EM­POW­ERED LEAD­ER­SHIP

CEN­TURY 21 WENT­WORTH'S Me­gan Har­ris is a prop­erty pro­fes­sional who rep­re­sents a gen­er­a­tional shift in the real es­tate in­dus­try. Hav­ing started at the age of 19, Me­gan has pur­pose­fully de­vel­oped into a shin­ing star of the group as de­part­ment man­ager of the

Elite Property Manager - - Cover Story - ■ IOLANTHE GABRIE

THERE ARE PLENTY of mis­con­cep­tions around Gen Y prop­erty man­agers; if you had any, meet­ing Me­gan Har­ris would likely change your mind.

START­ING AT RE­CEP­TION AND BE­COM­ING IN­DIS­PENS­ABLE

Plain-speak­ing and friendly, Me­gan didn’t have a clear ca­reer path es­tab­lished upon leav­ing school. “When I first started work­ing in real es­tate, I was look­ing for a re­cep­tion­ist job. The man­ager rang me back, say­ing that I was the only per­son who at­tended the in­ter­view wear­ing a suit and with brushed hair – so I got the job, which was a win­ner! I started on re­cep­tion, as most PMs do, with no ex­pe­ri­ence; I had no idea what ‘prop­erty man­ager’ or ‘in­vest­ment prop­erty’ meant. I con­tin­ued work­ing there, and I’d oc­ca­sion­ally say to my man­ager, ‘I’m go­ing to be sit­ting in your chair one of th­ese days!’

Sure enough, Me­gan’s ca­reer goal did come true, but only with a strong com­mit­ment to both the busi­ness and her own pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment. Me­gan pro­pelled her­self from the po­si­tion of re­cep­tion­ist to the roles of prop­erty man­ager, BDM and even­tu­ally de­part­ment head. “I re­ally needed to step up and take re­spon­si­bil­ity for my­self. If you want to progress through a busi­ness, you need to be con­sis­tent, to con­stantly be push­ing your­self. I wasn’t happy with just plod­ding along – I made sure that I was al­ways busy, al­ways of­fer­ing my help to the man­ager, not shy­ing away from let­ting her know when I was bored. I went from work­ing re­cep­tion to be­ing a trainee, be­fore be­com­ing a prop­erty man­ager and even­tu­ally a busi­ness de­vel­op­ment man­ager. Be­fore long, I was be­ing groomed to be a de­part­ment man­ager.”

WHEN THE GRASS ISN'T GREENER

De­spite her loyal years of ser­vice and achiev­ing her goal of de­part­ment man­ager, Me­gan even­tu­ally hit a wall in growth, ul­ti­mately leav­ing Cen­tury 21 Went­worth to work for a com­peti­tor. “I didn’t feel like I was be­ing heard, which had much to do with man­age­ment at the time. I was un­der a huge amount of pres­sure to grow the busi­ness with few tools – to suc­ceed whilst pay­ing peo­ple the min­i­mum wage. I would spend all my time train­ing peo­ple, who would de­velop into great team mem­bers be­fore they’d leave to work 10 me­tres up

the road for a more com­pet­i­tive salary. In the end, hav­ing to go over the same is­sues time and again broke me.”

But, she says, leav­ing wasn’t re­ally what she had hoped for. “When I left – I never thought I’d say this – I in­stantly re­gret­ted it.” Me­gan laughs. “In hind­sight, it was crit­i­cal to my de­vel­op­ment and I’m glad I took a break. But af­ter 18 months, I re­ally missed Cen­tury 21 Went­worth, I missed the depth of the role and my free­dom there. When I was con­tacted to come back, I jumped at the chance – I knew there was no other busi­ness where I could run a team and make de­ci­sions as if the agency were my own.”

HAV­ING THE RIGHT MEN­TOR

Whilst some principals might shy away from giv­ing a staff mem­ber – no mat­ter how se­nior – such pro­fes­sional au­ton­omy, Cen­tury 21 CEO Charles Tar­bey’s de­ci­sion to rely upon Me­gan’s tal­ent as de­part­ment man­ager im­proved re­sults. “Frankston is a su­per-com­pet­i­tive area,” says Me­gan. “It feels like we have new agen­cies open­ing up here ev­ery fort­night – it’s in­tense! How­ever, even in this en­vi­ron­ment, I’m proud to say that un­der my man­age­ment our rent roll has grown to well over 1,200 prop­er­ties, and our prop­erty man­age­ment team has been sta­ble for 12 months. Once upon a time, the team were over­worked and un­sup­ported – but now with a fo­cus on a happy cor­po­rate cul­ture backed up by sys­tems and processes, our cus­tomer com­plaints have dwin­dled to nearly zero and land­lord sat­is­fac­tion is high.”

It is clear also that Tar­bey has been a big in­flu­ence through­out Me­gan’s ca­reer, as well as his trust in her to de­liver. “Charles has al­ways been a re­ally great men­tor. You can be so up­set about some­thing, and all it takes is one con­ver­sa­tion with him for you to think that the world is sun­shine and rain­bows! He has a real faith in peo­ple, which I love about him. He can get you 100 per cent on board with some­thing you don’t even agree with, just by hav­ing a chat.

“Com­ing back to Cen­tury 21 Went­worth, I have much more re­spect for the busi­ness – par­tic­u­larly the free­dom I have in the man­age­ment of my team, even though I’m not a di­rec­tor and I don’t have a fi­nan­cial in­ter­est in the brand. I’m trusted with one of the big­gest prop­erty man­age­ment de­part­ments in Cen­tury 21 Aus­tralia, yet I haven’t any ed­u­ca­tion in man­age­ment, I’ve no de­grees. I’m proud to say that Charles does trust me, even though I left and re­turned to the busi­ness. Leav­ing made me ap­pre­ci­ate ev­ery­thing I had here so much more.”

THE RECIPE FOR GROWTH

There’s no magic for­mula to Me­gan’s suc­cess in build­ing her busi­ness, as Frankston is an agent-sat­u­rated en­vi­ron­ment where win­ning busi­ness is never easy. It’s all about good old-fash­ioned ser­vice and care. “We have thrived by treat­ing ev­ery­one as though they are a client. Whether they’re a land­lord, a ten­ant, a trades­per­son, or a walk-in, we’re re­spect­ful and help­ful to ev­ery­one. I’ve also de­vel­oped strict pro­ce­dures for com­plaints han­dling; for ex­am­ple, we’re never to raise our voice or act ag­gres­sively, no mat­ter how bad the sit­u­a­tion.” Re­fresh­ingly, Me­gan also en­sures her team know never to say neg­a­tive things about the com­pe­ti­tion. “In a list­ing, I’ll al­ways say some­thing pos­i­tive about a com­peti­tor if they’re brought up – Cen­tury 21 Went­worth want to im­prove the in­dus­try with lead­er­ship be­hav­iour.”

In many ways, Me­gan is also an ex­am­ple of a new-gen­er­a­tion real es­tate leader – a de­ci­sion-maker who is not a prin­ci­pal but has true del­e­ga­tion of au­thor­ity from the top. “If my team need any­thing, they come to me. Charles trusts and re­lies on me to tell him what he needs to know, and that the team is work­ing well and be­ing nur­tured within their roles. The buck stops here with me.”

There’s another ben­e­fit to the unique struc­ture of this prin­ci­pal-lite of­fice, too. “I like that it’s more re­laxed be­cause we don’t have a di­rec­tor breath­ing down our necks,” says Me­gan. “This sense of calm is re­flected in the team: there’s still the same amount of re­spect and re­spon­si­bil­ity for their roles, but with­out the stress of be­ing con­stantly ob­served.”

PLAN­NING FOR 2017

The hol­i­day sea­son is a no­to­ri­ously busy time for prop­erty man­age­ment teams – but Me­gan is con­fi­dent this stress can be al­le­vi­ated with proper plan­ning. “Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a smooth hol­i­day sea­son in your of­fice is all about be­ing proac­tive rather than re­ac­tive. Pre-empt the prob­lems you might have. For ex­am­ple, ten­ants might not be pay­ing their rent on time over Christ­mas. There are lots of things that can hap­pen dur­ing this busy pe­riod, es­pe­cially in our so­cio-de­mo­graph­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged area. Con­sider send­ing a text, let­ter or email to your ten­ants, re­mind­ing them to think about both Christ­mas presents and pay­ing their rent. Take time to warn your land­lords about what might hap­pen over the busy Christ­mas pe­riod, too.

“Also, look care­fully at the months of De­cem­ber and Jan­uary, and spread out your work­load evenly, di­aris­ing your rou­tine in­spec­tions well in ad­vance.”

Me­gan also sug­gests im­ple­ment­ing a strat­egy for 2017 now, so that hol­i­days don’t im­pact neg­a­tively on your busi­ness. “I’ll be im­ple­ment­ing a prospect­ing plan in my of­fice for 2017; ev­ery month we’ll be do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent. I’m set­ting a task for my prop­erty man­agers to win new busi­ness us­ing fresh prospect­ing tech­niques, re­view­ing our progress as we go. I’m fo­cused on re­tain­ing my team, mak­ing sure we have happy em­ploy­ees and train­ing them so that ul­ti­mately I’m not needed. I aim for ev­ery­one to at­tain a sim­i­lar level of skill, free­ing me up to work on the busi­ness and not in it.”

“I WASN'T HAPPY WITH JUST PLOD­DING ALONG – I MADE SURE THAT I WAS AL­WAYS BUSY, AL­WAYS OF­FER­ING MY HELP TO THE MAN­AGER, NOT SHY­ING AWAY FROM LET­TING HER KNOW WHEN I WAS BORED.”

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