Why Questions Can Be More Important than Answers in Property Management


Asking questions drives creativity. It cultivates an open mind. Quite often, questions drive us to answers we never thought to consider until we asked the question. Have you ever wondered why the word abbreviated is such a long word? Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavor and dish washing liquid made with real lemons? Why is the person who invests all of your money called a broker?

Things that make you go hmmm…

Asking the Right Questions is Critical to Better Understanding Property Management

Questions lead naturally to a consideration of answers, which lead us to more questions, which lead to more answers, which lead to more questions. This back and forth motion is similar to a lumberjack’s saw, sawing through the rings of an oak tree, until they reach the core. Asking questions can reveal new knowledge about your property management company. While all the questions may not be worth exploring, for every dozen there’s a golden one that causes us to stop and wonder. These golden questions give us the ability to cut through several layers at once.

Peter Drucker, the legendary management consultant, once said, “One does not begin with answers.” Where should we begin? According to Drucker, “One begins by asking, ‘What are our questions?’” In one of his many interviews he stated, “Nothing is more dangerous in business than the right answer to the wrong question.” Peter believed that the most important leadership skill is learning how to ask the right questions.

While asking the right questions is critical to understanding your business, asking them in the right order is equally important.

Asking the Right Questions Produces Passionate Results

Simon Sinek, author of “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” presents us with a model called the Golden Circle. His intriguing theory challenges us to ask ourselves three very strategic questions.

1. Why do we do what we do? (Motivation)—Is the answer as simple as, “To make a profit?” Obviously, any business needs to earn a profit to survive. However, to think that a business exists solely to make a profit is to confuse cause and effect. The real results from your property management company will take place in the minds and hearts of your valuable residents. Ultimately, profit is a result of customer behavior, which is a result of customer experience. Your passion results in their passion.

2. How are we doing it? (Process)—While business processes are driven by leaders, they are graded by the customer. Listening to the customer and understanding their wants, needs, and desires is critical to the success of any business. Sometimes we can become “married” to our processes/products, so much so, that we can’t see the forest through the trees. It takes listening to feedback from apartment reviews, employee reviews, resident surveys, mystery shops, vendor surveys, etc., to determine if the process/product is working or if it is broken. Then we should take action! Innovation begins with discovering a problem. So trust that there are a number of problems to be discovered at your property management company. No matter your niche, there’s always room for improvement.

3. What are we doing? (Product)—To be successful in any business you have to know your business, deliver great service, and present a great product to the customer. Some do and some don’t. That’s just “the way the cookie crumbles,” as they say. Enough said.

When business leaders implement Sinek’s Golden Circle model in this particular order (why, how, what), their employees and their company have the potential to function at a very high level.


If you don’t know WHY you do what you do, it can be difficult for residents to respond to what you do.

If you don’t know HOW you are doing, it can be difficult to repair or improve your process/product.

If you don’t know WHAT you are doing, it can be nearly impossible to grow your business.

Improve the Leasing Process

Just as important as asking questions is the order in which they are asked. In fact, asking the right questions in the right order can improve the leasing process. Here are some examples:

Example 1: We lease apartments (product), this is how we lease them (process), and this is why we lease them (motivation).

Boring! There are hundreds, if not thousands, of apartment owners/managers who lease apartments. Leading with the “product” question doesn’t peak the customer’s interest; in fact, they will most likely stop listening. They won’t care!

Now, let’s change the order.

Example 2: This is why we lease apartments (motivation), this is how we lease them (process), and this is what we lease (product).

When you begin with the “Why” question, the game changes, and so does the customer’s response to you and your product. Employees feel it. Customers feel it. You feel it. Every move you make in business should answer the “Why” question first.

If these three questions are truly linked to innovation and problem-solving, why are so many leaders reluctant to ask them? Are they married to their processes/products? Do they not want to hear the answers?

Effective Property Management Begins with the Right Questions

At the end of the day, innovation is still a business process, and business processes need to be linked to effective management and strategy. This begins with asking the right questions, the hard questions, in the right order.

Are you ready? I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic!


Image sources: iStockphoto, Intercom.



President and Owner, Ellis Partners in Mystery Shopping

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Joanna Ellis is CEO and Owner of Ellis Partners in Management Solutions (EPMS) and Co-owner of Renter’s Voice. Under her direction, Ellis has established itself as the premier apartment mystery shopping company in the nation, as well as a respected provider of multi-touch point resident surveys, as part of their retention-focused customer experience program. Current clients include most major apartment developers, management companies, and REITs. Through Renter’s Voice, Ellis helps clients promote and respond to authentic and objective apartment reviews. Having earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business from Texas A&M, Ms. Ellis has spent more than 25 years in the multifamily industry, and she now holds both the Certified Apartment Manager (CAM) and Certified Apartment Property Supervisor (CAPS). She is also a licensed Texas Real Estate Agent. In honor of EPMS’ reputation for integrity, the Dallas Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals awarded Joanna, on behalf of the company, the 2008 Greater Dallas Business Ethics Award for mid-size companies.

2 responses to “Why Questions Can Be More Important than Answers in Property Management”

  1. Meg Robbins says:

    I think the article has a typo…unless I missed the point, please see the sentence right above the box that has the order as Why…How…What. It says why, what, how.

    • Michael Cunningham says:

      Thanks, Meg. Got that fixed now.

      Michael Cunningham
      Managing Editor, Property Management Insider

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