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A Journey from Technician to Industry Leader


Enhancing Efficiency or Replacing Skills
Training, Growth, and Leadership Strategies
Centralization: Buzzword or Practicality?
Top Talent Retention Strategies
Consistent Training Mindset for High Performers
Crucial Skill Every Organization Must Prioritize
Cultivating Regional Maintenance Directors
RELEASED ON 11/30/23

Adrian speaks with Mark Cukro, the President of Plus One Consulting. Mark started as a groundskeeper and built himself into an industry thought leader.

(0:23 - 0:55) Adrian: Hello everybody and welcome to the second episode of Multifamily X podcast, the maintenance series, Masters of Multifamily Maintenance Conversations. This podcast is brought to you, it's powered by AppWork. We want to thank our partners from AppWork for helping us making this happen.

With that being said, I want to introduce our extraordinary guest today, Mark Cukro. Welcome to the show, Mark.

(0:56 - 1:04) Mark: Thank you very much, Adrian.

I just appreciate you having me on here and allowing us to have a conversation for people in the industry to listen to or listen and watch. And I'm excited, I can't wait to get that, get conversations started.

(1:05 - 1:18) Adrian: Mark is the president for Plus One Consulting. Mark, tell us a little bit about your business, tell us a little bit about yourself for those in the audience that don't know you that well.

(1:19 - 2:37) Mark: Sure, so like many people, I'm sure some are listening, I started off in the field as a technician, actually a groundskeeper. I was an HVAC contractor before and I moved to North Carolina.

I wound up getting a groundskeeper job, became a technician, one, two, three. I moved my way up to a supervisor, a regional, and then a national role. I was in charge of the service team development. So a lot of the training and the projects and the overall operations, policies, procedures for that. And you know, in this industry, you wear a lot of hats when you have a role. And so I had a lot of hats.

And then about 20 years ago, actually 20 years this year, I went out on my own and I started service team training. And I've been a speaker and a consultant for the industry for 20 years. And I also started for training. And so I'm starting to put content out. And in addition to that, this year, three months ago, I bought land and I'm building a commercial building. And so I know what it's like in the field, I know what it's like to have properties and rent them and now build them.

But, you know, we're always learning in this industry. And then on a personal side, my wife and I have been together almost 30 years, married 24. We have twins. And I just have a very blessed and very fortunate to travel around and do what I do and, and have wonderful people in my life.

(2:38 - 3:04) Adrian: Mark, I can't help but ask you a question. What are the most interesting pieces of feedback that you're getting from the field from meeting with people in a field about the challenges? Like, what are our technicians in a field and service managers, maintenance team members are seeing as being the main challenges? What are the main concerns that they have in a field? What would you say are the top three or five?

(3:05 - 4:46) Mark: So from the technicians perspective, I just really, I'll summarize this, but I just wish people in the office really knew what it was like to be us and to be in the field.

And if you want to have it as a complaint or an opportunity, I like to view them as opportunities to improve is the work environment treatment, the way that we're spoken to and treated really needs to improve. And now this comes with a couple of things. I don't mean just verbally and interpersonally, but it's a difficult environment to work in.

You're on rooftops, you're in attics, you have hostile residents, sometimes filthy apartments, sometimes clean ones, everything in between. But the way that management often and customers interact with the service team on a daily basis is the number one thing that comes up across the board.

After that, it would be resources like tools and equipments and then pay of course. And we can get into that a little bit more. But those are the top three things. And interestingly enough, they don't really change too much, but they may shift the order of priority.

And treatment is number one. And a conversation I just had the other day, I was in South Carolina doing a seminar. And the room stood up once I said, I asked the question, I said, Do you really know, honestly, if you're a manager in the room is full, full of managers and regional managers, do you really understand that your technicians, many of them are barely making it and they're struggling to live paycheck to paycheck.

And it just kind of got quiet. And I got a lot of amens on one side of the room and a lot of open eyes on the other. But when you get into the conversation, it's more about treatments and whether they have the resources that they need.

(4:47 - 4:56) Adrian: Mark, when it comes to developing maintenance leaders in our industry, what would you say is the single most important skill that organization should be focusing on?

(4:57 - 5:44) Mark: So the skill itself, you have two basic categories, you have hard skills and soft skills, right. So if I were to summarize this in like one word, or some kind of phrase is the unwavering commitment to get people the training they need, no matter what endeavor or avenue it's in or discipline. So very often what happens is companies will have a wonderful intention, and they want to provide training and they want to build technicians.

And then as soon as things start to get difficult, time is of the essence, they get a little pressure put on them from getting results, training falls off, and then usually preventative maintenance, and then all of the other ancillary and kind of other things that are important. And so those are the two that get pushed. So I would say train people no matter what.

And if you can find that commit to it, everything else will come from that.

(5:45 - 6:45) Adrian: We're talking about this, and a memory comes back to me from like, 16 years ago, probably a very high up executive of a company I was working for at a time came to me, I was a regional director and said, you know, I don't really want to pay for maintenance training, because we're paying for this training, these guys don't stick around, they just got up and leave our company. So I don't want to pay, there's no reason for me to pay.

And I just kind of stood out there and just shook my head. And that time, that moment, I understood that, that is, that is, there is something that's going to be hard to, hard to change. And it's something that probably as long as that individual was in charge of, you know, certain things that these would not improve for our maintenance teams, right?

We're not gonna get better, like better culture, better environments, we're not gonna get better anything, we're just gonna continue to be a revolving door. So what's your say on our story?

(6:45 - 9:04) Mark: Yeah, so I have similar, like, I remember a gentleman, he told me, he said, your paycheck is thanks enough, get to work. And I was like, Okay, you just spoke volumes about who you are as a human being, and I don't want to work for you. Right? And I won't recommend anyone to work with you.

But most of the time training, there's a couple things that happen. One is viewed as a liability instead of an asset, because it's an expense. And then with that expense, and more trained staff, you risk in some people's perception, the likelihood of them leaving or going somewhere else.

But it's really rare that people leave an environment where they feel like they're very well taken care of, and they're encouraged to do well and prosper. On the flip side of that, you'll have the person that and I can tell you this as a coach is in my personal life, life, I'm a jiu jitsu coach, I've been doing Brazilian jiu jitsu since he came here in the US, I have hundreds of students. And that's what I'm building a building for.

So if anyone is listening to this, you could write this phrase down, you could watch people that train win. People that don't train don't. And it is that simple. But it is not that easy to make the time to do so.

And the minute you get under duress, and you start to falter and decline your training, you are increasing the likelihood remarkably of your failure. And if you don't, because the thing is, as we look for this almost kind of event based progression, where all of a sudden a thing happens, it's like turning on the lights, and all of a sudden you're trained, you go to a course for two days, oh, they're certified, they can do everything. No.

And in my opinion, certifications are not training, they transfer liability. And if you want to train, you have to have this mindset is one or 2%, maybe half a percent a day on a single on a consistent, ongoing, never ending basis. And the truly remarkable high performers are obsessed with small increments of improvement, improvement.

And the thing is, is they won't even see it themselves. But if you don't see someone for six months, and then you run into them, or you meet them and see them, you will see the difference, but they don't see it in themselves. And so if you want to run a business, you better train people, because if you don't train them, somebody else will, and they're going to go there.

And the number one thing, not number one, it's one of the top three for sure that people want, is they want an environment that will help them improve. And if you don't provide that, they're going to go find one.

(9:05 - 10:07) Adrian: What can we as an industry do, or do better to attract talent to the industry, we're looking at the shrinking pool of talent, you know, in part is because you know, people are retiring, by people that have legacy knowledge, a lot of them are retiring, or reaching retirement age.

Secondly, you know, we're bleeding people, we're losing people to trades, we're losing people to, you know, construction jobs, losing people to everybody pretty much even workhouse jobs, even the gigs, they kind of the gig economy is real out there. When you're competing in a market, you're not just competing with a property down the street, you're competing with everybody that has, you know, brick and mortar store as a business, and everybody that, you know, hires people remotely. It could be a company from Australia, they're gonna steal your employee, you know, they're gonna offer them remote work, that they don't have to show up to the office and the base competitive like this, this individual is gonna take it. So what are some ways that we could actually have a standing chance in this fight over talent?

(10:08 - 14:53) Mark: Okay, so this is several questions layered in one.

And I'll just ask this question of anyone that works for a company. So if you're a manager, regional manager, HR, VP, whatever, if you're in a position where you have something to do with people getting hired, imagine this, you take 10 tables, and you put them in a room. And at each table, you put one representative from a different multifamily company.

So you have 10 tables, 10 reps, 10 different companies, you have one prospect that comes into that room, and they are able to visit each table and speak with each representative. Why would anyone other than pay? Why would they want to work for you? If you can't answer that question? How can you market that question? How can you advertise the answer to that question? So if you don't know how can they figure it out? So you have to know why people would want to stay and be attracted and gravitate toward your company in the first place.

The next thing is once you figure that out, then you have to realize what skill set you need and advertise that. So if you look at the advertisements, and you do me a favor, everyone listening and watching to this, go on all of the job search forums and platforms and just start searching for maintenance technician. And you will see, I would say 99% of the same advertisements, verbiage, cut and paste software templates in the same order of information. And you'll see the same phrases and about the same pay based on geographical locations and differences.

So I would start using language that technicians actually use find out what their search habits and terms and phrases are. And then I would reformat that because what happens with most companies is they say this is you'll I see this all the time. So and so company, a groundbreaking national company with this geographical footprint, and they talk about all their business success and accolades.

And they don't mention anything about what they're going to do for the person until the very bottom and they hide the pay down at the bottom. And what technicians do is they search and they see numbers and they go okay, I can live on this. Let me read the rest.

It's close to my home. And so it almost is like an inverse pyramid. And what if I recommend you try this, just put at the top what the pay is, where it is, because people feel like when you lie to them and hide where the property is, they don't know if they should go and they skip because they want to know if they can make it to work.

And if they have kids, can I pick them up? They don't have kids. Do I want to drive that far? And then they'll say, okay, this is what it's paying. It's close.

Check, check. What are you doing for me? And if you don't answer that question at the top, they're just going to scroll to the next one. Then you start putting more information about the company, where it is, how amazing the company itself is what their story is.

Because once you meet the qualifications to provide that personal life, then they will buy into the story of the company or decide to scroll. And so I would use language that's consistent with people. Because that we all have kind of these, like if you hire technical people, they speak in more technical terms.

And so it's interesting because the software systems that are used, the templates basically, are just like leasing agents manage, you can't tell the difference. They're all exactly the same. So there's nothing discernible when you're looking for technicians.

And then the other thing we do is we we don't advertise outside of our industry at all. And to go back to what you said, Adrian, it's like having a bowl of a fish bowl of fish. And every year, we take a little we take a spoon of water, and we take it out of the bowl and the water gets smaller.

And then the fish starts to start not doing so well. And then if you were gone, and then pretty much you got a little bit of water and maybe one fish. And there's over 300 million people in this country.

There's no reason why we can't use all of our wonderful intelligence and resourcefulness and technology to do something different. But what happens very often is people think to themselves, I need to personally approve or like the way this looks before I'll attempt it. Instead of trying because you know, sometimes, Adrian, maybe you and I are like, you know what, I don't think that way.

Let's see if it works. And sometimes you put different bait on the hook. And you're like, Oh, I guess the fish are biting today. Or you put a different advertisement. You're like, I guess this worked for the younger generation, where it may not work for mine. In fact, I probably wouldn't even word it that way.

But it's effective. And so I would I would start with that. But you can also go around your area and ask yourself this, what other industries or businesses in this area in a 10 mile radius have comparable skills that might be compatible with our industry, and then start finding out where they advertise and then start expanding your circle.

So that's what that's what I would start. That's a layered question with layered answers. But that's what I would do.

(14:54 - 15:05) Adrian: Oh, that's a great answer. As a subject matter expert in skill development, what strategies would you recommend for cultivating maintenance leaders, you know, organization?

(15:06 - 18:03) Mark: So, you know, this is I really I'm glad you asked this question. There is the why would I refer to as the rise of the regional maintenance director, which I think is long over needed.

And it's an increasing position. And I'm working with a client now and there's plenty others. But the first thing is, you have to figure out what skills they need to improve. Right. So I'll give you kind of an example. I put some notes here and we have to figure out exactly what it is that we're looking for.

So you can ask yourself this. Is there awareness? In other words, are we constantly surprised by something that keeps happening? Do we have personnel issues? Enough people. If you don't, you've got to get more people.

So when the regional maintenance directors usually come up through the field, typically it's because of their technical proficiencies, not their interpersonal or soft skills. It's you're really good at repairing things. You know what? Let's put you in a position of leadership.

And they have zero leadership training for me. And if they did, they got it somewhere else or they have no business training or administrative training and they're not used. So they can build an engine. They could probably repair an aircraft, but they don't know how to use the technology that you require them to communicate through. So there's like this learning curve.

And so I would start with those things, supervisory leadership, communication, coaching, time management, all of the things that helps someone run a business become successful other than their infield proficiencies. And I got to tell you, it's remarkable when people do that. And I'm working with a client now, and they made this leadership development program just for the service department.

If you're a manager, you can't attend. A regional manager, nope. It's specifically for service. It is so popular. The managers are a little upset that they can't get in on this training.

And this is the second year. And you can see the measurements in lower turnover, quicker responses, you know, fewer outstanding work orders, better business decisions, and overall performance is improved. And so we have to figure out, you know, the other thing is, okay, once we get them in this position, what is their role? And what is what are the limits of their decision making ability, but I would take all the soft skills that help a manager become successful at a business and make them applicable to the regional maintenance director, so they can apply their technical proficiencies to that.

And that's exactly what I would do. And you're going to have remarkable results. Because when you know, the thing is, too, is like, there's a phrase I like to use is you have to grow seeds, not weeds.

And you can't just put a seed in the ground and expect a fruit, you have to cultivate the medium, the soil, the company culture, and then you have to give it enough nutrients, resources to grow and not only grow enough, but grow enough to produce fruit and make its own seeds. And what the regional managers do is it takes two to three years of them being in the field to start developing new leaders under them where their effectiveness is clearly visible. That is, it should take no less than two to three years to see an actual difference measurable in the field.

And if it's less than that, I'd like to know how they did it.

(18:04 - 18:22) Adrian: Mark, I want to go to talk about career paths. I do have a question for you here. What's your career path in the industry for maintenance? And how can organizations define and nurture career progression for their teams?

(18:23 - 20:04) Mark: There's a few things to consider. And I remember I had a conversation, Adrian, with someone and you know, I freely give my number out to people and you know, call me I won't return your call on Sunday, but six days a week, I'll call you back pretty much. And I had this conversation with a gentleman and he was just defeated.

And you know, and it sticks with me to this day. He says, you know, Mark, I don't want a job forever. I want a career. I want to feel pride and know that even if I'm on the same property, I'm doing better. I'm progressing. I'm learning more things. I'm gaining more responsibility. I'll never overlook what I do, but I don't want to feel like I'm stuck in a job. I want to feel like I'm stuck in a job.

And the other thing, and I asked the managers this actually this week at the meeting, I said, how many of you, you know, respect the service technicians? All the hands go up in the room, everyone applauds. And it was wonderful. And everybody kind of started looking around the room at each other.

I said, now, how many of you respect this industry so much that the primary goal is to take your own children and train them to come into this industry and have a career in it? And the room got quiet. And until we change that perspective, it's really not as meaningful as we say it is, because when we say it and it's not being delivered through actions, then it's not really truly believed. And so I think we need to change those perspectives.

And most owners, especially regional managers and above, if they have someone that they really value, typically they get really creative and they will find ways to grow that person's career, even if they are at the same property primarily.

(20:05 - 20:31) Adrian: Reactive versus proactive when it comes to maintenance. Okay. For 20 years I've been around. And for 20 years, we've been playing defense. We've been running around trying to put out fires.

What would it take for us to change this mindset from reactive to proactive? What would it take for us as an industry to change the game from always playing defense to going on offense and win big?

(20:32 - 22:43) Mark: So if you're a business owner, what you want is you want results. And when you hire people, they have to generate results. And I think when you hire someone, they should be able to think to themselves, I want to help these owners and managers make their company successful.

Now, if you can prove to them that you are, you're going to be a lot more likely to get some of the things you need. You could do a side-by-side comparison. You take this region, all you do is reactive maintenance and preventative maintenance when you can.

Please, let's take these properties, say 10, just because it's easy, the number 10. And then say, okay, we're going to do what we call... Because you have four types of maintenance. You have reactive, proactive, preventative, and predictive.

And the closer you move to predictive, that means you're replacing things before they actually can go bad. So it's not just preventative where you're maintaining things on an ongoing basis. You're ahead of it and replacing them before they could go bad.

Now, it will cost more money in the short term, but what's the value of your asset in 10 years? And so if you get a side-by-side comparison of one region to the other, I think in a few years, you'd see a remarkable reduction in capital expenses, unwanted financial surprises, floods, leaks, fires, landscaping disasters, and things like that. And the small repairs would prevent almost all the capital projects because they're ahead. So we have to... If you're an owner, you have to just think about it this way.

What matters to me? What do I actually want to see? And of course, it's more revenue, more profit. Everybody understands that. But are you willing and are you mentally flexible enough to try something and say, you know what, let's test it and let's find out.

But the more that you're ahead of problems, the less that you react. Because reaction, like reactive maintenance, takes the most amount of time to get work done because you're not prepared. You have to get the work order, service request, and then go get prepared and then go and spend time and hope you got everything.

Whereas if it's preventative or predictive or proactive, you already have everything laid out with the resources. And then the only commodity that you're concerned about is time. And you can measure that pretty easily when you have everything you need every time because it's planned ahead.

(22:44 - 24:14) Adrian: You said something, are you willing to try when it comes to management or even go deeper, like investors, property owners. I have to say that the main challenge that I see for that happening is for the past probably 15 years or more, multifamily has been super generous with everybody that invested. Everybody made money, like lots of money.

Investors have been making money. Of course, with a few exceptions, and I think the exceptions are the reckless ones that didn't make money. They just overextended, they made bad decisions.

But for the ones that made good decisions, they made a lot of money. So I see that this being the biggest challenge for us going from defense to offense because for investors that are sitting out there and are looking at things, look, this has been working, why fix it if it ain't broken in our opinion? It's making us money, we're making money, the performers are really mad, everything goes well, why should we just make the change? What would be the sell to sell them on, hey, if you do this, this is going to be great. Just outside of just stating, right, if you're going to spend more money, you make more money.

Just like a good selling point for us to bring it to the owners.

(24:15 - 26:58) Mark: Yeah, I'll give you an example. So my daughter, she lives at student housing across the street from the university, and so it's not owned by the campus.

She had a refrigerator that was leaking water, didn't work. So she puts in a service request, and I'm trying not to be involved because this is like a learning experience, even for my own children. And eight service calls later, eight service calls later, and two months later, they just replaced her refrigerator, and then it came without an ice maker.

Now, let's just count up the payroll alone, that's eight hours, if not, and it's more than that, actually, it's way more. I mean, I think we both know that, plus the cost of the production loss, right? So if you're an owner, a production loss is a really valuable consideration because that person could have spent eight to 16 hours doing other things than this, and a refrigerator is only a few hundred dollars.

So when you calculate your time as a commodity, and it's valuable to you, as it should be, and you eliminate production losses, which is what you could have been doing if you weren't repeatedly doing the same thing that didn't work, you're going to save a ton of money in payroll, resources, capital expenses, and your results will be much higher.

And so it's like soft costs, in a way, through the service department itself. And a lot of times people just don't think about that because they just look at the invoices that come in, and all they know is they're spending money. But if you're an owner, and let's say, Adrian, they hired us, and you and I brought everything we did, and they said, you can do whatever you want for a year, run like you would, it'd be clean, organized, color-coded, inventory control, and before something becomes a disaster, it disappears, and it's replaced with something that's going to work with no issues whatsoever.

And so there's a couple things. The financial impact is one. Just the freedom of the time that you have itself, you're not draining your resources as much, which is your personnel.

And when you drain understaffed personnel, and they're overwhelmed, they're going to disappear. And it creates this cycle that's really difficult to get out of. And all you're doing is counting invoices instead of being ahead of things before they could go bad.

And I'll give you an example. There was a company in Virginia, amazing. By the way, to this day, they have a waiting list to get in to work for them.

And so they would make it a habit to knock on someone's door. They would give them two tickets to a movie, and they would give them a little bit for lunch. And they said, do us a favor. Go to a movie, have lunch on us. When you come back, you'll have a new water heater installed in your home with everything cleaned up. You won't even know we were there.

So they replaced the water heaters for $30, $40. The person got a wonderful experience. That's one less water heater that could leak for at least 10 or 15 years. And that is a standard practice for them to this day. And it's amazing. And they do really well.

(26:59 - 27:56) Adrian: Such an amazing story. Thank you for sharing. Yeah. More owners are watching out there, and they'll give it a thought. I want to go to retention, another hot topic. I mentioned the revolving door before.

We're getting people, we're onboarding them in a hurry. We're overwhelming them with unrealistic workloads. And we're having them face hostility from the residents, and also from their own co-workers.

I say bosses for the most part. And as a consequence, basically, what we're doing, we're pushing them towards the back door very, very fast. Yeah.

They're getting in, and we do everything we can to push them to that back door to get them out of there. And then we're starting the cycle over again. So retention is critical, needless to say.

What strategies do you believe that are essential for keeping top talent engaged and motivated?

(27:57 - 31:03) Mark: So top talent wants a few things. They want leadership. That's decisive. They want communication, and they want resources. And then when they have the resources, they want to be left alone to do their job. So stop interrupting, right? And that is one of the really hot topics of service technicians.

The other thing, of course, is you have to pay them fairly. So I'll give you an example. The national average pay for Starbucks starts at $15 to $17 an hour, depending on where you are, the seasonal variances.

But do you want to work in the air conditioning with people for that much money? Or do you want to work on the air conditioning in 100 degrees for the same or less? And if you have a logical, critical thinking, life experience, quality of life kind of approach, you're probably going to pick the one that's less difficult. So if you can do a few things with your technicians, get them the tools they need. They need a set of gauges per person.

Go buy the meters. If you're short staff, and that payroll amount is $25,000 to $40,000 a year, spend 25% of that or half of that on tools for everybody on site so they have everything they need, and you can multiply their effectiveness, and they're not going to leave because they have everything. Who else would give someone everything they need? I don't know anyone.

I've never. Maybe you've met them. I've never met that person where they said, you know, you've given me everything I've ever asked for. You treat me with respect. You give me time off when I need it. You let me go the extra mile when I have to. Not everything is a crisis. You're taking care of me. I want to leave.

I don't know anyone that's ever said that. And the expectations from office staff sometimes are just, they're just unrealistic, right? So if you want realistic results, you need realistic skill sets, realistic time management, like estimating how long it actually takes to do something. You need realistic resources, and then you need realistic timelines.

And if you don't have those, all you're going to do is get upset. And what happens often is management, in many aspects, will think, well, I know someone that's never worked here that told me something different, and I value their input more than yours because I'm managing you and your performance and your time and resources. And that's why a lot of people will leave because they feel like they're never quite trusted.

So if a technician says, look, Adrian, it took you two hours to do this, Joe, Susie, whoever. This time it took three. I had to do a little extra carpentry work. You go, okay, I understand. Thank you for your work. But if you're constantly micromanaging and drilling down people, they're just going to leave.

You know? And the other thing that comes up sometimes, Adrian, as well, what if we buy them tools and they steal them? Like, well, then you hired a thief. Maybe you should work on interviews and screening because if someone steals toilet paper, are you never going to buy that again? I mean, you're going to buy it, right? So it's the person, not the fact that you purchased something for them. The loss may be a little bit higher, but it's really difficult for people to leave when you give them everything they want.

And you hold them accountable and you should, right? But we have to treat people with respect and dignity. And overwhelmingly, that is the thing that technicians want improved in addition to pay.

(31:04 -31:07) Voiceover: And now a word from Sean Landsberg, co-founder, AppWork.

(31:08 - 31:26) Adrian: Tell me a little bit about data integrity. How does AppWork rank in data integrity? We all know that what you put in comes out, right? So if the information that you put in is not accurate, it's not representing the reality, whatever comes out as data is really not accurate. So how do you fare in data integrity?

(31:27 - 32:14) Sean: It's not just about the information that you put in. The information that comes out is only as good as the information that you put in. But it's also the fact that someone actually has to manually input a lot of that data. So for us, there's two things.

Number one is, you know, just about all the data that we're collecting, it happens through the normal course of using our product, right? So no one's actually going in and manually adding information that we're then using in reporting analytics or anything like that. So all the data that we're presenting is actually not done manually. So it takes out just one less thing that people have to do.

It makes using the product a lot easier. But it also removes that whole component where people can influence the data. So everything, even take something as simple as, you know, a technician's callback. That's a metric that comes directly from the residents, where there's no way anybody, especially the technician, can influence that. Same thing with the ratings.

(32:15 - 32:35) Adrian: Mark, another hot topic of 2023, it's centralization. Yeah, of course, I want to focus on centralization and maintenance. First of all, is centralization, is this word a buzzword for you? Is this something real? How real is it? How realistic is it for us to implement centralization in maintenance? What are your thoughts?

(32:36 - 34:44) Mark: Okay, so this is a yes or no answer. And to me, it's a buzzword. Okay, so let's just get to the quick and short of it. If you manage an HVAC company, an electrical company, carpentry, maintenance services, you should centralize your shop and have like a dispatching kind of approach to service. So you have someone that's on the phone, they have software tracking everybody in the vans and the trucks, and they will send work orders and service requests to you.

But here's the deal. If you look at it like it's an HVAC company, say, for example, you're not getting more than three to four service calls done a day. There's no way.

So the expectation of that comes in with the billing amount on the invoice. So you're going to bill a minimum of $300 to $500 at minimum for each visit. So that's a for-profit company, which is different than what we do, because it comes out of the operating expenses.

So then you have to measure the time. And what you have to really consider is the time of distance to and from and then traffic patterns. And how come it took you an hour last week, and now it took you three, and you were stuck in traffic with a car accident, and you got two things done.

So when people say centralization, we have to really understand what they mean. Is it one property, one shop within a quarter mile of 10 properties? That might be okay. But if someone's driving around, you have the car insurance, liability, time off site, what if they forget something? And I was an HVAC contractor. And I remember the day, I still tell the story. I drove from Queens, going over the bridge, go to Manhattan. I get all my tools out.

I realized I forgot one thing. I had to put everything back in the elevator, go down the stairs, go to the parking garage, get my van, drive all the way back to Long Island, drive all the way back to Manhattan. And it took forever.

Whereas if you're decentralized and you have shops on the property, you just go a half or a quarter of a mile, maybe chops, and you get what you need. So I would measure time as one of the utmost important benchmarks in centralization. And I think, in my opinion, most people will decentralize after they try to centralize.

They'll try it for a year or two. They'll say, this is absolutely not worth it. And then they'll go back to decentralized shops on property.

(34:44 - 36:22) Adrian: We're running very inefficiently. Yeah. With no centralization. So when you add decentralization, when you add, basically, you're adding ratio time. Correct. Which is the equation.

Yeah. We were super inefficient to begin with. How adding travel time is going to make things more efficient? And I heard an argument that, well, we're going to specialize here.

So we're going to have someone that's specialized in HVAC. And they handle work orders in a certain area. And let's just, for the sake of it, I'm going to say that there's five properties in the area.

Well, if the five properties in the area are getting, in the summer time, let's say, two tickets per property HVAC. Only two tickets. That's 10 tickets.

How is that one person going to cover 10 tickets a day with travel time? They're not going to even cover half of that. So the math is really not working, because people are thinking these people are some magic killers. You know, kind of like the... Yeah.

You know, they're touching things and they're just killing them. They're just fixing them all of a sudden. Like, they show up in the situation all of a sudden, not better.

So it's not happening that way, because the workload stays the same, no matter how you shuffle it around. Like, if you have enough to keep a person busy for six hours at a site, between two sites, that's going to be 12 hours. They only have eight hours in a day.

And that doesn't even count for the travel time. So could you make... It's all time, like you said. It's all time. How could you make... It's like basic math to me, right? So it doesn't work.

(36:23 - 37:54) Mark: To me, people that say that and believe in that have never run a service department. There's no way. If you ever ran a service department, and anyone listening to this, I encourage you, don't believe us. Go ask people that have successfully run service departments for years that you look up to and you respect and say, not, do you think it's a good idea? Would you do this with your region and company? And I can tell you, they're going to say no way. And so, if you want to try it, try it.

The thing is, and I will say this, though, the hallmark of an effective leader is to try new things. But if you have 10 industry leaders with a lot of experience, and 8 or 9 out of 10 are like, I wouldn't do it, you're caught. You might want to just give that some credibility.

And so, and the other thing is, then you get into these other issues like, there's two people. One complains a lot. One has a dominating personality.

One's a little more timid. Who are they going to respond to first? So, are the managers allowed to contact that person? If the answer is yes, you cannot do that. So, it would go through a central dispatch, which changes everything.

And then you have fair housing. It just, it opens up this Pandora's box of operations. I would stay away from it, unless you have a remarkable amount of units within walking distance to the shop.

And you know, you'll see this in like major metro areas, like say, New York City, Chicago, Miami, where there's three buildings on a block, and there's one place for the shop, and everybody gets what they need, and they push carts back and forth. You could do that. But I wouldn't, I wouldn't, I wouldn't centralize.

(37:54 - 38:04) Adrian: Mark, next topic. Key performance indicators for maintenance team members. Which metrics do you consider the most important for measuring success?

(38:04 - 42:50) Mark: Okay, so the first thing I would do, and this is for everyone. I want you to try this. If your office staff and service staff have any, if their bonus, if they have a bonus, like an operating bonus, NOI bonus, or whatever. If the preventative maintenance expenditures influence that bonus at all, remove it.

Because what happens is you're financially incentivizing someone to not spend money, including on preventative maintenance, in order to get that bonus. So I would remove that from the line item of whatever influences a person getting a bonus. Next thing is, of course, the NOIs.

The other part of this, if you're listening and watching this, please write this down. Critical success factors or key success factors. And you can have both, right? So critical is important, you know, I mean importance.

And then the key are the things that you observe, right? But they're more behavioral based. So for example, nobody goes home until every communication that came in before 3 p.m. is answered, whatever that is. And the other thing, I have a couple here, I'm going to read them, is I have the callback percentage.

Okay, so in other words, for example, my daughter that's in the apartment, they came eight times, eight, eight times. Now let me just say this too, the people that I spoke with, I was very personable, just very kind, trying to be understanding. I was like, look, I understand, you know, and they're like, whatever.

And they started to get dismissive. And then they started not to even want to talk to us. And when I walked in the office, they were like, and now here's the deal.

All of that could have been avoided. Had those person had the resources and the proactive maintenance, done. But he's got a new fridge, a couple hundred bucks, move on. And they could do eight to 16 hours worth of work somewhere else. So the callback percentage, in my opinion, should be important. I would say 10% or less if you wanted to start with a number.

The next thing is the complete versus pending service request ratio. And then we have outstanding work orders not to exceed a certain amount. So this is attached to that. So for example, no more than 5% of work orders are allowed to be outstanding at any time. So if you have 300 units, it would be about 15 work orders. You should never have more than that.

If so, we got to figure out why. Because there will always be a percentage that's in waiting. It's just how it goes.

And then your employee turnover rating, I think is important. Because where there's employee turnover in one or two places, and the same management in place, it's management. If you have employee turnover, and it's sporadic, and it's inconsistent in its location, then you probably have an organizational or process-based correction that needs to take place.

And the other part is, it's called the average time resolution time. You could say the mean time to resolve, the average time to resolve, the time to resolve. But something like that.

And where you're measuring this. And then what you can do, and I recommend you do this, is you give an overall service performance rating to each technician. And you can give that to the property as well.

So that would include the administrative part. So you're measuring the overall effectiveness of the technician through feedback from the customers, residents, timeliness, outstanding work orders, pending requests. And then the other part of that in the office could be measuring all of that as a whole through the administrative process.

Because a lot of times the office staff is the gatekeepers to communication between the service team and the resident. And if that takes a long time, I can't tell you how many times, Adrian, and I think anyone listening and watching will agree to this, where someone's like, oh, yeah, I forgot a service call came in today. I meant to tell you about it.

Or we had an emergency come in. I saw the notification in our system, but I didn't tell you. And since you don't have an email, and you don't have a cell phone, or we can't communicate with you, or there's no signal where you are, you found out at five minutes before five.

And so I would eliminate that as much as I know you're laughing, right? Because and then the other indicator, I think this is super important, is that the time spent training on an annual average. So for example, nobody trains less than multifamily. There's not a single niche in the entire service industry that trains less than us.

And I think we could fix that. So if you can make the minimum training time for technicians between 40 and 120 hours, and don't count certifications, they're not training. Right now, the average hours are 11 for training.

And it's usually fair housing, sexual harassment, customer service, but I mean, like skill and interpersonal and soft skills, increase that the time spent training TST, if you want to call it to about 40 to 120 hours a year. And if you go below that, you have to answer for it. And so now we're forcing ourselves to perform at a higher level.

So those would be and I'm actually presenting on metrics that matter at the NAA next year. So I don't want to give away the whole list. But those are some that I would consider for sure.

(42:50 - 43:24) Adrian: We got to do, we got to do this video, just make it like a preview of what you're going to present next year in 2024. Mark, I want to switch gears a little bit. To PropTech technology. What are your thoughts on PropTech products currently available for my national market? And what are some, are there any features that are yet to be developed that you think that they're not available in the market, and they could be very useful for our maintenance teams? Yeah, so there's a couple.

(43:24 - 45:25) Mark: So most of the property technology platforms, and I don't really want to endorse any, but most people, there's a few that most everybody uses. And I think they're okay. But service teams usually use a small percentage. They don't use the whole percentage of the functions. And the idea is, and let me just say this with technology. If people spend more time working and communicating through technology than they spend working in the field, technology is not helpful.

Technology should enhance performance and metrics, measurements, but it should not replace skill sets or take time away from the field. So the more that technology takes time away from the field, the less in-field presence our technicians have. So that's a major consideration.

The thing that I do like about the technology a lot is it's moved away from other industries bringing their platform into multifamily to things being designed specifically for multifamily. And so I commend a lot of the companies out there that are doing that. And something I've seen emerging is there's a company now that just started, and I'm learning more about them.

And I think I'm going to learn a lot more about them in the next few months is they do remote video conferencing emergency service requests. So there's a property here not too far from here. And I was talking to the staff, and they were trying this new technology.

So they were short-staffed. They had two out of four people. They work all the time. They're overwhelmed. The guy's been on call forever. And they employ this technology where the resident can choose to try it. And they teleconference with someone that's remote. And they'll say, okay, walk up, show me where the breaker panel is. You see that breaker, move it back and forth.

You know what? You need to call a technician. They'll be in soon. Or thank you for calling. And it was my pleasure to help you solve and resolve the issue. So that's coming up. And I'm curious to see how it goes.

The only thing I've seen is it takes people a while to feel like, to really know that they're not going to be replaced. You're just reducing the amount of payroll that comes in after hours. And so I think that's good. But most of the big platforms, I'm pretty impressed with.

(45:25 - 48:23) Adrian: You were mentioning about the time that you spent using technology to get things accomplished. The more you spend, the worse it is.

The less effective this piece of tech is. And I agree. And I always go, the first two things that come to mind are Amazon and Uber, right? These two amazing companies, incredibly successful.

And I tell people, I tell PropTech founders and people who work in PropTech, look, are you aware or have you ever used a video, a training video to learn how to use the Uber app?

And I think we all know the answer, right? Right. You should be building a product that you shouldn't need a tutorial to use. You put it in the end user hand and then intuitively, they're going to open up the app and figure everything out on their own.

That easy. You eliminate as much friction as possible. Get it as close as you can to a frictionless process, frictionless experience.

And I think the challenge that we have is this with PropTech in general, and Maintenance PropTech in particular. Companies that are developing products tailored towards Maintenance, they're hiring, I guess, people that design the product, or developers, or people that know how to write code. I don't know all the language, the details.

And also, secondly, they hire people to push the sale. So there's two categories of people that you know you will find in a PropTech company. And in between, the end user is nowhere represented, does not exist.

So my question to them is, how do you expect that your product is going to be successful? It's going to get a decent adoption rate from the end user when the end user is nowhere in this picture that I'm just painting to you. So don't you think that it's necessary that you bring that end user somehow to be represented in a process to help you build the product that's actually tailored towards the end user? It's not tailored towards the VP of the company or the CEO, the one that signs the check, because ultimately, you're going to make a sale. You're going to make sales.

But then when that thing happens and you get the check, you're going to skip to start performing. And if you have a product that the end user hates using, they're not going to use it. The company, the beneficiary, your client is going to realize that this is a low adoption rate.

We're paying for something that everybody hates using. And then you're going to end up losing business. And this is going to be an ongoing cycle. Why not just fix it and bring the end user to be represented to help you build the product that you need to be building to be successful? Do you disagree?

(48:23 - 50:51) Mark: So you have three prongs or three points of contact, which is the customer. So how do they benefit from this? If they even know it exists to the end user, which is us, which we're talking about, and then you have the administrative managerial component. So a lot of times these programs are done software as a service by people that do code managers.

They're like, oh, I would like a report to do this. And I want a dashboard that looks like this. And then the person in the field that's knocking on doors, shaking hands is like, what is this? This is not important to me at all. Or there's so there's a basic rule. I call it the three click rule. If you have to click on anything three times, there's something wrong.

Right. And so I think they need to get more people in this like what you just said. And maybe think of these things.

So thank you is to is to really get people that are in the field and say, what would be beneficial to you? If this can do what you wanted it to do without wasting your time, how much and how little at the same time would you want it to do? And what would that be?

If you want someone to figure out a loophole or how to break up, break a system, give it to the people in the field. They will exploit everything. They're going to know because we are crafty, troubleshooting, critical, troubleshooting minded people in the field.

And we're going to figure it out. So I think there needs to be a better component from the field. And I wish these companies would bring maybe people like us, but other people, too, that are that are not like us, that are out there knocking on doors and say, what would you get rid of immediately? I would start there.

And then how would you change what we have? And or even you can ask the same question about a service department. If you're going to read if we just eliminated everything and you started with a clean slate and you can rebuild the service department to be exactly the way it should be in your mind, what would that look like? And I'm pretty sure it would include very simple software, if any. Right.

You know, so I think the software is beneficial, but it can have a thousand features and people use four. And I think that's the main issue with it today is because it provides a better value proposition in sales, but it doesn't deliver service in the field. And so when you want to buy this, it's like, wow, it has all these features that our competitors don't.

Hmm. This is more value instead of asking a person in the field, does this actually solve problems for you on a day to day basis? And I would I would leave that out there if that's so. Yeah, I'm glad you asked that.

(50:51 - 50:55) Adrian: What should multifamily maintenance training look like in 2023?

(50:55 - 53:08) Mark: So in 2023, I think you should have, I would just say, benchmark 40 to 120 hours of training, period. If you don't do it, we need to sit down and talk and we have to address it in your weekly, monthly, quarterly, annual reviews. And if you're the supervisor or the manager, you directly will answer for why they're not going to training.

So I would I would start there. And the next because what happens is, well, I don't want to get into that, but just the idea is we have to push people and nudge them towards performing better. And we have to give them the resources.

So I would do soft skill training, hard skill training, which is a technical part. And if you could take a sheet of paper and just draw boxes just right next to each other, row of boxes below them, another row of boxes and go pull a history from your property, what are the top five service requests in every category plumbing, electrical, HVAC, carpentry, miscellaneous, whatever that is. I would make sure everybody gets training in those immediately.

When that's done, get in the top 10. While you're also evaluating each person, because if you ask a manager what training is important, they usually say their housing laws, sexual harassment, customer service, whatever. You ask a technician, electrical, HVAC, plumbing.

Oh, by the way, I'll do those, too. And so we have opposite views of the spectrum. So I think we need more training.

We need to teach supervisors how to be supervisors, how to manage, lead and influence. And I can't stand the term working supervisor. When I hear that phrase, I cringe. The job of a supervisor is to supervise. There's no it's not do both. And it's like, would you ever say I want a working manager? It doesn't even make sense.

Right. So I would start with that training and I would put it in two columns and it would be hard social skills, business skills, soft skills, and then the hard skills. And I would balance that out depending on the person.

And then I would make a management answer for why that is or is not done. And I think it should be part of your bonus and performance structure. And so I think that's what it should be. And I would say up to one third of training could be in the field on the job training with a mentor. But the mentorship is really important. And we need to get those in the field.

(53:08 - 53:21) Adrian: Mark, what practical advice can you offer to the audience about identifying opportunities and maximizing personal growth within the multifamily maintenance field?

(53:21 - 58:02) So if you're going to ask somebody, I'll give you a frame. There's two ways. What's your weak point? What are your weaknesses? Person's going to look at you and be like, uh, I don't, I don't know.

But if I asked you, do me a favor, we're going to send you to training. What I want to know is what you would like to go to first and put it in a list of priority.

The other thing is, if you're a manager and you're making these decisions, and it depends on who's listening to this and watching this, right? What you encourage is what you multiply, what you standardize, what you enforce is what you standardize.

So avoidance is a standardization. Addressing things before they become an issue is a standardization. So the practical advice is, are you, and I'm asking, I'm asking you this question. If you're listening and watching this, me to you personally, are you making every single person around you better and how, and if not, why?

And you're going to find that there's two basic types of people, people that bring everyone else around them. So at the lowest point, they're better than they were before, or people that don't really want anyone else to look quite as good as they are. And that's usually through fear.

So the practical advice I would say is this, no information, no knowledge goes to the grave. Everybody learns, everybody trains. We win together, we lose together.

There's no me and you. And you can't be people that go to the same place and show up for work. If you're a team, it goes team, teammates, me.

And if that's out of order, everything's out of balance. And the practical advice I would say is, if you think training is expensive, just have a group full of untrained people and see how much that costs you between lawsuits, liability, and projects. It's going to be through the roof.

So the practical advice is, as a leader and as a manager, as a manager, you control resources, time, and money. You don't control people. What you do as a leader is you influence people.

And your team is counting on you. They hope, and they wish, and they are counting on you that you will help them make better. So the next thing is, how much time are you willing to sacrifice for that to happen? Because you'll hear these things.

And I just like their perspective shifts more than anything. Like, say, I have kids, right? And imagine I told them, you can be anything. The world is yours. I want you to be amazing. I want you to build this wonderful life. But when you go to work, no one will let you be as good as they are.

And that's not how it should be. It should be like, I want you to go to a place where they're going to push you and nudge you in the right direction. You may not like it sometimes, but you know it's better for you overall.

And you're going to have a coach and a manager and a supervisor that are going to put you in classes whether you want to or not. Trust me, five years from now, you're going to be grateful that you went. And the reason that most people feel training and they say, I've been doing this for so long.

And I can tell you this as a coach, is people don't want to look or feel like they look stupid. And that's a thing that people, they put a rating on themselves. And so I can't tell you how many people go to training and they're like, you know what? I didn't want to go.

And I wish. Let me tell you this, Adrian. I was this week in South Carolina and I did a keynote and there was a guy at the lobby. I was walking out with my bags. I was going to get a snack on the way out the front doors of the hotel. And he said, hey, Mark, man, can I talk to you for a second? I said, of course.

Sure. And he goes, you know, I'm ex-military. I said, well, me too. And he goes, can I be direct with you? I said, you will not. You will not hurt my feelings no matter what you say, unless you talk bad about my mom. And he kind of laughed.

And he said, you know, when I saw your name on the advertisement for this, he goes, I thought to myself, he's just a maintenance guy. What could he possibly have to say? That's what he said to me. And I said, you know, I am, first of all, man, I'm so glad I met you.

And I appreciate you saying that because many people, not all, many people, too many, think that. And, you know, I've been running successful businesses for many years. I have a team, an academy, and I'm still learning like everybody else.

I've made every mistake I could. But the fact that you came and he says, you know what really, really stood out to me, Mark, is he said, you spoke in a way that actually, like, you made me feel what you were saying. And I shouldn't have had that perception.

And I think I've done that with my team before. And he said, so, man, just because of you, I'm going to think and look at my team a little differently. And your team can give you really valuable insight if you are willing to listen and receptive to making changes.

But the hallmark of a good leader is they try new things. They push everyone to do better, sometimes at the sacrifice of themselves. But if you're not training, you're falling behind and never let training be the cause of your demise.

And it doesn't matter who it's with, but you're either growing or you're declining. There's no way you're staying still for long.

(58:02 - 58:16) Adrian: Mark, as always, such a pleasure to have you on. I love to continue our conversations. In closing of this particular conversation, could you share some final thoughts with us, with me and audience?

(58:16 - 59:49) Mark: Yeah, you know, if you're listening and watching this, thank you for coming, because you really can be spending your time doing anything else. And you're listening to us or watching or listening, and we appreciate it.

And Adrian and I and everyone else, it is our sincerest goal to make a difference in this industry. And sometimes it's a good conversation. Sometimes it's a tough one.

Sometimes it's a little like medicine where it doesn't taste very good, but it'll help you get better. But what I want you to do, and I'm asking you this, I'd like you to be able to comment to us in the future, is try new things and try different ideas. Because normally when you make a change, it goes through this process, which is resistance, ridicule, and then acceptance.

And so when you make a change, most people are going to resist. Then when they start making fun of it and giving you a hard time about it, you're making progress. And then it becomes a generally accepted practice and a standard.

But don't perpetuate behaviors just because that's the way it's been. Because you're either going to follow the pack or you're going to lead it. And I would like you to lead it and to make a difference.

Because when you create a good culture in your group, it creates this gravity in the workforce. And people will just start coming to you, but you have to be consistent with it. So for all of you that are working hard and doing your best, we appreciate you.

And trust me, guys like me and Adrian, we notice and we tell people. And whenever we get a chance, we try to match people up to where they would best fit and benefit everybody. So we just appreciate your time.

And those are my closing thoughts. So thank you for spending a little bit over an hour with us.

(59:45 - 1:00:01) Adrian: I want to give you the opportunity for a plug for your business, for your personal contacts. Just how can potential clients get a hold of you? How can our audience get a hold of you?

(1:00:01 - 1:00:56) Mark: They have a personal question, something, you know, some ways to get in touch with you. Sure. So my website is service team, my service team, And you can contact me through there.

And my phone number's on there, my email. I've also got some video content libraries coming out with Grow Learning. And I'm really excited to put a learning library out.

Technical content, troubleshooting, two minutes, 30 minutes, long courses, weekly safety meetings. But at any time, if you think of something like, I would like a checklist on the tools and equipment that technicians should have and companies should provide, how to make service requests easy. We have a ton of information.

And it's all, it's free, right? Except for the learning libraries. Go to, contact me. It's my pleasure to talk with you, email you, help in any way I can.

And thank you for the plug. I appreciate that.

(1:00:56 - 1:01:35) Adrian: Anytime. Thank you again, Mark, for being here with us. For a little over an hour.

I hope to get you back here soon. I hope that we make this an ongoing conversation, because it's not enough of this in this space. And for those of us, for those of you watching us today, this was episode number two of the Multifamily X podcast series, powered by AppWork, the series called Masters of Multifamily, Maintenance Conversations.

Thank you very much again. We really appreciate you being here for an hour out of your busy day. And we hope to see you back here soon.