October 22, 2020

Marie Bell: Getting Teams Excited About Software

Training multifamily teams to use new software can prove stressful. So, how do you motivate techs and others on-site to embrace the change? Preferred Apartment Communities Director of Training Marie Bell explains, step by step on this Voices episode.

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The Short About Marie Bell
Marie Bell has served as Director of Training and Development – Multifamily at Preferred Apartment Communities since December 2017. She has over 18 years of experience in all facets of property management. Prior to her role as the Director of Training, Marie was responsible for training associates in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. Prior to being appointed Regional Trainer, Marie held the position of Property Inspector. She also held the positions of Property Manager, Assistant Manager, Auditor, and Leasing Consultant with Williams Residential Management LLC, where she was responsible for the oversight of conventional housing units located in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Georgia.

Audio Transcript

Marie Bell 0:00
It may have taken me maybe 20-30 minutes. And that's me going over everything in detail. But if I was just to go over it with someone that's a little tech-savvy, it probably would only take me three minutes. So but to me, it's worth it because the 30 minutes that you take to show someone., now moving forward, you've saved them numerous hours of time throughout the year.

Glennis Markison 0:29
Hi, I'm Glennis Markison from HappyCo. Welcome to Voices, where we feature fresh perspectives in multifamily. The industry is now facing a fundamental shift in workplace dynamics, resident experience and business operations. In Season Two of Voices we'll feature multifamily leaders who are actively embracing change.

Our guest today is Marie Bell, Director of Training and Development at preferred apartment communities headquartered in Atlanta. Marie has worked in property management for more than 18 years with roles ranging from leasing consultant and auditor to assistant manager and regional trainer. Over the years she's been recognized for developing strong vendor relationships, and motivating diverse teams to leverage multifamily technology. That brings us to today's topic on Voices, change management. Marie will discuss best practices for launching new software across multifamily teams from communicating a change to carrying out trainings to ensuring successful adoption. Thanks for joining us, Marie.

Marie Bell 1:29
Thank you. You're welcome.

Glennis Markison 1:30
We're excited to have you. And I'd love to just kind of start with, if you could describe your growth in multifamily over the years. So beginning with that first role in leasing, how you worked your way up?

Marie Bell 1:40
Yes, actually, I started as a leasing consultant and within six months, I started cross training for an assistant manager, I excelled in my position as a leasing consultant, I became one of the top sales associates there so cross training was very easy. And because I was open to travel in relocating, you know, that actually helped, you know, with my advancement within the company, whenever there was an opening or, you know, just any of the properties needed to help. I was there, I was available, and I was always volunteering. So I held this assistant manager position for years and filled in as interim manager positions throughout the portfolio when needed. But once we became public in 2011, I wore a lot of hats. At that point, you know, we were growing so fast. In 2011, we only had we downsized to three multifamily assets, and now we have over 40, as well as different departments. So I helped out when needed for acquisitions training. And in 2015, I became the property inspector with preferred, and 2016 transitioned into training. And I've been training ever since.

Glennis Markison 2:51
Wow. So I want to hear more about this passion for training. I mean, how are you stepping up to teach people skills around you have, I understand even before you had the job title training?

Marie Bell 3:00
Well, once I excelled and performed in my position, I always offered my assistance to other managers and a VPS. I knew this would help me out in the long run. So once I knew the process and procedure and policy for you know, certain specific jobs, I just volunteered, I made myself available. Like as soon as they hired a new associate, I offered my assistance at the time, we didn't have a training department. So of course my assistance was welcomed.

That's great. Yeah, I mean, and I also understand that you pitched yourself for a training role directly along the way at preferred. I mean, what was that conversation? Like, with managers?

Glennis Markison 3:37
How did you have that courage?

Marie Bell 3:40
Well, every year they would do a performance evaluation. And this was the time that I informed my manager or supervisor of my goal, you know, being in training or developing the training department. And, you know, talking to the managers at the time, because we didn't have a training department, it was a little, you know, wasn't very encouraging, because we didn't have a department in training. But that didn't stop me for, you know, to continue informing my manager of my aspiration. You know, that's something that I still talk about, you know, every year about developing and also, I guess, expanding our training department, because right now we have our training department in our multifamily. I would like to implement different processes and policies throughout the whole company.

Glennis Markison 4:19
Yeah, I mean, that's just honestly so brave, though, to say, Hey, this is what I really want. This is how I'm going to work for it. And I hope you hear me and you see me trying. I mean, that's that.

Marie Bell 4:28
Yeah, they heard me obviously, because you're I am. Exactly.

Glennis Markison 4:31
And that's why you're hearing voices. Um, so yeah. So when you took on this role of Director of Training kind of day one, I mean, what did you feel about multifamily software in terms of, you know, suspicions that would help people do their jobs faster or more efficiently?

Marie Bell 4:44
What was your stance at the time? Well, I was already a bit tech-savvy. So I noticed how some software that we already switched to from when we became, you know, from being private to public, made my job a lot easier. So I'm like, okay, so if this is making my job easier. Let me look at other things that could make us a little bit more efficient and make more time for other things. Yeah, absolutely. And when you felt that you'd pick the right software for teams, I mean, you can describe that process. But how did it start to change operations for the better? I mean, just from the early days of saving time, and letting people shift focus, what were you seeing when you found the right inspections? Well, yeah, for example spreadsheets, we would have all of these spreadsheets for reporting that we would have to fill out manually, which would take sometimes two to three days. And now a lot of these reports are just a push of a button, instead of us taking two to three days to fill out spreadsheets, now we just push the button, then it creates a report for us, you know, which makes me a lot more available time for us to focus on other things like, you know, resident events, focus on team meetings, just other things that because these things would normally take two, three days out of our time, we can put this towards something else and focus on revenue retention.

Glennis Markison 5:58
Yeah, I mean, that's a huge shift, a powerful kind of revenue making shift. And so I guess the big question, though, is, it's not always easy to get people using technology. So how did you convince onsite teams especially maintenance techs using, you know, inspection software for the first time that this product was worth learning? I mean, in the early days, did you show them reports or metrics? Like how did that first exposure happen?

Marie Bell 6:20
Oh, yeah, seeing is believing, you have to show them results. You can talk about it all day, but unless they see something visually, that shows the difference between using it and not using it. So what I would do is show, okay, I have a property here, they're using the software, their numbers are high, they have high, I can see their financials are great. They have zero delinquency, what are they doing? This is what they're doing? And these are the results that we have, because they're using our systems. And then I pull a property that aren't you isn't using our systems are not following, you know, all of them are using all of the software they have available to them. And you can see the difference, and it'll show in the reports and metrics. And once I show that to them, they're like, Oh, yeah, you know, I want to be at this property. How can we get to that? How can we get there? How can we? How can we get to number one, and the thing that I'll tell them is like, you know, the stuff has always been there. Let me show you where you can find these tools? Who doesn't want to be number one, you know, right, right, that third, you think it's really that thirst for competition that really drives it in the beginning. And part it does. You know, a lot of times, you know, instead of sending out an email saying, you know, you need to work on this, or y'all need to use this, I like to show, okay, so these are the properties that are number one in the system, they're doing a great job, they get a lot of praise. And then what that does is encourage the other properties to want to do the same. They want to get recognized, they want to see. So I noticed that that works better than me reaching out to properties and telling them, hey, you're not doing something, I like to inform them that these are the properties that are doing the job. And that that actually encourages them and want you know, it makes them want to learn the software.

Glennis Markison 8:00
Yeah, no, that's fantastic. More that carrot and the stick for sure. But in the in the beginning, when you have to actually get people to show up for a training and maybe they've never heard of happy Inspector, they've never, you know, been through this technology loop before it's maybe open paper in their past jobs. What do you actually do to get people to show up for a training? I mean, are you sending emails in advance the day before, like this nitty-gritty, I think is so valuable for people to hear?

Marie Bell 8:23
Yes, you have to, unfortunately, you know, it is a lot of work in the beginning, but after a while, it becomes very seamless. Like, you know, before COVID, I would still do the same process, sending out the registration information, then sending out the calendar invite. But now, you know, after COVID, and everything that's going on, they've gotten used to the process, they know that I'm going to send out webinar registration, I'm going to when they register, they know the process, they know they're going to get the calendar invite with meeting link, they know they're going to get reminders, and they know they're going to get a reminder the day before. So they know the system. Now we're at the beginning, you know, there are a few emails that I got, oh, you know, I forgot or I didn't get this. But as time goes by, normally after maybe two or three webinars, they see the system. And there's a lot of times they don't have any issues after that, like what I used to hear in the beginning, Oh, I didn't know how to get on the call, or I didn't know how to get on the webinar. But after registering on two or three webinars, everybody's a professional. Oh, good. So practice, I think is just getting on one webinar and knowing how to get into the calendar invite clicking on the meeting link once they do it once or twice, they got it so it's really just actually doing it. Once they started doing it. I noticed I have a lot more registrations a lot more people attending the webinars, and it's great.

Glennis Markison 9:45
Yeah, I mean, let's talk about training day two because you're such a believer I've heard in hands-on kind of projects. If you're teaching someone you know an inspection software, but they've only used a paper form before Can you just talk about what that looks like kind of that first couple hour Training and getting them to use the software?

Marie Bell 10:02
Well, the great thing was I just did that not too long ago at a property, we were implementing that happy code. And the great thing about it was, you know, I showed them the result, which was a fully finalised inspection. Once they saw it, they realize, oh, wow, this is a lot better than the handwritten one that I fill out. And it doesn't even have pictures, I have to attach them after I take it on my phone or camera. So it took out a lot of steps. Once they saw the result, it was pretty obvious all the time, they would be saving because it took out a bunch of different steps. So what I did was I actually showed them the report of what the result would be once they started using the app. And then I had them perform the actual process. So because the first thing they were like, oh, that actually looks better. I want to do that. How can I do that?

Glennis Markison 10:53
Oh, good questions.

Marie Bell 10:56
Yeah. So I make them ask me the question, or how can I get this? And the great thing about it is they already have the instructions. I'm like, you know what, you already have access to this information. But let me show you, you know, actually, why don't you show me Let's sit down and only take a few minutes, it may have taken me maybe 20 or 30 minutes. And that's me going over everything in detail. But if I was just to go over it with someone that's a little tech-savvy, it probably would only take me three minutes. So but to me, it's worth it. Because the 30 minutes that you take to show someone now moving forward, you've saved them numerous hours of time throughout for the year.

Glennis Markison 11:32
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the efficiency gain, I'm sure. It's just tremendous. And I'm wondering, too, I mean, when you find out that someone has had a training, and they've clicked into that meeting link for a webinar, but they're not quite using the software, because they haven't really felt they can do it on the ground, or you didn't come over there with your encouraging tone to their site. How do you know on the back end, if they're using it or not? I mean, how do you keep the ball rolling when you find that they aren't?

Marie Bell 11:54
Well, the great thing about the systems and software now is that everything has reports. So there's always reports and metrics. And a lot of the software that we have now we can look on the back end, if your administrator like myself, I'm able to look on the back end and see what is the last time they logged in, when is the last time they did an assignment, you know, when is the last time they did a report or pulled a report. So these metrics and reporting, I either encourage the person accountable for that property, like the VP or the VP of the property or regional, they would send them a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly report, or they pull the report on their own. But I noticed sometimes, especially if it's something that needs to be addressed, I would send the report like right now I send out what we call a CRM scorecard, I send that monthly and sometimes bi-weekly just informed the area vice presidents, the people responsible for the property of Hey, you know, these are the unreviewed leads in your queue for the month, and I do it random, you know, I just check it just out of the blue. And they know that if they have over, you know, 15 unreviewed leads for that day, that that's a red flag. So it's just really getting the reporting and sending it to the person responsible or accountable for that property, or either making sure that they can pull the report on their own sending them instructions, but I make sure that they VPS, because they are responsible for our properties, have access to these reports, or at least able to pull them themselves or I send it to them.

Glennis Markison 13:26
Yeah, absolutely. And I'm wondering, too, I mean, if we could get into tone for a second, because I just think so often in any industry when the tone isn't right, somebody is discouraged. They're resentful that just turned off by something. I mean, how are you making sure your tone and anyone else training people that it's encouraging, you know, versus disappointing? Because what you're finding are these red flags. And so how do you communicate rather than saying you're in trouble, you know, hey, you have an opportunity to learn how do you make that right, that tone happen?

Marie Bell 13:52
Well, you get more sugar, you know, you get more sugar and salt. That's what I tell everyone, you what works for me is that I prefer to start off with praise. You know, I always like to tell people what they're doing, right? You can't go in, you know, just off the bat, just telling them oh, you know, you need to work on these things. I always start with praise, I go and telling them the things that they're doing, right. And then I speak on what they can use or do to make things even better, versus telling them what they're doing wrong, you know, so it's all about delivering, you know, your deliverance on what needs to be done. And then I explained to them that to advance if that's something that they're looking for, they have to be able to perform excel in the position that they're already holding. So it's just all about how you go about it. And I just realized you get more with praise and just going over what are the things that they're doing right and what they can do to make things even better and easier for them.

Glennis Markison 14:42
Yeah, and is there ever a need to to be really one on one with somebody? I mean, I understand that there was a property recently where people had had a training but weren't quite using things. I mean, do you ever find like even if it takes a couple hours that you're really there to help motivate somebody one on one to use a system they're unfamiliar with?

Marie Bell 14:58
Yes, um, that happens sometimes, and a lot of times it does start with leadership. You know, we had an example, we had one manager that didn't hold their team accountable. And you know, that can really change the whole dynamic of the team, you got to make sure you got to empower them to follow the process, you know, and yes, systems do change. But, you know, like I said, to me, it starts with the leadership. So what I did was I spent about, you know, anywhere from three to four hours, for with each office associate sounds like a lot of time in the beginning, but to me in the long run, you know, it was definitely worth it. I just went over making sure they knew the process, they knew the policy. And then at the end, I sent them an email confirming these items, making sure that they understood that this is a policy, it's not optional, I made sure that they understand it's mandatory, you know, and then I also made myself available. So then if they have any questions, they can always reach out to my cell phone, email, any form of communication, I'm available.

Glennis Markison 15:55
Yeah. And I bet that's a huge difference. It's just having those communication outlets where they can say, Actually, I do have a question, you know, and then get that away so quickly, as opposed to kind of it festering and then not using something. I'm also curious, too, I mean, what's it like that you're now Director of Training? And you're seeing texts and property managers feel proud of themselves? When they use the software? I mean, is it? Is it nice to see how these metrics are really boosting morale for them?

Marie Bell 16:18
Oh, yeah, they love it, especially if it makes their job easier. And when I noticed that a tech or a property manager, an assistant or even a sales associate, if I see that they're performing in their position, they're excelling. They follow policy, they're doing the process, I use them as part of my training, you know, I actually would maybe ask them to go out and train and other associated their portfolio or either be available for that associate if they have any questions. So I definitely keep a list of associates that we have, that are doing a great job with using the software that we have available to them.

Glennis Markison 16:57
Yeah. And I imagine to have somebody who's learned something successfully be tapped by you to be a mentor to somebody else. I mean, can you talk about what that does to shape a positive culture where people are feeling like, they can actually teach skills to others, and they're not just kind of dictated to, to use something that they kind of, suddenly it's like teaching a man to fish, they can really offer something else to other people?

Marie Bell 17:17
Oh, yeah. And by doing that, I noticed too, that they're open for advancement opportunities in different areas. So because they feel Oh, yeah, you know, what, I feel great. I'm training, I noticed that they offer their assistance to other parts of our portfolio. So we may have a service manager in Florida. And a lot of times, you know, I have him trained associates in Florida, but because he's doing so well with training some of the other service team, you know, what he's offered to help out in other areas. So I think by letting some of our associates be mentored even trained other team members, that actually they're able to see that they also have a passion for training. And I'm seeing a lot more of that. Yeah. And

Glennis Markison 18:00
I think that's so nice, because you're seeing people as hungry as you were, you know, early on in your career, I think that's really must be moving. And I'm wondering, too, I mean, also, this is a way to spare managers answering a lot of questions when their texts or property managers can't do the software effectively from the start. I mean, when they're not answering technical questions like, Can you talk about the doors that suddenly open up about what they can focus on? I know, we were hip to this a little bit earlier. But what does that really do for a property on a revenue level when they can focus?

Marie Bell 18:29
Oh, yeah, actually, not only that, you know, they're also that saves the manager because the manager normally is responsible for a lot of things. And some of these things can be delegated out to other associates, like the service manager, the Assistant Manager, and when you have these other tools that they can use to take advantage of, and also, I guess, decrease the amount of time that the service that the general manager may have to put into going out to an apartment to walk the unit. That's something that service manager. So I've noticed that delegating is definitely a secret when it comes to training, and just having a positive collaborative outlook.

Glennis Markison 19:14
So I mean, now that you are Director of Training, I mean, if we could just talk like kind of looking back on all you've accomplished and multifamily, especially looking back at preferred, I mean, what do you feel most proud of in your work and training now,

Marie Bell 19:26
I am so proud of the fact that I have all of the training materials, all of the checklists, all the forms in one cloud for our associates. This is something that when I was a leasing consultant, we had something similar but they were always issues themselves, but now we have something that's internet-based. You can get to it from anywhere and everything is there. And before I say even less than three years ago, I was walking around with manuals and checklists and forms. And now I've set it up to where everything is in one place and I don't have to carry it. Anything, and it's great, I love it, I'm so glad that I've, you know, it took some time to get everything in one place and up to date. But now it's a one-stop shop. When I train, I tell people that first this is where you go, if I'm not available, everything is here, you know, you just put it into the search button type in part of the word, whatever it is, it'll pop up. So that to me is one of my greatest accomplishments, I'm so happy about that. That saves, that saves a lot of time. And that then what plus we want to make sure everyone's on the same page. So anytime there's an update to our policy update to a forum, all updated information, latest revisions are all in the system. So if anybody wants to know, like, Hey, you know, am I using the most updated form, all they have to do is pull it out of the system. So that is one of the main things that I'm proud of, as well as getting to a point in our learning system, to where everything is somewhat automated now. So if someone is trying to register for a course or webinar, they can register, they sign up for it, it gets acknowledged, and then it falls on their transcript when before I was manually putting this information. So I'm getting it to a system to where everything is somewhat automated. So I can focus my time on development, professional development, as well as recruitment.

Glennis Markison 21:19
Yeah, I mean, that's so exciting to hear. I mean, just diving into those next steps a little bit more. I mean, so can you talk about what else you could see being automated, what else you think you could do with your time when you you feel like there are ways to develop staff and really promote internal growth. Now that you've got so much down with tech, and it's just amazing like you've done, you've done so much with technology that you can see opportunities in these other directions. But yeah, if you could dive into automation and the staff development a little more, I think it'd be a nice question to close on.

Marie Bell 21:47
Yeah, I mean, actually just using these systems to make my job a bit more efficient to where instead of me using the time to send out emails, or either in register people, we have tonnes of software and systems that can do all of this for us. And yes, in a lot, you know, in the beginning, it is a lot of work. But guess what, throughout the year, I've saved so much time, and now I can focus on helping out with acquisitions, you know, focus on revenue growth, trying to figure out ways to increase income. So I want to be able to devote some of my time on those things, as well as you know, recruitment and professional development, just something to where we can improve multifamily operations. So that's where my head is at. I'm always trying to learn the new thing. I want to know the new technology out there because guess what, if it saves us money and time, we may switch so I'm definitely open for change and as time goes by I'm noticing that the onsite teams are also open and motivated to use the software.

Glennis Markison 22:50
Yeah, that's really wonderful story arc to share with anybody listening I mean, I really really want to thank you for being here, Marie, you gave everybody the details where they can kind of do this change management on their own and, and just see the effort and see how it all pays off.

Marie Bell 23:02
And they can and they just have to be patient. You know, in the beginning, it may be a lot of work, but believe me and in the long run, it's well worth it. Just got to take the time to work with your associates. Give them the tools and then it'll all pay for itself in the end.

Glennis Markison 23:21
If you'd like to hear from other voices in multifamily or learn how to share your voice head to voices that happy co you can find voices on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. Voices is produced by HappyCo, the leading real-time property operations platform for multifamily and student housing. We're on a mission to elevate property management to community management, prioritizing staff and resident well being that starts by listening to you the voices of multifamily. I'm Glennis Markison. Thanks for listening. Also, feel free to take a minute and rate or review this podcast. That will help us share the voices of multifamily.

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Glennis Markison

Glennis is a writer and producer from San Francisco. Taking the city’s trains and buses with riders of all ages and backgrounds inspired Glennis to go into journalism and share people’s stories for a living. As HappyCo's Senior Content Producer, she’s excited to highlight diverse voices and share stories from within the Multifamily industry.