Unlearned Skill Sets

In a Wall Street Journal article, they published their finding regarding a little-known test of college students that measures their improvement in learning to think. The results were surprising – in a negative way (see WSJ, June 2017, entitled: "Exclusive Test Data: Many Colleges Fail to Improve Critical-Thinking Skills")

Ouch. Double Ouch.

I bring this research to your attention for the following reason: Rental properties involve, fortunately or unfortunately, human beings. We are messy creatures–physically, emotionally, and mentally.

For investors and real estate professionals, whenever a property is rented, lots of humans are involved: tenants, landlords, real estate agents, HOA management companies (sometimes for lease approvals), leasing agents, property managers, CPAs, contractors, suppliers, etc.

Decisions must be made every single day. Many decisions must be made with less-than-perfect data or information available, such as risk profiles of tenants or repairs.

· Should you accept this tenant with a lower-than-average credit score?

· Repairs must be made, often with unpredictable results and an imperfect diagnosis of the problem in the first place due to limited access to information or unforeseen consequences. Increasing attic insulation could cause moisture condensation in a ceiling area where there was none previously.

· Do your tenants fail to report service issues they think aren’t important and don’t want to bother you with or themselves be bothered coordinating access for a contractor? We all try to hire staff, train them for the skills needed for the job they are doing now, and if they show promise, for the next job, they should be moving up to in the proverbial ladder of success
within your company. We all try to hire staff to do one thing: solve problems. Solving problems requires critical thinking skills and verbal and written persuasion skills. Unfortunately, most young employees don’t demonstrate either skill set.

A survey by PayScale Inc., an online pay and benefits researcher, showed 50% of employers complain that college graduates they hire aren’t ready for the workplace. Their no. 1 complaint? Poor critical-reasoning skills. “At most schools in this country, students basically spend four years in college, and they don’t necessarily become better thinkers and problem solvers,” said Josipa Roksa, a University of Virginia sociology professor who co-wrote a book in 2011 about the CLA+ test. “Employers are going to hire the best they can get, and if we don’t have that, then what is at stake in the long run is our ability to compete.”

If you think your company has the bee's knees of the best of the best employees, well congrats, but you’re still not out of the woods. What about all those contractors you hire and their staffs' skills? If their staff has negligible skills in critical thinking and persuasion, don’t you think it will negatively impact your company, too? Yup, it most certainly will. Think weakest link in the value chain here, folks.

But there is hope for improvement…if you’re serious about your success and long-term survival. Critical-thinking skills are like muscles in the human body. If not used, they shrink from non-use.

If stretched and used, skills can and do expand and get stronger. Some options to consider on how to flex your muscles here:

1. Give your staff “what if?” scenarios during your weekly staff meetings. Think crazy thoughts like a tenant or landlord or even as a property manager. Think as a devious person would think. (Hint: If your staff is not capable of coming up with devious answers or even non-standard answers, you’ve just identified your weakest links.)

2. Meet with your top contractors and their key staff members and ask them open-ended questions on how they would handle the scenarios you created in the “what if?” scenarios above. See what and how they respond to these types of questions. (Hint: if you get the proverbial deer-in-the-headlights look, it might be time to find a new contractor.)

3. Keep conducting 1 and 2 above each month. Keep evaluating your staff and your contractors for weaknesses and help them improve, or if needed, part ways.


Article by Dan Baldini, Executive Property Manager

Grace Sanderson