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Grow your business through employee engagement

'The more you train your staff, the longer they stay, and the better they are for your business.'
Leah Calnan, Metro Property Management

Top tips

  • Make training a priority
  • Be open with your team
  • Keep an open mind

Metro Property Management

As sole owner of Metro Property Management, Leah Calnan manages a team of 25 people, leasing and managing properties across Melbourne. Leah joined the company in 2000 as a Department Manager, and says the progression from employee to business owner has been challenging.

'There are a lot things you don't know as a new business owner, and you often end up learning by your mistakes,' she says. In particular, she learned the importance of attracting, growing and keeping a team of people with the skills and commitment to grow the business with her.

Leah says the tipping point for her was when an employee left after only 12 months, saying she would only come back if staff training was provided.

'That was a real eye-opener for me,' Leah says. 'It’s common practice in our industry to give new people a desk and a phone and expect them to find their feet. I realised that if I wanted to grow a great company, I needed to think differently about my staff and their relationship to the business.'

Make talent management a priority

Leah realised she needed to invest just as much energy into attracting, developing and keeping her staff, as she invested into customer service.

She began by changing the way she interviewed potential employees. 'I stopped trying to find people with lots of real estate experience, and instead started looking for people who had great customer service backgrounds. They needed communication skills and a level of empathy to deal with our clients.'

Next, she introduced the company’s first training program, a 12-week course for all new recruits. 'The mentality of most real estate directors is sink or swim, and they wonder why there’s a constant churn in property management staff,' says Leah. 'Our 12-week program is designed so that employees know what they can expect to learn each week, and can review their strengths and weaknesses. The program has brought an amazing amount of transformation for the business.' 

Leah has worked hard to make her business an attractive place to work, focusing on the things that make a real difference to her team.

'Work-life balance is important to me, so I wanted to make sure everyone in the team had the flexibility they needed,' she says. As a result, all team members have remote access to the office from home or via their mobiles. 'Since giving my team more flexibility, the rewards have been amazing. I find that people give you more: they’re working at 100%, not just 70%.'

She also took steps to build strong bonds within the team and create a vibrant work culture. 'Everyone’s on an even playing field here,' says Leah. 'I still wash the dishes and I always refer to "the team", rather than "my staff".' The company also holds monthly team meetings, as well as social events, including an outing to the comedy festival and a Team Appreciation Day. 'We have a lot of fun here,' says Leah. 'Everyone’s really close.'

Make your business a place people love to work

Leah has this advice to other small business owners looking to attract and keep great staff.

Make training a priority

'The more you train your team, the better they can be,' says Leah. 'I get most of my ideas for training from the team themselves, who share their thoughts at our weekly and monthly meetings.'

This year, as part of her commitment to training, Leah invited team members to take part in a training session with her own business coach. 'They learned to be more confident in their decision-making skills,' she says. 'It was a real success'.

Be open with your team

'Run your business as transparently as possible,' Leah says. 'That could be as simple as an open-plan office, or giving your staff some perspective about your business.'

Share the good news as well as the tough stuff. 'In return your staff will respect you and the business.'

Keep an open mind

'I'm always looking outside-the-box for ideas,' says Leah. 'I’ll look at what other companies are doing, particularly all-female companies, and work out how I can implement similar ideas here.'

Look for ways to share knowledge with peers in your industry: conferences and networking events provide a good opportunity to do this.


The result

Through a great training program and a focus on building close team, Leah has significantly reduced staff turnover in an industry where high churn is the norm.