Resiliency is a popular term. It’s popping up in all sorts of headlines, and unfortunately, it’s frequently used in a reactive way pointing to a disaster and how it could have been avoided. In the case of major flooding, cities and architects are talking about resilient design. In the case of recessions, new, more resilient business models are proposed.
This year, the HIVE conference, scheduled December 4 to 5 in Austin, Texas, brings together housing stakeholders across all disciplines to discuss how to create a better, brighter future. Experts challenge current practice to create innovative and future-proofed solutions for tomorrow.
In a recent pre-conference survey, industry stakeholders were asked about how resilient they were to disruption and how they felt disruption was most likely to happen in their organization. Nearly 74% thought that their organization was immediately subject to disruption; the remainder thought disruption would happen in the next 5 to 10 years. No one thought that they were immune.
The two biggest threats as seen by the survey respondents are climate change and policies and regulations. Respondents ranked the biggest impediments to addressing those issues as cost and the right people; better put, access to a constantly re-skilled, regenerative, purpose-driven human talent pool. Yet, it will be mandatory – less than 50% of respondents believe that their current business model will be the same or relevant in the next five years.
A key speaker at the event, Tom Toomey, chairman and CEO of UDR Inc., an S&P 500 company with nearly $20 billion worth of apartments across the U.S., shares how his organization is remaining feeble to address tomorrow’s challenges.
The way that Toomey approaches these challenges is by defining the organization’s purpose to give clear direction on where it’s going and what it’s trying to achieve that will result in a strong culture.
“You can't do it alone. You have to create a culture, you have to recruit people, grow those people in any resilient organization,” Toomey says.
Another HIVE speaker, Laurie Baker, the executive vice president of operations at Camden, a multifamily property management group that has been ranked by FORTUNE Magazine for the 12th consecutive year as one of the 100 Best Companies to Work For® in America, agrees with Toomey that it’s all about the people.
Baker says that during the last recession, the company never felt like it was in a crisis because it had the right people in place and a strong structure of open communication. Camden leadership focused on creating the right foundation of collaboration and cooperation for nearly 1,600 employees across on-site, regional and corporate teams.
“Even during good times, you have to nurture that and have constant care,” Baker says. “Someday you are going to wake up to a down market, a difficult time, and you have to have that foundation in place to get through it.”
Then, when you come out of the tough time, there will be a new opportunity, and if you have a strong foundation, then your organization will be ready.
“Right now, we are not sure when the cycle is going to change,” Baker says. “It has been a long, very positive streak. That is why you need to be prepared for things to change. Camden has an innovation council that meets every six weeks. It is a cross-departmental team with 20 corporate and operational team members. We share ideas, do research and learn from other industries. We have pilot programs to take advantage of a technology, concept or idea. The council is where perfection doesn’t need to get in the way of progress.”
Sue Ansel, CEO of Gables, a private multifamily company specializing in the development, construction and management of apartments in 18 markets across the U.S., says she also has an innovation task force that meets regularly. The task force constantly reviews and prioritizes technologies that are impacting operations, construction, development, marketing, and revenue management. The consistently high priority tasks are then addressed by a sub task force.
A small task force is working on smart home technology now to try to find a solution that puts infrastructure in place and remains brand agnostic and secure.
Although also committed to its people, Gables focuses on data to stay resilient.
“We are a very research driven organization,” Ansel says. “We’re looking at job growth as the most important indicator of apartment demand. We also look at wage levels. It’s expensive in California, so jobs are leaving California and they are going to different locations and we want to track where they are going. We are likely later in the cycle. We are focused on taking entitlement risk on land. Short shovel-ready opportunities as opposed to deals that will take multiple years to own. We’re thinking of that as a next cycle opportunity and underwriting it appropriately.”
These three leaders who represent more than 137,000 housing units, see that technology will afford opportunities and challenges on the path to resiliency.
“There is no question about it. Technology has probably been the biggest disruptor, but also biggest opportunity that the multifamily industry faces,” Toomey says.
He envisions that virtual reality technology will allow on-site staff to stop giving prospect tours, freeing up their time to start meeting one-on-one with customers. It will be a true transfer of resources; employees who previously dedicated three hours a day to tours can now focus on new, individualized, customized service to solve problems.
On the flip side, Toomey has identified the places where technology could be a challenge. For instance, technology could allow another organization to get between UDR and its customers, such as what has happened in hospitality and retail.
“Leaders who are deliberate in how they choose to think about a problem or opportunity – versus focusing solely on what they should do - will experience the most success,” says Jennifer Crews, chief ecosystem officer at Shift Thinking, who will be presenting the opening keynote at the HIVE conference. “Like any other leadership capability, shift thinking can be learned, and the leaders who develop that in themselves will not just navigate disruptive environments, they will leverage the disruption to create breakthrough results.”
Register now to see these speakers at HIVE and be part of the discussion for the future of housing - www.hwhive.com.