3 Tips for Cultivating High-Potential Property Management Employees


High-performing property management employees stand out. They consistently exceed expectations, take pride in their accomplishments, and are often the go-to person because of their track record. We look out into our ocean of employees and can quickly spot those “high profile” high-performers who stand out in the crowd.

But what about high-potential employees? You know the type. They are hired, trained (maybe), and given attention when it is convenient, but they are often low maintenance so they fall under the radar. But don’t be mistaken – low maintenance does not equal low potential, as these professionals are often simply doing their jobs and going unnoticed.

When we mistake a high-performing employee for a high-potential one, we are making a costly error in property management and risking the loss of real talent.

Primary Property Management Risk Factor: Overlooking High-Potential Employees

While high-potential employees are a different kind of employee from high-performers, they can be difficult to identify. Why? For one reason, high-performers often drown out the less obvious attributes and behaviors that characterize high-potential employees. Think about your high-performing leasing professionals:

  • They often receive more training and other opportunities to grow and develop their knowledge, skills, and experience
  • They are eligible for more lateral moves and considered first when a promotion is available
  • They are asked to head up special projects and invited to attend important meetings
  • Their supervisors spend more time mentoring and coaching them

Sometimes we create our own high-performing “monsters” that tend to plow over the rest of their team. They keep rising while a leasing professional with high-potential will merely keep plodding at their daily tasks without recognition or advancement opportunities.

Property managers don’t always know precisely what to look for to assess employee potential. Yet, we are all guilty at some point of doing this because it’s an easy mistake to make.

Primary Property Management Objective: Cultivate High-Potential Employees

So what would happen if we as supervisors invested more time with employees who aren’t high-performers? Can those hidden gems on our team realize their potential and accomplish amazing feats? Of course!

A few of these amazing industry success stories I’ve been witness to over the years are:

  • A leasing consultant who eventually becomes the vice president of marketing and training
  • A groundskeeper who climbs the ladder to vice president
  • A leasing consultant who is promoted to national marketing director after 10 years

Here are three tips for identifying and nurturing high-potential property management employees:

1. Look Beyond “Superstar” Performance

When performance is the only criteria employees are evaluated on, high-performers will move up, while high-potential employees will move out. This doesn’t mean that we should not value and reward performance. However, if we want to build a more robust talent pipeline, performance should not be the only point of entry. High-potential employees are typically defined as employees who have the ability, motivation, and commitment to move to the next level. However, not all property management companies take the time to identify these employees in a purposeful and organized manner, yet these are the individuals who will be taking their organization into the future.

Begin by asking yourself some very fundamental questions:

  • Do they work hard and accomplish a lot as a result?
  • Do they exhibit fundamental integrity in all of their actions and in their outlook?
  • Do they take responsibility for themselves and their actions and decisions?
  • Do they foster teamwork?
  • Do they willingly help other employees who fall behind?
  • Do they take on additional responsibilities and opportunities to add value to their position?
  • Do they seek out ways to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently?

This can be a difficult step to take because we are naturally drawn to great performance, and it takes time – something many of us lack – to identify these traits. However, asking good questions and moving beyond obvious ‘superstar’ performance can reap incredible rewards for you and the employee down the road.

Offer Opportunities in Your Property Management Organization

2. Offer Opportunities in Your Property Management Organization

High-potential employees can become bored and complacent if left in their original work environment. Once you identify high-potential leasing professionals, present them with an opportunity to change their environment – offer them a bigger or different challenge. Sometimes this means stretching their responsibility or even relocating them to another location. The workplace environment influences to a great extent error rate, level of innovation and collaboration with other employees, absenteeism and, ultimately, how long an employee stays in the job.

Changing their environment can inspire your high-potential employees and it could save you from an unfortunate headline like, “High-potential employee quits their company because of their boss and moves on to become someone else’s superstar.”

Do you know that research shows that most employees quit their company because of their relationship with their immediate supervisor? It’s sad but true.

Here are two ways to avoid boredom, complacency and high-potential employee attrition:

  1. Offer high-potential employees a new challenge.
  2. If you suspect you have a high-potential employee in your company and their immediate supervisor disagrees—do your own homework. Don’t solely rely on what others have to say.

[Additional Reading: How To Start a Property Management Company via Propertyware]

3. Present Professional Challenges

It is scientifically proven that the brain changes in response to challenges. Setting the right challenges for your high-potential leasing professional will help them develop a growth mindset and enhance their ability to learn. Develop challenges together with the employee – give them a stimulating assignment to mull over and complete, allowing them total ownership of the challenge.

  1. Assign them something that they have never done before that will magnify their insights and abilities. Tell them you are expecting great things from them and they will rise to meet your expectations.
  2. Let mistakes be transparent and become shared opportunities to learn together. If you don’t let employees make a mistake, they won’t learn and they won’t grow.
  3. Career advancement opportunities have long been correlated with improved performance. In our industry, management or corporate positions are not readily available. It can be very discouraging for an employee when they realize that their dream job is already filled by someone who intends to stay until retirement. That’s why career enhancement is important. Help your employees lift their current job to new heights – stretch their job description and then wrap it with a new title.

By allowing high-potential employees to determine how they can improve the job they already have, they can build their own challenges and design work for the future.

Developing Properties Begins with Employee Development

Managers play a big role in building a pipeline of thriving talent at a property management company, and it’s increasingly important that do this successfully. While employee development is no cakewalk, failure to assess potential versus performance is a very real leadership problem. The good news is that it’s solvable. It simply takes dedication to identifying your high-potential and high-performing employees, assessing their competencies, attributes, and training needs, and then putting them on the right path to success. It’s time well spent.

Image sources: iStock


President and Owner, Ellis Partners in Mystery Shopping

author photo two

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 “3 Tips for Cultivating High-Potential Property Management Employees”

  1. Robin Thede says:

    For any organization to go long term, there needs to be constant training and testing of personel so attrition can sustain a profitable and continally progressing company. The biggest problem in North America is the fast tracking methods of the newer generations are causing older tried and true employees to hold back and remove possible threats. The potential good workers are advanced a little at a time without giving too many opportunities to become stand outs. In the old days we had less superstars and more team players which made us the major power in the world.

  2. JTS says:

    Differentiating Good v. GREAT leaders? I agree with much of the commentary in the article however, there is a major component missing that separates the Good from the Great leaders.
    My experience (REITS & privately held property management firms) is that emerging leaders truly understand the importance of cultivating relationships and establishing credibility within the entire operations platform (H/R, Cap Ex, Acquisition/Disposition, Accounting, I.T., e.g.) and appropriately utilize these resources in conjunction with leading on-site teams. Imagine an Orchestra Conductor and then imagine the Orchestra is made up of all the on-site employees + all the corporate roles that support or impact on-site operations in some manner. Great Leaders (like those the author mentions ‘rising through the ranks’) are those that foster ongoing relationships throughout the organization and understand how best to direct the whole ‘orchestra’.

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