Multifamily operators and property managers are getting serious about who they hire and how they retain talent, particularly at the property level where most job funtions are viewed as critical to leasing and resulting revenue and net operating income (NOI).

“We’ve scaled down to the pivotal positions that will make or break the site level,” said Dallas-based Pinnacle Family of Cos.' chief administarative officer Ed Wolff, who spoke at the 2011 Multifamily Executive Conference on the panel "Top Flight: Who to Hire and How to Retain Premium Talent."

According to Wolff, Pinnacle recently overhauled the more than 400 different job descriptions at Pinnacle, winnowing down to just a handful of core functions, which were then associated with key performance indicators and required all associates to sign off on documents that spelled out specific job roles and responsibilities.

“We’re likewise emphasizing our key performance indicators across the career path of our employees,” agreed Houston-based Camden Property Trust senior vice president of human resources Cindy Scharringhausen, who joined Wolff on the panel with Chicago-based Habitat Co. president and CEO Mark Segal and Christina Steeg, senior vice president of marketing and training for Denver-based Simpson Property Group.

With technologies revolutionizing how property managers interact with residents across the leasing life-cycle, operators who spoke on the panel indicated that more attention is needed with systems integration and training in order to motivate rather than burden new and existing employees. Multifamily employers are also experimenting with behavioral profiling and hybrid compensation packages to recruit and retain top on-site talent.

“Technology for on-site has empowered a lot of people to rise to new challenges, but we’re trying to limit new technologies to one system per year, because even with training, that one system alone can cause mass confusion to workflow,” Steeg said. “We’re also seeing some success providing associates with the option between a lower salary and more highly commissioned compensation package versus a larger salary with less commission.”

At Camden, Scharringhausen reported that the use of behavioral profiling technologies matching job applicants up with Camden cultural and job skill sets and personality indicators has increased retention significantly at the site level. “Retention is two-pronged,” Scharringhausen said. “It’s an investment in recruiting and hiring, but it’s also making an effort to determine cultural and personality fit to job functions. Our system has thus-far reduced turnover 50 percent among leasing consultants alone.”

Indeed, "cultural fit" was cited by all panelists as the No. 1 force effecting their firm’s ongoing employee recruitment and retention strategies. “The reason we lose people in our industry is by not providing enough growth opportunities within compelling corporate cultures,” Steeg said. “Simply put, culture keeps engagement in employment.”