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The ROI From Investing in Company Culture
Apr 4, 2019

Investing in company culture and employee engagement is paying dividends for many apartment operators.

The Laramar Group's new office is the antithesis of its predecessor in every way. The locale is a smaller, more progressive space. The color schemes are in sync with the companies' logo, standing desks are offered along with flex space and the vibe is much more relaxed than their prior traditional office environment.

Its headquarters cities of Denver and Chicago include wall graphics from around town, some spaces are named to fit their characteristics, such as a large conference room named “Windy City” or a small conference room named “Mile High.” The reservable meeting spaces placed next to the snack tubes are called “Graze” and reservable offices next to the popcorn machine are called “Kernels.”

It's all part of an enhanced focus on Laramar's company culture, something that has always been a consideration for the multifamily housing organization, and for good reason. Recent data from Gallup indicates that companies with better-than-average employee engagement levels can earn as much as 147 percent more per share. When they engage both employees and customers, organizations experience a 240 percent increase in performance-related outcomes.

Laramar's space transformation was an intentional effort to freshen up the look to match their culture. It is designed to connect with associates, who will enjoy their workday better if they love their space.

As Laramar approaches its 30-year mark in the industry, that also means adding new members of its executive team on the management side during the past 14 months, with new leadership in operations, marketing and training.

“It got us thinking, how can we not only be a premier apartment provider but also a premier employer?” said Scott McMillan, Chief Financial Officer of Laramar Group. “These efforts are ongoing, however, we have made big strides. Results-wise, there are intangible and tangible aspects.”

This is just one example of how investing in company culture and employee engagement is paying dividends for many apartment operators. Adopting new concepts in employee engagement requires a complete reinvention of the brand and culture.

For Florida-based Bainbridge Companies, a 20-year-old organization that has nearly tripled in size during the past 36 months, it meant kicking-off company culture efforts by distributing its first ever employee survey through Kingsley.

“Culture has become increasingly important, but we just want to keep it simple,” said Dana Caudell, Senior Vice President of The Bainbridge Companies. “We want to become the preferred management company for not only our clients, our partners and our investors, but also to our associates and the people we want to bring on board. Having a keen understanding of how our employees feel about the company and how we operate can afford us valuable metrics to better serve them.”

Culture improvement efforts should always include fresh perspectives, but it can also result from changes in a company's portfolio makeup. Recently, Laramar has acquired more properties in urban settings. This move brings them much closer to the younger demographic, which is making an increased presence in the workforce, as well.

“Over and over in the marketplace, we continue to hear that a flexible schedule and a work-life balance are the top things that today's younger employees are after,” McMillan said. “We are trying to adopt as many of these concepts as we can as an employer.”

Intangibles that Lead to Tangibles

Early in the culture improvement cycle, there are more intangible results than measurable ROI, such as the feel and vibe of a revamped office or how a company is listening to their employee base to elicit changes in company culture.

Bainbridge's employee survey sought feedback in three primary categories: Passion for the company, belief and commitment to the company and job ownership. Team members from onsite management, maintenance, corporate and the development and construction division were asked several in-depth questions in each category.

“We were happy and somewhat surprised to have a 50 percent participation rate, which itself spoke to team members cared enough to want to provide feedback,” said Caudell. “We were also pleasantly surprised that our team outperformed the benchmark for six of Kingsley's 10 engagement factors. So, we focused on the four that didn't meet the mark, which mostly pertained to vision and corporate goals.”

Bainbridge has entirely revamped its policy and procedure manual, adopted internet chat tools to foster constant global communication and is overhauling its training methods. Part of that involves a new-hire orientation that spans five days and caters to each individual role. Before any new associate steps on the property, they'll essentially know everything they need to know. Early returns have generated positive feedback from existing onsite associates and maintenance team members, who now receive better-trained co-workers.

The company also has identified superstar team members, from leasing agents, assistant managers, maintenance professionals to property managers, to make a five-day trip to the corporate office in March to help write the new policies and procedures. Bainbridge is also hosting a management retreat in June with a vendor trade show, independent breakout sessions and thought leadership sessions.

To measure the ROI of the efforts, Bainbridge has put together a scorecard with approximately 10 KPIs to help determine the fiscal impact.

The tangible results Laramar has seen, McMillan said, include an exciting shift in product, much less negative feedback and an uptick in review ratings and average scores on employee surveys. Since the beginning of Laramar's efforts, the company has seen an increase in employee ratings from 2.8 to 4.4 stars on Glassdoor. All have the potential to increase ROI, which Laramar monitors on a variety of factors including employee retention.

Additional culture-boosting initiatives that Laramar is offering to stay competitive include increased holiday time off, quarterly nominations and new employee review platforms to enable more feedback.

“We want our associates to be able to look to the Laramar culture and see a truly transparent environment where communication throughout all levels is paramount,” said McMillan. “We regularly ask ourselves, ‘How engaged are the employees? Are there growth opportunities? Is there clear communication and are opinions valued?' We know that a great company culture will attract top talent, while a poor culture will repel good people.”

A historically low unemployment rate underscores the need to retain high-performing associates, and company culture is now also consumed outside an organization, thanks to online reviews and
social media.

“Since the majority of people spend the largest part of their time at work, we believe it is extremely important for these people to truly enjoy what they do, where they work and who they work for and with,” said McMillan. “The most significant way we have been able to impact culture is by incorporating various technology platforms for communication, collaboration and information accessibility.”

The investment of these technology platforms spans every department within Laramar, business intelligence, revenue management, new CRM systems, learning management systems and a new performance review platform. The intent is to convert manual processes to automated features, making tasks easier and more streamlined for associates.

While the timing was right for Laramar and Bainbridge, these culture initiatives have become a nationwide trend for the industry. If the company's culture-boosting efforts continue to be successful, it will undoubtedly have a positive effect on the bottom line. And odds are, many in the rental housing industry will aim to follow suit.

https://www.naahq.org/news-publications/units/april-2019/article/roi-investing-company-culture

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