I don’t know about you, but I learned a long time ago that ignoring a hard or unpleasant task/project does not make it go away (or even make it fix itself). I tend to learn some of my greatest life’s lessons in the oddest ways or under the strangest of circumstances. I had a natural area in my back yard and like most, I figured it’s natural – why mess with it. Well, natural or not, it grew from a small woodsy area to a large jungle that took over the back yard. Life got busy, I got busy, and actually I just ignored it until one day I decided to fence the whole back yard and get rid of the dog run. Well, Dudley all but refused to go anywhere in the back yard because of the out of control “natural” area. I was determined to just ignore the back yard, but Dudley was also very persistent in letting me know he wanted the run of the whole yard, not just one corner of it. So, I was now faced with the overwhelming task of cleaning up the back yard so Dudley could run around in a bigger area. It took me about four weekends (20 hours per weekend) to get it back to an easily manageable task. As for the out of control Zinka’s….I called Brush Busters to finish it off with a permanent solution. Those flowers are relentless!!!
We’ve all been there at work too. Whether it’s some project you got so busy you forgot about it, or you were hired to clean up a mess, maybe it’s a new acquisition in your owner’s portfolio…there are so many situations you will end up facing. Regardless of why it happened, how it landed on your to-do list, or who volunteered you to fix it, you are always going to find projects or tasks that weren’t kept up as they should have been. It’s just the nature of the business world. Now it’s up to you to tackle it head on, get it done, and make sure nothing gets that out of control again. Here are some suggestions, based on experience, to help you get organized to tackle what lies before you.
First and foremost – it does not matter if you made the “mess” or not, it’s been put in your court and it’s your job to get it done (because you are a professional in the multifamily management industry and a master of all things seemingly impossible).
The rule of thumb on the time it will take to get things cleaned up does somewhat depend on the task at hand. Generally, you can think of the timing to fix it as for every 30 days the problem continued, you can double the time it will take to clean it up. For example, if a member of your team isn’t performing for 30 days, it could take you up to another 30 days to fix it. If it’s gone on for 90 days, you’re now looking at up to 6 months to fix it. Not to discourage anyone because I do truly believe just about everything can be fixed given a realistic time frame, if something has been mismanaged or out of control for over a year, you’re going to need a year to get it back on track, but also you’ll need the support of the people above you. It can be done, but it won’t happen overnight or in 30 days. It didn’t get that bad overnight, so no one should expect it to be fixed overnight either. The key is your determination and the willingness of those above you to give you the tools and support you need to get the job done. What if you don’t get the support or the tools you need to get the task accomplished? That’s a decision you’re going to have to make using what you’ve learned, your experience, and by getting sound advice from a mentor or someone you respect.
You’ve got the determination and the support and tools you need. Now what? Now you need to come up with a schedule, a reasonable schedule based on your other responsibilities, to work on the project in small amounts. As the old saying goes…how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. That’s exactly how you’ll tackle this task as well, one bite at a time.
Set aside a few hours a week to work on the project. Let’s say resident filing had not been done in a year or more (yes, I’ve taken over properties where this was the case). My team and I set aside the first hour on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s to sort through the “file piles” by resident name or unit number (for work orders). Once everything was sorted into the correct piles, the next step was to put in the resident’s actual file.
Another item you may run into is lease renewals or recertifications (affordable housing) have not been done in over 2 years (true story). This is a little trickier for the affordable housing side of our industry, but basically, tackle one building at a time and schedule the appointments with the residents. Try to get at least 1 file done a day. Again, bite size pieces.
You’re going to have to make a commitment to yourself and hold tight to the schedule you have made. Don’t deviate, don’t make excuses why you can’t work on it as scheduled this week because you’ve got new things that came up. If you do, you’ll never stay on track to get it done and that overwhelming task will continue to get bigger and bigger. Once you make the schedule and stick to it, you’ll find the task at hand will not only get smaller, but easier as well. You’ll get into a routine, a rhythm of sorts, and that will take you to the finish line.
Be realistic with yourself and your owners about how long you anticipate the clean up will take. Rule of thumb is under promise and over deliver. If, while you are getting organized or midway through the task, you discover it’s going to take longer, then let everyone know immediately. It’s also a good idea to keep your bosses updated with the progress you are making, maybe just a quick weekly email or phone call.
I always tell my staffs when we take over a property. We have 30 days to say “we didn’t do it” when we come across problems from prior owners or management companies. Our job is to get the pertinent information together, develop a plan of attack for correcting it, and work like there’s no tomorrow to get it done. Even though some projects will more than likely take more than 30 days, even more than 90 days, my one cardinal rule for my teams is after 30 days, we take ownership of the problem and it’s our responsibility to fix it, so they are not to continue to place the blame anywhere else but on us if progress is not being made.
Once you’ve been working on the task or project for a few weeks, and provided you’ve kept to the schedule at hand, you’ll start to see there really is a light at the end of the tunnel. Each week you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment as you and your teams make the piles dwindle down until the task is completed.
What if you have several large tasks or projects you’ve inherited? How do you work on all of them at once? My suggestion is you don’t try, you’ll just get more overwhelmed than you already are and that doesn’t help anyone get anything done. Prioritize the projects with your boss or your owner. My personal opinion is tackle the ones that affect the income side of the property’s financials. Lease renewals or late recertifications that haven’t been done also probably mean that rent increases were not given either. You need to get those residents renewed with increases. If they refuse, then move them to market rent plus a month-to-month fee.
Repeat the same process for the next project you need to complete. It’s all about being organized and sticking to a set schedule so you don’t get distracted or off course.
Don’t stop there, now it’s up to you and your teams to make sure things don’t get out of control again. Set aside some time each week for filing, make sure you keep up with renewals and recertifications, you did the hard part when you put together the schedule to tackle the project weekly, one bite at a time. So keep that schedule going and your routine going and I’m confident things will stay on track going forward.
Remember, ignoring something hard or unpleasant doesn’t make it go away and it most certainly will not fix itself. It just continues to grow, just like the weeds in my natural area, until it’s a jungle.
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