Overcoming Challenges in a Virtual Training World

Overcoming Challenges in a Virtual Training World

Episode 12- JuvoHub Podcast

Our Host: Jonathan Saar from Market Me Social

Our Special Guest: Jessica Gordon

Jessica Gordon is the Director of Learning & Development for The RADCO Companies which has an amazing portfolio all over the Southeast. Jessica has many years in training and development with a background in service and fell into training and development for property management.

Please Support Our Sponsors

We really appreciate and thank REAL-HR a Higginbotham Company for helping make this podcast happen. Please support them!


Show Highlights

Notes from the host:

In order to have a progressive career one absolutely must invest time in continuing self-education. Jessica Gordon is one who epitomizes that process. Moving from a career in lifestyle management into property management is a huge leap. In this episode, you will hear how Jessica not only made that leap but has taken that leap and helped propel the learning and education program of one of the top property management companies in the country. Enjoy!

Some questions we consider:

  • How did you get your career going in Learning and Development? Why this career choice?
  • How has an understanding of technology help serve you in your department? Why is it so critical?
  • With the pandemic challenges and a diverse portfolio what are some critical success components to training virtually?
  • What one actionable tip could you share that has served you well as an educator?

What one actionable tip could you share that has served you well as an educator?

So my main advice is just say stay committed to educating yourself. We are all learners. Stay curious.

Jessica Gordon – Director of Learning & Development

If you enjoyed this episode be sure to check out:

Jonathan Saar: Hello everyone, and welcome to the JuvoHub Podcast. Just before we get into episode 12, I want to take a moment and talk about our sponsor for today. REAL HR, a Higginbotham company. I've worked with their leadership team for many years now, and always, always impressed with the level of dedication that they give towards their clients. It's amazing. And they work a lot with human resource departments within the property management space. So if you have questions or needs involving employee benefits, payroll administration, employee screening, these are the folks to talk to. And they're under the umbrella of their parent company, Higginbotham, which has a whole other level of services related to insurance needs and benefits. So definitely check them out, real-hr.com. That's R-E-A-L dash H-R dot-com and see it for yourself. And of course, there'll be a link to their site in the show notes. So big huge Juvo thank you for them being our sponsor. So now let's get into today's episode.

Jonathan Saar: Good day to everyone. Welcome to episode 12. I have the esteem privilege of having a guest from RADCO, Jessica Gordon. And we are going to talk specifically today about overcoming challenges in a virtual training world. So a very appropriate topic. All of us who are in education understand certain challenges that are there, and RADCO has a huge portfolio that Jessica oversee. She is the director of learning and development for RADCO, and she has many years in the training and development with a background in service. And she happened to fall into the training and development. So first of all, Jessica, welcome to the show. It's so great to have you with us today.

Jessica Gordon: Thanks, Jonathan. I'm really excited to be here. I appreciate you inviting me onto the show.

Jonathan Saar: Yeah, no, looking forward to our conversation. Because it's one that, as you and I were preparing, we hear a lot, there's been a lot of transition, especially over the last few months and what learning and development departments are doing within property management. And how to still maintain that connection, even though, perhaps in person training is not as a viable option as it used to be. But let's just talk about you for a minute. It's interesting that you come from a different starting point in your career and now you're in learning and development. So can you give us an insight? So what was that like in the transition and give us a little feedback and what that was all about.

Jessica Gordon: Sure. So my background really is in service, customer service. I was always really good at it and passionate about serving people, whomever that was, whoever my customer was at the time. So, my background, back in New York City, which is where I used to live before I moved to Atlanta a few years ago, I was a lifestyle manager. So this was a very niche role at the time. Now lifestyle management has expanded and it's a quite widely known industry. But at the time when I joined this company, it was a young company, and really not many people knew about lifestyle management. So the company itself didn't really have any formal training when I joined. But we ended up growing really rapidly and the need for formal training became apparent very quickly in my role.

Jessica Gordon: So I developed the employee training program from scratch to help us onboard all of our new hires and introduce them into the world of lifestyle management. So we were teaching them everything from sales to networking and negotiation. And of course they had to become experts in everything Manhattan and all the other regions that we serve. So at this time also, I was a very young manager, and I was hungry for resources of my own to improve myself in the role that I was in. So I felt inadequate many times when I came across people issues that I didn't really know how to solve, because of my youth, because of my inexperience. So I did a lot of research myself. I talked to many professionals who I admired. I met with a lot of organizations, professional organizations, to network with those individuals and become part of those groups. And so I became a mentee for a professional women's organization. And this group really helped me.

Jonathan Saar: Nice.

Jessica Gordon: Yeah, they really helped me ground myself in my role as a leader. I was introduced to people who introduced me to ethics of business and how to handle certain situations. And it was at this time that I was introduced to executive coaching. And that was really it for me. I totally fell in love. I fell in love with this proactive approach to developing yourself, to developing others, and it was just right up my alley. As you can tell, just from my own innate personality, when I see a need, I really dig in and I throw myself into it full on. So executive coaching just really spoke to me.

Jessica Gordon: So, as I began to learn more over the next few years, then I decided to go back to school, get my Masters, and then get the credentials to actually back up my experience in the field. Now at this time, now as a more advanced manager, I was overseeing all of our employee programs for that organization and also with our vendors and our partners. So this also was my introduction to property management, because we worked as a third party partner with a number of property managers related to the developers that we were working with. So I love it. In my role today I'm still serving customers, which is our team members, every single day. And I still get to provide the high quality service that is so important to me as we continue to grow and develop other people and myself really. So I love it, and it just is a dream job.

Jonathan Saar: Yeah, no, that is so so so awesome. What a transition. And I love the fact that you were able to take so many different skill sets and just see where it can be inserted into property management. It's a very unique industry, I'm sure you would attest to property management. And different group and just a lot of wonderful, awesome nuances that come with it. And how fantastic. And this is one of the things I love to emphasize when I have all of our guests on, but you said it so eloquently. Just taking the lead to educate yourself. If that's where you want to go in life, move forward in your career, that there's a lot of motivation that has to come within in order for that to take place. So kudos to you.

Jessica Gordon: Certainly.

Jonathan Saar: No, that's awesome, just to see how that all transitioned and move forward as time went along. So let's talk just a minute about technology. So you alluded to a lot of different items that you had to, a lot of people you've had to oversee, working them through different programs. Now we're in property management. So what have you seen maybe, has there been a transition? And especially thinking over the last few months, how has your background overall served you well understanding technology and being able to use it for your teams?

Jessica Gordon: Well, goodness, technology plays a huge part in my day-to-day world. And for us as a company, our leadership is really focused on streamlining and building efficiencies for the organization. So since I joined RADCO three years ago, I mean, we've implemented new technology every few months. So this has helped us grow, it's helped us develop as an organization, and we've seen a lot of success due to that. So, I think over the past three years, it's been a bit of a journey. These past few months now, right, we've been, I guess, about three or four months now into this new world of COVID and everything else going on in the world. I think we were set up really for success because of the work that we'd done previously. So we are lucky in that way. Even so, we've become even more efficient along the way. I'll tell you a little bit more about some of that more recent changes.

Jessica Gordon: You asked about just understanding technology at large. And previously, I had introduced Salesforce to my previous organization. So that was a really great opportunity for me to learn about not only introducing a CRM system and then creating efficiencies, but also we worked with developers to customize. So here at RADCO, it's been really amazing, because all of the technologies that we use, I've been an integral part in implementing those. And then of course, as every other L&D professional knows, we are a great partner and making sure our team members learn that new technology. And then it becomes embedded in the culture, the way we do business. So understanding how it works is really key, but first and foremost, it's really important to focus on what problem is it going to solve?

Jessica Gordon: So, before introducing anything new, we're always asking, we're going back to the business objective. Back to how we make money, how are we successful as a company, and then what problems do we have and how can technology solve that problem? Then it becomes more of a tool to serve us rather than becoming a barrier to success, right? Lots of times, if you just throw in this new toy or this new idea, that we say, and we don't think about how it fits into the big picture, that's when our team members really suffer and that's when the business suffers because then it's not adopted, people don't really understand the why, what's the use for it. So we're really focused on understanding how will this new technology serve us and then how can we really allow it to help us become efficient and more successful as an organization? So, very basic. Some of the tools that we use to help us is communication, right?

Jessica Gordon: So, very simply, when I first joined RADCO, we have Office 365. And so, one of the biggest concerns at that time, this again was many years ago, was some of our team members didn't even have an email address, our maintenance team members, right? And I found out that this is commonplace in the industry. That was very surprising to me. So we quickly changed that, because we were cutting off half of our R, right? People who didn't get the information that we were sharing via email, which was the majority. So we quickly changed that.

Jessica Gordon: And then we started using Yammer, which has become a huge, huge connection for our organization, for our team members. I mean, we have hundreds of thousands of posts on Yammer now. We're still fairly small organization, we're under 500 people. But I'd say, pretty confidently, that we're almost at a hundred percent engagement in terms of Yammer use. And it's a way for us to communicate, initiative, large and small, it's a way for us to engage with one another, to praise team members, give each other shout outs, say happy birthday, post photos, post videos, I mean everything. So it's really fantastic. And we've been also able to reinforce our values through that platform. So that's been just tremendous.

Jessica Gordon: And then also a few years back, we started a live video broadcast. So some companies call it town halls. This is really more of a TV show, where it was all about our team members. So we were able to call out best practices. So then this allowed us to reinforce great behavior, reinforce metrics that were important to us, give face to team members who might not have otherwise had an opportunity to meet each other. We also gave a voice to many of our team members. We bring them on the show, interview them, talk to them about their experience. And so, this has really become essential, also part of our communication strategy as a company. And when we first launched it, we just started it on Skype for Business, right? That was the tool that we had. Then we tried it on Zoom. Then we got a production company involved. Now we're back on Zoom with a little bit of production help. So it's an evolution.

Jessica Gordon: And I think that's what's cool about the technology too, is you're constantly checking, testing it. We pilot it, we test it. We will [inaudible 00:00:13:54], then we assess it, and then we make changes. So it's an ongoing process. We're constantly reevaluating all of the tools that we use. Whether these are the right ones, of course, we all know new things become available all the time, trends change. We're looking at consumer behavior, we're looking at how are we going to make this easy for our team members who are used to, right, searching on Google and posting on Instagram, now TikTok, whatever the new thing is. I don't even know if people are really using Facebook anymore, right?

Jessica Gordon: So we're always looking, okay, how can we mimic that same experience so that the training doesn't have to be such a large burden for the team to use it. It just becomes natural, and it's just part of their daily habits anyway. And so it's been really great for us, in those few examples, to just introduce commonplace tools that we can use within the organization. But it's not such a big leap away from what they're doing on their own anyway, in their personal lives. So, that's been great.

Jessica Gordon: And then just in terms of using technology to share knowledge, this is really, I think, this is a guiding principle of mine, and it's also, I think been key to our success. So, we really encourage our team members to use technology to share their experiences and share their knowledge as well. So, we'll talk a little bit about it, but we have identified some team members who stand out in specific areas. And so we give them a platform to have a voice to share, what works for them. And so, we're using these kind of on-demand platforms to allow team members to record themselves, and then they'll share content with each other. So that's been really cool.

Jessica Gordon: So in general, I mean, those are really the mainstay ones. But then of course just with all of the business tools that we use every day, it's really just been helpful to us to streamline and also allowed us to become more transparent as we track our success. So we've been able to also now integrate numerous systems and create dashboards. So that's another way that we're able to break down those barriers and share very clearly what matters, the metrics that are important to us at the company, how we're doing. It allows all of our learning to align back to our business objective. So if we're looking at these dashboards and they're public, and everyone can check in on their success, it makes us easier to be really laser focused in on what matters. So technology has really just helped us in many different ways.

Jonathan Saar: So amazing passion, and incredible use cases too. I mean, you've mentioned some use cases I have not heard too too often in our industry. But what a pioneer you are and RADCO as a company. And as you mentioned as, it's a team effort, everybody really needs to opt in. But often, I find that it's the pain. The biggest pain points I've heard is usually, okay, property management software, how do I use it? It's taken me 10 years to use it, and now my company's changing because we're going to a different one. And now we got to take another 10 years to learn that. And it's just a constant ... If there's anything that's a sore spot, often it's technology and being able to have people well versed in it. So it's awesome to hear the way your process is, because it is. And I resonate with that well. If you can't delegate out via technology, then you're going to lose your mind as a leader trying to manage everything. And so, once you empower them-

Jessica Gordon: I will say, I mean, what you mentioned about the property management software being such a burden, we're not unique in this situation where that isn't tough for us too, it certainly is. So we're a Yardi client, and I'll say great things about Yardi. We've really been able to ... They've been great partners with us, I guess is what I'll say. But I have to give Mike Brewer, who's our COO, a huge, just acknowledge him. Because over the past couple of years, he has been slowly introducing scaling up into our business. So this is a framework that we use to make decisions and communicate as an organization. Are you familiar with scaling up?

Jonathan Saar: Yep.

Jessica Gordon: Yeah. So this has really helped us streamline the process and how to use the tool, our property management software, also it's allowed us to really understand what all of the capabilities are and then make decisions on what to take advantage of, right? There's so many options there. There's many applications, it's all customized. So we have been working really closely, as a team, at all levels of the organization. We involve everyone in any role to participate, give us feedback, let us know if this is working, or that we're constantly assessing the tools that we're using. But it's also, our work together through the scaling up framework has allowed us to regroup at regular time to address and prioritize what are the most important policies that we have in place, what are the important business objectives that we have, and then what's our process to support all of those.

Jessica Gordon: And so we've been digging into our software system very closely and picking it apart and rewriting policy based on the business needs and changes and making sure that we reintroduce processes all the time. So this is a huge project for my team specifically, because we'll partner with IT and Operations and make sure that we're all exactly on the same page about how we should be using the software and then making sure that our team members really understand it. And then we'll build in programs to reinforce that behavior. And we'll use other things that we have. We use Kingsley to reinforce that we're getting that customer feedback from their survey program.

Jessica Gordon: And so we're looking at all these metrics all the time. And so we can quickly identify where our areas of opportunity are, and then we dig into those. And so the L& D team will write a program to support that. And that way we can praise our people for the positive behavior and the actionable items that we want to reinforce. And so that allows our team members to also really have a clear understanding of what's expected of them, which I think can be unclear very often, and just help us to get on the same page as an organization. But this is not something that happened overnight. This has been a very long, diligent process that we've been going through for the past three years. I think right now we're finally at a place where we're really, really tightly making this happen. And we're really putting into action this framework, and it's helped us so so much. And so I think over the next few years and just through COVID it helps us see the success and the value in this communication style and this collaboration style.

Jonathan Saar: Yeah, no, that's awesome. I have a visual of ... Anytime when I see a framework of multiple technology components, it's almost like a ... It's a roadmap of connecting dots. And if they're operating in silos, then you're going to have challenges. But the way you and RADCO have put it together, I think you've really demonstrated to our audience what it takes. I mean, there is a level of follow-up, enforcement and empowerment and so on. Which leads to something else you and I were talking about as we were preparing for the show. And I think you alluded to it earlier too, was just what's involved in really empowering the employees? You mentioned you had an ambassador program. Can you give us a highlight? I know you can't give all the secrets away, necessarily, but what's maybe more the leadership cultural position and what effect has that had on RADCO employees?

Jessica Gordon: So RADCO, certainly I think one of our guiding principles is empowering our employees. And underlying that is empowering them to be decision-makers, right? I mean, each of our property managers and each one of us are running our own businesses, right? Each property is its own business in itself. And so it's really important that, for me personally, I think what I saw, especially coming in to property management a bit of a novice, right? So I was a L&D expert, but I really was new to property management. So when I came and I said, "Goodness, how am I going to be teaching all this? I'm not the teacher, I'm the least experienced one in the room," right? So very quickly I thought, "How am I going to make this work?"

Jonathan Saar: At least [crosstalk 00:24:07].

Jessica Gordon: Yeah, of course, of course. So I thought, "Goodness, how are we going to make this work?" So I looked around and I saw we have a ton of talent in this organization. We believe in empowering our team members. So let's give them the mic, let's give them a voice. And so I got to know, personally, many of our team members, again, in many different roles. What's so important to me, just the culture of our learning and development department, is that we are not seen as just a corporate department. That we are seen as a resource, as a friend, as an ally. As someone could pick up the phone and not be intimidated to just call and Skype us and Zoom us and email us and call my cell and just reach out if you need assistance. We will always say yes. And if we don't have the answer, we're going to find it for you.

Jessica Gordon: And we'll go with SOS. And I heard this from [inaudible 00:25:13], SOS, See it, Own it, Solve it. And this is a huge philosophy of ours and something that we really stick with, because if we see there's a problem, we're going to own it. We're going to figure out why it's there, how we can help, and then we're going to help to solve it. Whether or not we're specifically the ones to actually fix the issue, we're going to follow-up until we know that team member has what they need to be successful, that that barrier has been removed.

Jessica Gordon: And with RADCO, again, with the scaling up, in our huddles. We have a daily huddle. It's a 10-minute meeting every morning with our team. And in those meetings, we talk about, just a what's up, we can give someone a shout out or say how we are personally, or just let us know what's going on. And then we talk about one of our three top priorities for the day. And then we say, "Is there anything that you're stuck or that you need that management can help you with?" Or someone else can help you with, doesn't have to be your manager. And so in that process, we're able to solve issues so quickly. Because if I have my meeting at 9:00 AM, by 11:30 my problem is solved, or I know that there's some work being done. And so that's great. And I love that too, because that's how we should be solving the same for our residents, and for our customers at large, right?

Jessica Gordon: So we figure out what the issue is. We address it. We get very clear, and then we go ahead and solve it with constant updates. That communication. And so this is all learning. It's all learning for me, it's learning for everyone in the organization, how to work together as a community, as an organization and serve all the people who matter most. Which is everyone, whether you're a team member, a business partner or a resident, a customer. And so that's the way I think that we're able to address everything.

Jonathan Saar: That is just amazing. Yeah, what a culture. I think from every perspective, as someone who's listening to this show today, Jessica, it's okay. Here's the expectation. If I'm brand new to the industry, if I'm just coming out of college, here's what working in property management could be like. And for the many who are working on their learning and development programs, really understanding there's so much more to it than just simple structure. There is that component. It is a big part of it.

Jonathan Saar: But to your point, the communication, the people part, is more important than ... Because it wouldn't work. It wouldn't work. You can have all the technology and robots in the world, and if you don't have something that brings you together as a team for that common goal ... Your expression that you used, I want to help you, can you help me? I need to learn from you. What's it like for you in that property? And let me see what I can do from help. I can only imagine what that is like every day, having that back and forth, and we're here to solve and give people a home to live in, their residence, make sure they're happy.

Jessica Gordon: Absolutely. And to go back to the ambassador [inaudible 00:28:36], because I'm not sure if I completely answered your question. But with our ambassadors, what was so cool, and what is so cool about having team members actually lead conversation, which is really what the program is all about, we identify people in key leaders in specific areas. We coach them a little bit to get them ready to lead a conversation. And then to hear what they say from their perspective in their own words, it's so eyeopening for us to say, "Okay, are we all aligned?" And then also, what jargon are they using? What key phrases ... Have they introduced any concept of our values in the discussion that they're hosting? Are they reinforcing these behaviors that we've been trying to introduce to the organization and instill in our company and then our service model?

Jessica Gordon: So it's been so helpful, because if we didn't give them that voice and the platform to lead the conversation, we'd never know how that went, right? And so then we're having all these little ... We know people are learning from each other all the time, right? I mean, I think Gallup surveys says people learn from their team members much more than any other way, right? And so, if we know that they're shadowing each other, we've got to make sure the message is consistent. So if we don't give them an opportunity to practice sharing that message then we can't all get on the same page. So I think that's been so cool, because then our team members are hearing it from someone in their role. So they really can connect with that person much more than someone like me, who's sitting outside of the community. They're able to hear it from someone they can relate to. They're in and out every day in that they have the same challenges, they have similar successes, and they can really learn from each other.

Jessica Gordon: And what I'm also hoping is that we're building the networks and the relationships across the properties so that the brand is strengthened. And so that's another way that we're able to do that. And our team members really love it. They love to have the spotlight on them. They love sharing. They love having a voice. And we encourage it. We say, "Put it on your LinkedIn. Add this to your resume." We really give them ... You led that, you trained this, and then we can pull them into other conversations down the road. So it's been really fantastic.

Jonathan Saar: Yeah, no, that is beautiful. And I think of what motivated me to start this podcast was simply so I can learn from other industry experts and be able to create a channel for our industry to learn from. Everybody's learning. It doesn't matter how long we've been. I'm like you in some ways, I don't have a background in property management. My background is in many other items, which I'm not being interviewed, so I'll be quiet about it. But nevertheless, I had to learn, I had to learn, and be able to adapt and teach and educate. So it's been amazing, Jessica, to have you on the show today and to be able to share that level of passion.

Jonathan Saar: And leaders like you, and you mentioned Mike Brewer, my bud, my pal, it really really helps. It helps our industry, especially in a critical time that we're in right now, to really showcase what it's going to take to move through challenging times and keep our teams motivated and help them out. So thank you so much for being here. But before we go, my favorite question to ask. Some people have a one-liner, some have a couple, but bottom line, what is your actionable tip that has served you in the service industry, wherever you've been, here in property management, what has served you as an educator?

Jessica Gordon: Well, I think personally, it's just been continue educating yourself, right? Set goals and just build the knowledge, keep building, keep building. And specifically, with my role at RADCO, it's also know the business, right? Specifically, how do we make money? What are the business drivers? Then we can build learning and development to support the business and our [inaudible 00:33:06] success in their roles. So that's been certainly an evolution for me, continuing to build relationships within RADCO and outside. I mean, there's been such a wonderful community in property management. And people have been so welcoming and they have embraced me and I really appreciate all of those leaders. Whether they're in a similar role to my own or others that I've met, it's been really amazing how open and how committed people are to helping each other and to sharing best practices. And I'll go out and just say, I appreciate all of you. Some of you are probably listening and it's just been such a wonderful journey. So my main advice is just say stay committed to educating yourself. We are all learners. Stay curious.

Jonathan Saar: That's awesome. And that's the quote, folks, stay curious, keep learning, keep educating yourself. Jessica, amazing. Ladies and gentlemen, we need to give her a big round of huge thanks and appreciation for coming on the show today and sharing your insight and passion. And we look forward to having you down the road again on another topic I'm sure here on the JuvoHub Podcast. So Jessica, thank you so much for being here. So how can people connect with you? What's your preferred social channel?

Jessica Gordon: Certainly. So you can connect with me on LinkedIn. So I'm Jessica Kate Gordon on LinkedIn. If you search RADCO you'll find me right there.

Jonathan Saar: Perfect. Perfect. We'll definitely include that in the show notes so that people can connect with you when they get to listen to this show. And again, thank you for being here. Thank you everyone for tuning into the JuvoHub Podcast. My name is Jonathan Saar from Market Me Social. We're grateful to have you here. Please take a moment and give the podcast a review and share it with your network. We appreciate so much the support that you have given us. And we look forward to seeing you on our next show. Take care, everyone.

Jessica Gordon: Thanks so much, Jonathan.

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