What is your business model? What are the tenets and the strategies that you as a leader in your company have carved out to ensure the sustainability of your brand? There are standard answers for this question: Size, areas of discipline, future expansion. All are factors in a successful business model. But what about the impact of professionalism? It’s a handy catch-word, something to put on business cards and websites, but what about as a skillset?
To me, a large part of professionalism focuses on respect—respect for oneself and for others. In business, we have the dual responsibility of a) providing exceptional customer service and b) training our staff on what that means and how to accomplish it. But a key to that customer service is the basic human provision of respect.
I have come to believe that, in regard to self-respect, we in the U.S. have lost our way. A group of IREM executives recently returned from an extended chapter visit to Japan, two incidents occurred there that underscored this sad belief. Our trip included an industry event, the highlight of which was an awards ceremony. It was remarkable to witness the respect each participant had for others. When recipients’ names were called, they bowed to the audience, then bowed to the stage. Then, on stage, they bowed to the master of ceremonies. Throughout the evening there was a uniform display of respect for each other, and yet, each person’s individualism shone through. Keep this last point in mind. We will revisit it.
While in Japan, I had the opportunity to visit a local business. All employees stood and recognized me when I arrived. They smiled and greeted me and each made a point of speaking with me personally. I was made to feel important, special, like an honored guest.
I began to wonder about our two cultures and, specifically, how our American culture informs our business experience, and how much it defines our business to others. Are we as respectful as we should be? Do we try to immerse ourselves fully in the problems, the goals, the perspectives of those who we claim to serve? For that matter, do we treat our staff and colleagues with the same degree of respect we would want or expect from them?
There has been much written about the rise of the Millennial generation. Are we, as senior members of our organizations and this industry, concerned about the ability to communicate—which really means the ability to listen? Just as Baby Boomers are charged with an inability to grasp new technology, Millennials are often charged with an inability to communicate face-to-face and in a professional (read: respectful) manner. What does that say about the direction of our businesses?
Property management, probably more than any other discipline within the realm of commercial real estate, demands a finely tuned ear, a sensitivity to the issues being laid out at the conference table. All of us as senior executives carry the responsibility of helping our future executives develop that ear.
Now, I am not advocating for a business style that is stilted and forced. Neither am I suggesting that we adopt a Japanese culture of bowing and over-formality. But my experiences abroad did underscore for me the deterioration of respect in our home country, the respect that rides on the back of formality, the awareness that there is a grace in distance and no sacrifice at all of the individual spirit in the formal acknowledgement of another’s worth and importance. I returned from my trip wondering what, if left unchecked, a growing culture of disrespect will do to future generations of decision-makers.
To a person, we left Japan inspired to be better and do better; to honor everyone we meet in both our words and actions; and to teach our respective staffs to engage and continue this tradition of respect. I truly believe that the success of our companies depends on it.
So I ask again: What is your business model?
In addition to her role as IREM 2015 president, Lori Burger, CPM, PCAM, CCAM, is senior vice president of Eugene Burger Management Corp. in Rohnert Park, Calif.