What if you could improve your employees’ performance, increase their engagement at work, and fulfill your organization’s mission at the same time?
It can happen. This condensed case study of Apartment Life, a faith-based non-profit organization throughout the U.S. and in Alberta, Canada, shows that nothing is impossible when you want the very best for your people.
The Apartment Life Story
Most apartment residents feel completely disconnected from their neighbors. Yet research shows that apartment residents are much more likely to stay even if rent goes up when they are connected in community. Apartment Life helps apartment owners care for residents by connecting them in relationships. This, in turn, helps improve the community’s financial performance through online reputation, resident satisfaction, and resident retention. Since 2000, Apartment Life has served three million residents in 1.3 million units throughout the U.S. The constant motivation and inspiration behind it all is simple and profound: “Love Your Neighbor.”
After a career in the computer industry, Stan Dobbs attended seminary in Fort Worth Texas and developed a passion for serving apartment communities while on staff at a church. Seeing the apartment industry’s need for help in creating real community, Stan launched Apartment Life in 2000.
Five years ago, the organization, founded by Stan Dobbs in 2000, encountered turbulence, as Chief Operating Officer Kelly Jones recalls:
“The heart behind expansion and growth was always to impact more apartment residents. However, that message and heart didn’t get translated well, and the perception was that we just cared about hitting a growth number and that we were willing to sacrifice the health of our people to do so. This changed the way our employees viewed their work—from life-giving for a greater purpose to just a daily grind.”
The Four-Point Strategy
1) Learn from your weaknesses.
“Measuring our culture helps us stay rooted in reality. We can’t solve problems we don’t know about,” says Kelly. “One of the 50+ statements in the BCWI Staff Engagement Survey— ‘Someone at Apartment Life encourages my development,’ scored in our bottom ten many years ago.
“We set out to change this and created a development process we’ve continued to tweak. In addition to an annual review in January to set both work and leadership development goals, we now do quarterly check-ins with each of our people. We had always set development goals, but they would get lost in the whirlwind of day-to-day activity. Adding these new check points has made a big difference.”
2) View feedback as a gift.
“At Apartment Life, we consider feedback not only good and needed; we view feedback as a gift. We see open, constructive feedback as part of our development strategy to help each other and our workplace culture become healthier. For that reason, we include a 360 review for each employee. In doing so, we’re living out Proverbs 3:27, ‘Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them.’ The 360 helps us celebrate how God has created us, as well as to give us helpful and good feedback.
Kelly notes “My favorite question on the 360 survey is, ‘How can this individual take their leadership to the next level?’ I love that it empowers people outside of our direct leader to give the gift of feedback and help in our development.”
3) Be intentional with your people.
Over time, Apartment Life has intentionally given their employees opportunities to learn and grow and receive training to carry out their current assignments. Notes Kelly, “For us, it all goes back to being intentional to listen to our employees’ feedback and then tailoring our training to the needs of our people.
- “For instance, when we upgraded to the new Microsoft Office version last year, we heard a lot of feedback that our employees were struggling with the new version of Outlook because it had different features. We used that feedback to schedule a training call that covered not only the differences in the new features but also how to generally use Outlook to be more efficient and effective in their jobs.
- As our VP for Talent Management was reviewing everyone’s individual development plan, she identified a number of leaders who were struggling with how to effectively lead individuals on their team who were at different ability levels. As a result, we introduced Situational Leadership training into our development cycle to help leaders understand how to adapt their leadership style to the performance readiness of the person they’re leading.”
4) Value others from the inside out.
“When it comes to improving the health of our workplace culture, we’ve learned a lot about personal development from Dr. Henry Cloud’s book Integrity: An individual’s personal and professional growth and development starts on the inside as Christ is shaping us through our character. Ultimately, it’s what happening on the inside that leads to our performance on the outside.”
Measuring our culture helps us stay rooted in reality. We can’t solve problems we don’t know about.”
“Five years ago,” says Kelly, “we were struggling to increase the number of apartment communities that we served. Last year, through a lot of hard work, I’m excited to say that we had a record growth year, increasing the number of communities we serve by 25%. In the process, each individual owned his and her development and combined their skills and experience to work together and accomplish so much more than we could ever have achieved alone.”
Kelly didn’t miss with her illustration:
“Last summer, one of our teams was helping a family move into a local Dallas apartment in midst of scorching summer heat. They introduced themselves, offered cold bottled water, and invited them into community. Several weeks later, the wife told our team, “When you met us, our marriage was hanging by a thread. You befriended us. You invited us into a larger church community—and you helped save our marriage.”
As a faith-based organization, we are committed to Fair Housing guidelines to ensure that all residents are treated fairly, equally, and consistently. All of our employees are trained in Fair Housing guidelines.
We perform our responsibilities and conduct our behavior based on a foundation of core values, which shape our culture, define our character, and guide how we make decisions. Regardless of what else may change, we are committed to remaining true to the following values:
Real. We believe in authentically connecting with each other and communicating with transparency in grace and truth.
Caring. Employees quickly become “like family” as we celebrate with each other and support each other in times of need.
Playful Attitude. We’re professional and, at the same time, we maintain perspective and don’t take ourselves too seriously. We like to have fun together – enjoying light-hearted times and good-natured laughter.
Business-with-a-Cause. As a fully integrated organization, we weave together excellence in business with serving and loving our neighbors well.
It’s Your Turn
Which of the four action steps, above, causes you to think, wonder, and perhaps start a conversation with a colleague?
Coming Up Next on our Continuing Series
“Why You Don’t Dare Ignore Uplifting Growth”
Marvin Williams, Lead Pastor
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