?). They don't care what YOU think is cool or wonderful or important - they only want to hear about what THEY think is cool or wonderful or important. So talk ONLY about that, and save the rest for the appointment.

8. Talk about BENEFITS, not features - A feature is an item, a service, anything that is included in the rent or exists on the property and/or in the apartment home. A feature in and of itself is meaningless - the worth of a feature lies in its utility to the Customer - and we call that utility the BENEFIT!

The fact that you have a huge, crystal clear Olympic size swimming pool is of no value to someone who doesn't swim, or worse yet - to someone who is afraid of water. So find out two or three important needs of your caller, and then meet those needs by talking about the BENEFITS of your features.

9. What's in it for them to make an appointment? We all know what's in it for us to make the appointment with the caller - that's our company policy, that's what we are trained to do, prospects with appointments are four times as likely to sign a lease than a walk in, making an appointment scores points on the phone shop - and what's in it for THEM to make an appointment?

Well, when they make an appointment, they won't have to wait - you'll be ready to serve them. When they make an appointment, they won't be interrupted - you'll reserve 20 - 30 minutes of time exclusively for them. When they make an appointment, you'll be prepared to answer all their questions - because, since you have advance notice, you'll be able to gather all they information they need to lease an apartment.

So making an appointment will save them time, save them energy (waiting IS annoying and energy draining, isn't it?) and allow them to better plan their day because they know exactly when they will see you and how long it will take, right? Right - so tell THEM!

10. Ask if they know how to get here, not if they know where you are located. Asking some if they know where you're located is useless if they don't know how to get to you - so ask if they know how to get to you, and when they say "yes", give them the directions you would give to someone who said "no" - and ask if that is how they plan to get there.

That's it - not too difficult, yet incredibly important - and, yes, you probably know some or all of this, so the question is simple: I know you know it, what are you doing about it?

Happy Leasing! Doug

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Is YOUR Service Team Playing Fair?

Douglas D. Chasick, CPM®, CAPS, CAS, Adv. RAM, CLP The Apartment Doctor™/Editor, NOINews.com

Since most multifamily professionals agree that our Service Team has the most contact with our Residents, why is it I rarely see Service Team members in Fair Housing Seminars at all of the conferences I attend? I see plenty of Managers and Leasing Professionals, yet our Service Employees are probably MORE likely to commit a Fair Housing faux pas!

When we think about Fair Housing complaints and lawsuits, we usually think about Leasing Professionals, right? Did you know that approximately 30% of complaints and lawsuits result from situations OUTSIDE the Leasing Center? Believe it or not, there are still plenty of six and seven-figure awards being made in Fair Housing suits, and many of them are service-related.

The math should be pretty easy: The minimum fine per occurrence of a discriminatory action is app. $11,500 and the cost of a Fair Housing seminar is anywhere from $49.00 - $99.00. And it doesn't stop with the fine (and the punitive damages - that's where all the zeros come from in those six and seven-figure awards!) - what about all that publicity we suddenly get when a complaint is filed, and all the time and money that must be spent to defend ourselves - typically thousands of dollars that could have been avoided if we simply trained ALL of our Employees.

Beyond the math is pretty easy, too: practicing Fair Housing is the RIGHT thing to do! So, in no particular order, here are the most common situations that our Service Team should be aware of to make certain they are "Playing Fair":

Just Say "Know": As in, "I don't know, let's go over to the office and find out . . ." This should be the standard response to ANY inquiry about availability, rental rates, renewal terms, specials, concessions, and anything else having to do with the rental or renewal of an apartment. It's also a great answer to the "What kind of people live here" question, however an even better answer to that question is, "Anyone who meets our qualifying standards lives here"!

There Are NO "Do Overs" in Fair Housing: Just because you didn't mean to discriminate doesn't mean you're automatically off the hook - discrimination does not need to be intentional - many a Fair Housing complaint is the result of someone trying to "be nice". We all need to "be nice", however we must be consistent and treat everyone the same. Some examples of what NOT to do are NOT suggesting which building someone would like because "there are/are not lots of kids in that building", or because "there are/are not lots of THOSE people in that building", and NOT talking about other Residents or Employees.

FIFO = First In, First Out: This is a term from my days in retail; for the apartment business, it means we do our service requests in the order we receive them, unless it is an emergency. (Speaking of emergencies, do you have a written list of exactly what constitutes an emergency, and does each of your Residents have a copy of that list?) While it may be tempting to do certain service requests first, because the Resident is pleasant and tips well, and others last, because they are not pleasant and don't tip, DON'T give in to that temptation: it could turn into a Fair Housing complaint based on discrimination due to different treatment ("You did their work order before mine, even though I called mine in first, because I am a "Protected Class").

Attitude Is Everything: Since most of our Service Team members don't get much (any?) Customer Service training either, let's talk about attitude for a moment. The old cliché holds true here: "Reality is perception and perception is reality". When a person perceives being treated differently, they will usually make up their own reason for why they are being treated differently - and that reason could be "Because I'm a member of a "Protected Class". That different treatment includes attitude, body language and overall demeanor; if your Service Tech seems to be friendly and outgoing to everyone EXCEPT Mrs. Smith, then in the absence of an explanation to the contrary, Mrs. Smith may think it's because she is a member of a protected class.

Do As I Say AND As I Do: Your Service Team Manager has a special responsibility, as the Supervisor, to comply with all Fair Housing laws and ensure that each of the Team members complies. That means everyone looks to the Manager for guidance, and people will automatically assume that if the Manager says or does something, then THEY can say or do it too. This includes being proactive by not tolerating off-color or racially insensitive jokes, sexual harassment in ANY form, being aware of what the team is looking at if they have Internet access (jokes sent by email, inappropriate web sites), EVERYTHING. Remember, not leading by example when we're talking about Fair Housing can have very expensive consequences.

Remember That Your Vendors and Contractors Need Fair Housing Training: Yes, that's right - they can get us into just as much trouble as one of our Employees. Make certain that all your vendor contracts and service agreements contain a paragraph putting the vendor on notice that you expect any of the people they send to your property have Fair Housing training. So, what are you going to do about making certain your Service Team is playing Fair? There are plenty of quality classroom, computer-based and web-based training programs available that are designed specifically for Service Employees. Isn't it about time we get EVERYONE at our properties trained (or, is it time for a refresher class?). Remember, play nice and PLAY FAIR!

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MAKING QUALITY CERTAIN IN FAIR HOUSING

Douglas D. Chasick, CPM®, CAPS, CAS, Adv. RAM, CLP The Apartment Doctor™/Editor, NOINews.com

We've all got Fair Housing handled right? WRONG! Here's a few cases recently reported in MANAGING HOUSING LETTER (www.cdpublications.com):

"Landlord to Pay $100K For Denying Black Applicant: Jackson vs. Staples Realty (BC254741) A Los Angeles landlord agrees to pay $100,000 to settle a racial discrimination lawsuit after asking a tenant about her race and denying her an apartment because she's black."

"Court Upholds $100K Race-Discrimination Award: A jury awarded an interracial couple $100,000 in punitive and $500 in compensatory damages after their apartment application was rejected. A federal district judge upholds the award"

Looks like we have a way to go, doesn't it? Are you making quality certain when it comes to Fair Housing? Has EVERY Employee at EACH of your properties received sufficient Fair Housing training? Do your Vendors and Contractors provide Fair Housing training to their Employees? Are all of our policies, procedures and practices related to Fair Housing IN WRITING? The following suggestions are based on years of experience and the advice I have received by some of the best Fair Housing attorneys and practitioners in our industry: Try them - They WORK!

1. MAKE CERTAIN THAT ALL INQUIRIES RECEIVE A CONSISTENT RESPONSE: We've all memorized the "Treat everyone the same" mantra when it comes to answering the phone and greeting Customers who walk into our office; we also need to apply it to responding to email and website-generated inquiries. This means that you should have a written policy detailing the acceptable response time for inquiries, the text of the message that will be used to respond, and whatever follow-up procedures are to be used. Failure to respond, or delaying the response to some inquiries and not others, could be construed as discrimination based upon different treatment.

You should also have a policy that specifies how often you will check your property email each day, what your response time is ("It is our policy to respond to all emails within ____ hours of our receipt of them"), what information is to be included in the reply (availability, pricing, etc.) and what follow up procedures will be followed ("Within 12 hours, we will send an information package via USPS to the prospect, within 24 hours, we will send a second email; within 48 hours, we will call the prospect, etc.") It's very simple to create an email template to ensure consistency of the reply content - the person responding to the inquiry will then only have to insert information about price and availability.

2. MAKE CERTAIN EVERYONE KNOWS HOW TO PROPERLY USE EMAIL AND THE INTERNET: There should be written policies regarding the use of company computers and Internet access, especially personal usage. Potential fair housing problem areas include sending and receiving inappropriate jokes, cartoons or photographs and the viewing, transmission or receipt of unacceptable files and/or websites.

3. MAKE CERTAIN THAT EVERYONE IS TRAINED: It's amazing to me that some companies will wait a month or more before providing Fair Housing training to new Employees - given the availability of quality Distance Learning programs offering Fair Housing training, there is no excuse not to have EVERY new Employee (yes, that's right: EVERY new Employee, because that Maintenance Technician or housekeeper can get us into just as much Fair Housing trouble as the Property Manager can!) complete a Fair Housing training program BEFORE they interact with your Residents or Prospects! (See Sidebar for Fair Housing Distance Learning Providers) Just because we have a huge policy manual sitting on the shelf doesn't mean that people will read it - even if they are "supposed" to read it as part of their do-it-yourself orientation program! And, Fair Housing training is an on-going process, requiring more than a one-hour class or once a year seminar: things change and we need to keep up!

4. MAKE CERTAIN THAT YOU PUT EVERYTHING IN WRITING, AND THAT YOU DOCUMENT EVERYTHING: While it is impossible to prevent fair housing complaints, it IS possible to run your business so that you can demonstrate compliance with fair housing laws. The first step is to put EVERYTHING in writing and document your actions:

What are your rental qualification guidelines - whose application gets accepted and whose gets declined? This document should cover income, credit, landlord history, your occupancy guidelines, pet policy, and anything else that is evaluated for the purpose of determining who gets approved and who doesn't. A copy of this policy should be posted in a prominent place in your office, and a copy given to every visitor.

What apartments are available? We've all heard stories about properties that were tested where one prospect was offered a certain apartment and the next prospect wasn't - sometimes it's discrimination, and sometimes, we actually leased the apartment in between testers. If we can produce records that show how we account for each available apartment, everyday - when it became available, how often it was shown and when it was leased - that goes a long way toward proving that we may have had a vacant at 10:00 am on Tuesday, and it was gone by noon.

What is your application processing procedure? How long does it take to reach a decision from the time the application is submitted, how do you notify the applicant, how much is the application fee, is it refundable, etc. Put it in writing and give the visitor a copy of it BEFORE they fill out the application.

Documentation is useful in establishing a pattern of behavior by our employees. We want to demonstrate that we follow our policies and procedures, and treat everyone consistently. Some documentation occurs without having to do any "extra work": our guest cards, rental applications and service requests are all examples of written documents that can and should be filed for possible future use as proof of consistent behavior.

Please remember that our "intentions" have nothing to do with fair housing; we all know which road is paved with good intentions . . . ! Our job is to create as much certainty as we can, and the most effective way to achieve certainty is through written policies and procedures, and documentation.

5. MAKE CERTAIN THAT YOU ARE CONSISTANT IN WORDS AND ACTIONS: If there is one rule that must be followed without exception, it is the rule of consistency. TREAT EVERYONE THE SAME! Either stand up to greet everyone, or don't standup for anyone. Shake everyone's hand, or no one's hand. Offer every visitor refreshment or simply have the refreshments in plain view with a small sign that says, "Please help yourself". The consistency rule applies to information as well as actions: Make certain you give everyone the same information about your apartment availability, prices, specials and policies.

A SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT STEERING: The best way to avoid a complaint based on steering is to LET THE CUSTOMER SEE WHATEVER THEY WANT TO SEE! It's OK for the Customer to "steer" YOU to a certain apartment or building - and it's NOT OK for you to "steer" the Customer. Your property is comprised of three story, walk up buildings with exterior hallways that have railings: When the young single mother with three toddlers walks into your office wanting to see an apartment on the third floor, SHOW IT! When a person confined to a wheelchair comes into your office wanting to see an apartment on the third floor, SHOW IT! It's the Customer's responsibility to get themselves up to the third floor, not ours.

Some people think it would be wonderful if there was a rule for every situation that arose, and we never had to make exceptions - personally, I would call that BORING. Although our goal is to create uniform policies and procedures for as many situations as possible, it is NOT possible to cover every situation - there will be exceptions. When you make an exception, document it: write a "memo to file" that includes the day, date and time, your name and the names of everyone else involved (other employees, visitors, residents), EXACTLY what happened, what you did about it and why you did it. Another documentation resource available to property managers is the CallSource system, which records each incoming phone call to the property and can be used to document a particular conversation in case of a dispute (www.callsource.com).

Finally, a VERY SPEICAL note about "Service Pets": There isn't any such thing as a Service Pet!! There are pets, and there are Service ANIMALS. Your pet policies apply to PETS, not Service Animals. Service Animals ARE NOT considered pets, so we can't charge pet fees for them! (Unless you're in West Virginia, but that's another story!) Remember, Fair Housing is everybody's responsibility, so review your current policies and procedures and Make Quality Certain in Fair Housing at YOUR property!

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"Well I Didn't Know I Couldn't Do That . . ." and Other Famous Last Fair Housing Words.

Douglas D. Chasick, CPM®, CAPS, CAS, Adv. RAM, CLP The Apartment Doctor™ / NOI News™

Most multifamily professionals agree that the onsite staff having the most contact with our Residents is our Service Team, yet Service Team members are rarely in attendance at the fair housing Seminars presented at most industry conferences. The room is typically filled with Supervisors, Managers and Leasing Professionals, yet Service Employees are just as likely to commit a fair housing faux pas during the course of typical day!

When thinking about fair housing complaints and lawsuits, the office team comes to mind as the source of the problem, right? The fact of the matter is that approximately 30% of complaints and lawsuits result from situations OUTSIDE the Leasing Center? Believe it or not, there are still plenty of six and seven-figure awards being made in fair housing complaints and lawsuits, and many of these are service team related.

The math should be pretty easy: The maximum fine for a first time occurrence of a discriminatory action is $11,000 and the cost of a fair housing seminar is anywhere from $49.00 - $99.00. And it doesn't stop with the fine (and the punitive damages - that's where all the zeros come from in those six and seven-figure awards!) What about all that publicity when a complaint is filed, and all the time and money that must be spent to defend against the complaint - typically thousands of dollars that could have been avoided if all of our Employees received ongoing fair housing Training.

Beyond the math is pretty easy, too: practicing fair housing is the RIGHT thing to do! So, in no particular order, here are the most common situations that Service Team members should be aware of to make certain they are fair housing compliant:

Just Say "Know": As in, "I don't know, let's go over to the office and find out . . ." This should be the standard response to ANY inquiry about availability, rental rates, renewal terms, specials, concessions, and anything else having to do with the rental or renewal of an apartment. It's also a great answer to the "What kind of people live here" question, however an even better answer to that question is, "Anyone who meets our qualifying standards lives here"!

There is no such thing as "Oops" in Fair Housing: Just because someone didn't mean to discriminate doesn't mean they are automatically off the hook, because the discriminatory act does not need to be intentional. Many fair housing complaints are the result of someone trying to "be nice" or be helpful. While "being nice" is standard operating procedure for most companies, the key to compliance is treating everyone equally and consistently. Some examples of what NOT to do are not suggesting which building someone would like because "there are/are not lots of kids in that building", or because "there are/are not lots of THOSE people in that building", and NOT talking about other Residents or Employees.

FIFO = First In, First Out: While this term is from the retail industry, it also applies to the apartment business, meaning service requests should be completed in the order they are received, unless it is an emergency. (Speaking of emergencies, is there a written list of exactly what constitutes an emergency, and does each Resident have a copy of that list?) While it may be tempting to do certain service requests first, because the Resident is polite, pleasant, pays their rent early and tips well, it is also an invitation to a complaint based on different. ("You did their work order before mine, even though I called mine in first, because I am a "Protected Class").

Attitude Is Everything: Since most Service Team members don't get much (any?) Customer Service training, let's talk about attitude for a moment. The old cliché holds true here: "Reality is perception and perception is reality". When a person perceives being treated differently, they will usually make up their own reason for why they are being treated differently - and that reason could be "Because I'm a member of a "Protected Class". That different treatment includes attitude, body language and overall demeanor; if the Service Technician seems to be friendly and outgoing to everyone EXCEPT Mrs. Smith, then in the absence of an explanation to the contrary, Mrs. Smith may think it's because she is a member of a protected class.

Do As I Say AND As I Do: The Service Team Manager has a special responsibility as the Supervisor to comply with all fair housing laws and ensure that each of the Team members complies. That means everyone looks to the Manager for guidance, and people will automatically assume that if the Manager says or does something, then THEY can say or do it too. This includes being proactive by not tolerating off-color or racially insensitive jokes, sexual harassment in ANY form, being aware of what the team is looking at if they have Internet access (jokes sent by email, inappropriate web sites), EVERYTHING. Remember, not leading by example regarding fair housing can have very expensive consequences.

Remember That Vendors and Contractors Need Fair Housing Training: Yes, that's right - vendors and contractors can get us into just as much trouble as one of our Employees. Make certain that all vendor contracts and service agreements contain a paragraph putting the vendor on notice that you expect any of the people they send to your property have fair housing training.

Finally, it's important for each employee to remember that every person living in the United States is a member of at least four of the federally protected classes (race, color, sex and national origin), so compliance with fair housing laws should be easy! Just treat everyone equally, with respect and professionalism, and apply and enforce all policies and procedures with consistency.

So, what can be done about making certain your Service Team is playing fair? There are plenty of quality classroom, computer-based and web-based training programs available that are designed specifically for Service Employees. Isn't it about time we get EVERYONE at our properties trained (or, is it time for a refresher class?). Remember, play nice and PLAY FAIR!

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Quick Tips for Human Resources Success!

Douglas D. Chasick, CPM®, CAPS, CAS, Adv. RAM, CLP The Apartment Doctor™ / www.NOINews.com

Whatever you do for one, DO FOR ALL!!

Schedule performance reviews at 90 day intervals - every 30 days is even better! A simple 30 minute conversation about what is and isn't working, held every 30 days, will pay AMAZING dividends!

Make certain your application for employment complies with all current laws, ESPECIALLY disclosure rules about background and credit checks.

EVERY applicant should fill out an application, regardless of the position being applied for, even if they have furnished a resume - this ensures that you are treating everyone the same AND that you have made the appropriate disclosures and obtained the applicant's permission to obtain additional information about them.

Don't use "handicapped" - use "qualified disability".

Keep all terminated employee files for a minimum of one year - 7 years is better!

Keep all solicited applications/resumes for 1 year - you do not have to keep any unsolicited applications/resumes.

Resumes are not considered an application by EEOC.

Don't accept "See resume" as an answer - put the following on front of application: "Please complete all questions, even if you attach a resume."

You can ask for employment history for the past ten years and explanations for any gaps in employment.

You can ask for previous addresses for past ten years to do background checks only.

Military - Don't ask about reserve status or type of discharge.

Ask for FIVE references instead of three - since most people come prepared to give 3 references, the last 2 they have to "come up with" may give you better info. Plus, many people don't think you are going to check references anyway!

Ask for driving record information for the past three years - DUI/DWI, speeding, accidents, etc.

If you make a written conditional job offer, it must have everyone's signatures - it allows you to ask more detailed questions after the offer is accepted.

Have a job description that the applicant can review before they submit an application - this allows them to address their skills to the job expectations more effectively.

Don't send letters to people you don't interview and/or hire, unless you send out a letter to EVERYONE you didn't interview and/or hire!

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Are You Afraid To Discipline Or Fire Employees Because They Might Sue You?

Douglas D. Chasick, CPM®, CAPS, CAS, Adv. RAM, CLP The Apartment Doctor™ / www.NOINews.com

If you answered "yes", welcome to the club - you're not alone! During the course of my seminars and presentations, I have the opportunity to speak to many people who complain that they feel "stuck" with someone who isn't performing. Well, I have good news and bad news for everyone who feels that way:

The BAD NEWS is this: WE created the problem! That's right, YOU and I! How? Two ways: We hired the people in the first place. (Don't tell me you "inherited" the staff - if you let them stay after you showed up, you hired them by default!) Did we check ALL the references? Did we test them, not only for skills, but for temperament and compatibility? Did we let several existing employees, the people the new employee would work with, interview our perspective employee? And, after we did all that, did we listen to our "gut"? (Those of you who know me know that I maintain an exceptional gut for exactly this purpose - it's a sacrifice I make for our great profession!)

The second way YOU and I created this problem is the way we have disciplined and fired people. Do we immediately address any performance problems we discover, or do we wait, and let the problem ferment and age, like a fine wine? Do we take people aside to discipline them in private, without causing them to be embarrassed and humiliated in front of their peers? Have we DOCUMENTED our conversations with problem employees? Have we given them a SPECIFIC, written plan, with measurable goals and deadlines, so they could improve their performance and continue their employment? Or is the entire discipline process just a way for us to vent OUR anger and frustration?

Here's the GOOD NEWS: By following these simple steps, you can rid yourself of MOST of the fears associated with disciplining and firing people (I say MOST because this is America, which means anyone can sue anyone else, even if they have no case!) Just observe these guidelines CONSISTENTLY, and assist your people to improve their performance (or give them the opportunity to find happiness in some other profession.)

AS THE LEADER, YOU SET THE EXAMPLE OF ACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR: Yes, the old "Lead by example" trick. Whatever you do and say becomes "O.K." behavior for your employees. If you disregard company policy and procedures, don't follow the rules, don't observe the dress code, make personal calls, come in late and/or leave early; whatever you do is what your employees think they can do (or should be able to do)! The policy manual is meaningless unless YOU follow it. These days, RANK HATH NO PRIVILEGES! If you want to motivate your employees and avoid lawsuits, REMEMBER that you always lead by example - whether the example is good or bad - so act accordingly! It is tough to defend disciplining or terminating an employee for doing things that YOU DO!

BE CONSISTENT IN YOUR TREATMENT OF EVERYONE: This is a biggie! You cannot "play favorites", overtly or covertly - it's the quickest way to create dissension and give someone a VALID BASIS for a lawsuit - they call it discrimination. Everyone must be treated the same, given the same training, the same counseling, the same discipline and the same "breaks." Period. End of discussion.

KNOW YOUR COMPANY POLICY AND PROCEDURES: As the manager, you are the authority. It's your responsibility to know the rules: What are the grounds for immediate termination (YOU SHOULD HAVE A SPECIFIC, WRITTEN LIST), do you have to give a problem employee written notice of a problem, how soon after termination must they receive their final paycheck, etc.? Make certain you know these rules BEFORE you have an incident - so you can guide your actions based upon company policy - or work with your supervisor to change company policy.

FOLLOW THE ESTABLISHED COMPANY POLICY OR WORK TO HAVE IT CHANGED: But don't bad-mouth it to your employees! If your company has a published policy and procedure manual, those are the accepted rules for behavior. If they are outdated or don't make sense to you, handle it with your supervisor. When a new memo comes down, support it and enforce it to your staff - if you don't like it, talk to your supervisor. Voicing your displeasure and disagreement to your employees may make you "one of the gang" but it also makes you liable! A disgruntled current or ex-employee can claim that you didn't follow the established personnel policies.

WHAT ABOUT "UNWRITTEN" POLICIES AND PROCEDURES? How many of you have taken over a new property, started eviction proceedings against a few residents, gone to court, and have the judge throw out the case because the rent payment due date was never enforced? They call it "implied consent" - even though you have a written policy, you don't enforce it - so you're implying that people can pay whenever they want to. The same principle applies to personnel management. If you don't enforce the dress code, you can't suddenly fire somebody for not following the dress code. If you always let your staff come in "a little late", you can't fire someone for tardiness. Here's the solution: Create a memo that restates the policies and procedures that aren't being followed and give it to each employee. Instruct them to read AND SIGN the memo, indicating that they read it, they understand it, and they agree to abide by it.

KNOW THE TERMS OF THE EMPLOYMENT AGREEMENT FOR EACH OF YOUR EMPLOYEES: What, you don't have a formal, written employment agreement? Are you sure? What about the letter sent to someone offering them a job? What about their employment application? What about statements and representations made to them during the interview and/or when they were offered the job and hired? VERBAL STATEMENTS? Well kids, many courts have held all of the above to be valid, binding, legal employment agreements! Make sure you do your best to confirm any "promises" made to employees, written or verbal, before taking action.

HAVE WRITTEN GOALS AND OBJECTIVES FOR EACH EMPLOYEE: Whether new or existing, each employee should receive a written statement of EXACTLY what goals and objectives they are expected to meet, and by when they are expected to meet them. All too often, employees are terminated because "they aren't getting the job done"; "things just aren't working out"; or some other non-specific reason. If each employee has a written statement of what they're supposed to do, that they have agreed to by signing, it becomes easier to support them in doing their job, and to defend yourself if they don't do their job!

CONDUCT FREQUENT PERFORMANCE EVALUATIONS: Most of us are accustomed to waiting to receive "The Annual Salary Review," which typically doesn't get done on- time! Call me zany, but that tells me we have to wait an entire year to know if our boss thinks we're doing a good job. (Most bosses will let you know if you're doing a bad job just a tad sooner!) I don't have a problem with SALARY being reviewed annually, but why not conduct PERFORMANCE evaluations more frequently so that you and your employees are regularly communicating about what is working and what's not working? How often? I think quarterly is the absolute minimum; I recommend MONTHLY PERFORMANCE MEETINGS!

This doesn't need to be a long and elaborate meeting - it can be done effectively in 30 minutes. Are you willing to invest 6 hours a year to support and assist your employees in doing the best job they can? Of course you are! You're probably spending LOTS more time than that now, dealing with what's not working! Go over the written goals statement (#7, above) each month, and give specific, written correction if needed. If you have to terminate an employee, these FREQUENT REVIEWS will go a long way to show you were doing everything you could to make things work.

BE 100% HONEST IN YOUR PERFORMANCE EVALUATIONS: If you're not COMPLETELY honest when telling someone about the areas of their performance that need improvement, how do you expect them to improve? I know it's a little "confrontive", but it's better than "being nice" and then having to fire them later! This DOES NOT mean you have to be mean, cruel or rude - just completely honest. If you are regularly communicating with your employees about their performance, and you still have to fire them, you can prove that you did everything possible to get the employee "back on track."

THOROUGHLY DOCUMENT ALL MEETINGS WITH ALL EMPLOYEES. If you don't already have one, create a one-page form for meeting with employees. Note the employee's name, the date and time of the meeting and the reason for the meeting. Write down what was said by both you and the employee, especially actions and deadlines to be met. Have the employee sign the form; if they won't, note on the form that you asked the employee to sign it and they refused. File the form in their file and give a copy of the form to your supervisor if appropriate. If an employee files a grievance in the future, or disputes their termination, your notes can be important evidence supporting your side of the story.

HAVE SOMEONE ELSE PRESENT WHEN YOU FIRE SOMEONE: As a practical matter, your supervisor or one of YOUR peers should be present when you terminate an employee. (Don't use one of the terminated employees subordinates - it only embarrasses them.) This will tend to keep tempers from flaring, and obviously provides a witness to the termination process in the event you have to defend it in the future. Even with a witness, WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN!

FOLLOW ALL LAWS: There are over 400 Federal laws regarding employment, and many states have rules about how soon after termination you have to pay the ex-employee, or what type of notice must be given to them. Don't forget about C.O.B.R.A. notification, either! This is no time to be guessing, do the research and make sure you are in compliance!

BE AWARE OF WARNING SIGNS GIVEN BY EMPLOYEES: If any of your employees have complained to anyone else about ANY alleged problems with you or your company, even jokingly, take notice. Unsafe working conditions, sexual harassment, or ANY type of discrimination complaints must be addressed immediately. If you don't handle it immediately in your office, you may find yourself handling it in court.

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Law Offices of Heist, Weisse & Wolk, P.A.
Phone: 1-800-253-8428 Fax: 1-800-367-9038

Serving Florida's Property Managers with main office in Fort Myers Beach. Available by appointment in Orlando and Clearwater


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