Creating a Positive Company Culture

Creating a Positive Company CultureCompany culture is a hot topic right now as companies such as Facebook and Google are creating office spaces that promote collaboration, comfort, and an overall cool office vibe. Companies are competing to have the best, most appealing company culture to attract new talent and set them apart from their competitors. Employees are also considering culture as much as salary when accepting a new position. Creating a positive company culture is no longer optional. While ping pong tables, kegs, and napping pods are appealing, there’s much more to a great culture.


Here’s a quote from Francis Frei and Anne Morriss at Harvard Business Review. It speaks volumes on the importance of having a successful and meaning company culture:

“Culture guides discretionary behavior and it picks up where the employee handbook leaves off. Culture tells us how to respond to an unprecedented service request. It tells us whether to risk telling our bosses about our new ideas, and whether to surface or hide problems. Employees make hundreds of decisions on their own every day, and culture is our guide. Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room, which is of course most of the time.”

As you can see, company culture is about employee treatment, ownership, and trust. And these unlike the office perks, are inexpensive and don’t have to be budgeted for. In fact, when you have a positive company culture, you can lower company costs short term and long term, because happy employees are productive employees, and that creates happy customers.


When employees believe in your company’s mission, they become passionate and are dedicated to the success of the company. And what makes a great company culture is hiring the right people. Employees are representing the company and brand in and outside of the work place. They want to have a voice in their position and want to challenge VPs to think differently. Giving employees the platform to perform their job adequately while making a positive impact, can create a team of happy and motivated employees. And often times someone’s perception of a company is based on their opinion of the person. If an employee isn’t dedicated, it usually means the employee isn’t happy, which leads to a negative impression of the company and poor company culture.
Ultimately, creating a positive company culture begins and ends with employee satisfaction. The happier the employees, the happier the customers. Be sure to recognize them by praising them and congratulating them for their hard work and achieving goals. Also, take the time to talk about the future with each of your employees. Get to know what their personal goals are and how you can help them get there. Not only are these things that can be part of your company culture in the long run, but are things that can start today.

Posted in: Employee Engagement |


Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Social Media

Why You Shouldn't Ignore Social MediaWhen you want to discover a new brand, restaurant, or any place of business, would your prefer to call and ask them your qualifying questions, or would you rather do a quick google search to see what the web recommends?If your answer was the latter, you’re not alone.

And because of this, having an online presence via social media has become extremely important for businesses of all sizes.


Not to mention that there are now 7.2 billion people on the planet, and nearly 2.1 billion have social media accounts. That gives you, as a brand or marketer, a huge audience to get in front of.  According to Hubspot, 92% of marketers in 2014 claimed that social media marketing was important for their business, with 80% indicating their efforts increased traffic to their websites. Unfortunately, so many still don’t really understand the value of social media and the impact it has on their brand.


6 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Stop Ignoring Social media:


  1. Richer Customer Experiences.

Having exceptional customer service and a smooth and painless customer experience is crucial to any business. Having both means always being available for customers to get in touch with you and to put out fires. Because social media at its core is a communication channel, customers expect to get in touch with a representative when calling isn’t an option (or desired). As important as it is to steadily be available for customer or prospect social mentions, it is just as important to utilize social media to create meaningful relationships. Use your preferred social media platform to connect with customers and build loyalty with them.


  1. Increased Brand Recognition.

Your brand’s social media pages are channels for your brand’s voice and content. Having social media profiles set up with content posted regularly will increase your brand’s visibility, which therefore makes you more accessible for prospects and more familiar to existing customers.


  1. Incredible Customer Insights and Instant Feedback

Given the power of social media, we live in a pretty transparent world. We can read about other customers’ experiences on numerous sites, and as marketers we can gain valuable information such as what customers are interested in and how they behave. This information can be used to alter your company’s everyday processes, the onsite customer experience, or fix a flaw that you were not otherwise aware of. Utilizing social media to listen to your customers allows you to be proactive and self aware.


  1. Decreased Marketing Costs.

Focusing your marketing strategy on internet listing sites and passing out branded marketing collateral takes a lot of manpower and can drain your budget. But with social media, 84% of marketers found as little as six hours of effort per week was enough to generate increased traffic, according to Hubspot.  And although Facebook is becoming a “pay to play” platform, both Facebook and Twitter ads are relatively cheap. Social media is the easiest way to generate leads and at a fraction of the cost of outbound marketing.


  1. Increased Inbound Traffic.

With the popularity of smartphones and living in a highly connected world, inbound traffic should be a big focus for all businesses. Inbound marketing makes your company easier to search for online and draws customers to your website. For everyone social media profile you create for your company is another pathway leading to your website. Not to mention, the more you post to your social profiles, the more inbound traffic you will generate.


  1. Improved brand loyalty.

Social media is essential for brand loyalty because it gives your advocates the tools to create buzz surrounding your brand. Having a presence online will allow your advocates to build loyalty by engaging with your social content, mentioning your page in personal recommendations, checking in, and leaving positive reviews. Ignoring social media would let your advocates sit at bay without anyway to express their loyalty.


Social media is here to stay and there is no better time to jump on board than now. The longer you wait, the more prospective customers are going to your competitors’ websites.

Posted in: Sales and Marketing, Uncategorized |


Social Media Marketing

Social Media MarketingHaving a social media presence in business is becoming just as important as having a phone number.

It is a necessity in getting your business in front of your audience, being searchable, and is one of the best ways to communicate with your customers – almost better (and sometime more preferred) than that landline we just mentioned.

However, with as mainstream as social media is becoming, it can still get a bit confusing for marketers.


There are several factors that go into choosing which social networks are right for you, how to customize your message to fit each network, and how to engage and grow your audience. After that, you have to determine what to post, when to post, and how often to post and then manage the different channels. That was a doozy.

If you aren’t sure if using social media to market your community should be a part of your marketing strategy, let’s look at a few stats:


71% of all online adults use Facebook. 58% of entire adult population. -Pew Research Center

53% of internet users ages 18-29 use Instagram. 48% use it daily.

42% of online women use Pinterest.

75% of parents use Facebook daily.

81% of mothers.  66% of fathers.

28% of online parents use Pinterest, including 40% of mothers and 15% of fathers.

Now let’s dive into each social network and consider what it can do for your brand.



Facebook is the king of social networks. It has over 1.3 billion users, half of which are active every day. It has become a part of our daily routine and plays a key role on how we obtain breaking news.

Facebook started as a way for college students to connect with their peers and has evolved significantly into a platform for users of all ages to connect with peers, family, and brands. These users are spending an average of 18 minutes per visit and are connecting with an average of 80 pages, groups, or events during this time. This is where you come in to incorporate your marketing efforts, brand message, and brand persona.

Facebook is a great platform to use if you want to reach a broad network and build your online reputation. Although there is talk that the network is losing traction with the young crowd, they are more likely to leave a review on Facebook over Yelp, Google, or Apartment Ratings.



Twitter has super users and ghostly users: those that are constantly tweeting and those that are there for the party (celebrity and big brand name tweets). For businesses, Twitter is the place to be for B2B marketing, quick educational moments, and to participate or listened to conversations around your brand, industry, or city.

Twitter isn’t as much a lead generation platform as much as it is a brand loyalty platform.  And it goes to show with 85% of users using Twitter to feel more connected to a business by following brand accounts. And then you have the viral effect: great content + connected advocates = Retweets and brand mentions.

It is no surprise that Gen Z and Millennials are the most active age group on Twitter. This crowd of younger, more connected users are going to mention you on Twitter when they have a great (or bad) brand experience, and you have to be ready to respond quickly. Twitter is also a great space to push informative articles such as topic-based news and local happenings.



Instagram is a visual platform and is an easy way to share beautiful and artsy photos of your brand, product, or stories. Knowing that pictures get 5x higher engagement on Twitter, and that photos make up 93% of the most engaging Facebook posts, Instagram has the ability to dominate the social space… if you have great photos to share.

Older generations are starting to adapt to Instagram as another way to keep up with family. The younger generations, on the other hand, are using this platform to showcase their artistic side as well as to follow influencers: bloggers, designers, celebrities, etc. Instagram is also becoming a bit more competitive as users are very selective of whom they follow. They only want visually pleasing and interesting pictures in their feeds.


Is your property blogging and do you have someone on hand to pin weekly? If so, Pinterest is perfect for you. Pinterest is the place to share your website and blog posts in form of pinnable visuals that inspire and inform your audience. Pinterest is also known to be a more popular sharing platform than email.

Your social media marketing objective is typically to drive the appropriate audience to your website. Where Pinterest comes into play is when you pin your blog posts or web images, you are putting your website content in front of your audience that then gathers more information. It is more passive.



Have you noticed Snapchat’s ghost shaped logo? It looks like that for a reason! Snapchat is unique in that all photos and videos only last for a brief amount of time before they disappear forever. Because of each Snapchat’s lifespan, this gives your audience a sense of exclusivity and urgency. By utilizing this platform, you can promote short-term specials, give behind the scenes looks, and add a personal and entertaining aspect to your marketing strategy.


Video Marketing:

Between Youtube, Vimeo, Vine, Snapchat, and even Facebook and Instagram, there are several video networks to keep up with. Although it already seems overwhelming, utilizing a video network to showcase your brand is especially great for SEO and Facebook reach. And that is to no surprise knowing that people would rather watch a high quality video than read a list of amenities and features.

As video becomes more mobile and more social, it is quickly becoming the most viable marketing opportunity for any business.  Let’s look at a few quick stats:

  • 52% of marketers believe that video is the content format with the highest ROI.
  • 74% of all internet traffic in 2017 will be video.
  • 69% of smartphone users say videos are a perfect solution for smartphone viewing as it offers a quick way for consumers to grasp an overview of a product.

Source: Syndacast.

Still not convinced to try out video marketing? Let’s look at a few more stats:

  • 70% of marketing professionals report that video converts better than any other medium.
  • The average internet user spends 88% more time on a website with video than without.
  • 64% of consumers are more likely to buy a product after watching a video about it.
  • 59% of viewers will watch a video to completion that is less than 1 minute.
  • Despite all this, only 24% of brands are using online video to market to consumers.

Source: Adelie Studios.

Where will you build your online presence first? Choosing the right social networks to use depends on your resident demographics, and those demographics should include more than just age and gender. And remember: Social media is not a one size fits all.

Posted in: Generational Understanding, Understanding Your Customer |


How to Manage & Improve Online Reputation

Managing Your Online ReputationAround the time of budget season or your first negative review you start to ask yourself if you should invest in online reputation management (ORM). Regardless of the outcome, the answer is always yes!

ORM isn’t just about responding to negative reviews or developing SEO tactics to increase or push your positive reviews above the negative reviews. It’s a daily practice that every property manager or marketing director should be focused on in order to protect the brand’s reputation.



75% of internet users see online search as the most trusted source of information people and companies

90% of users let positive reviews impact their decisions

86% decided to not do business with a company because of negative reviews.

Can you afford to lose 86% of your prospects?



Considering the stats listed above, if a business doesn’t invest in developing and managing their online reputation and overall online presence, they will likely have a hard time recovering from negative reviews. For example, if your community experiences a crime related incident that puts you on the news and brings in a flood of negative reviews and concerned residents, you will have an extremely difficult time recovering and improving your online reputation. It could take more than a year to recover from a situation similar to this if you aren’t already being proactive.


Now we must talk about your homepage. No, not your property website. Google. We mentioned a statistic above that 75% of internet users see online search as the most trusted source for information. Now, what are people seeing when they Google your property name? Is your property showing up at all? If you have a common property name like Hillside Apartment Community, you will have to get creative with SEO so that your prospects and residents can find you and get to know your online presence. To do this, you can add your city to your property name on all of you website, social sites, and third party websites. An extra tip is to make sure you are labeling all of your property pictures whether it be a caption (social media) or an HTML tag (property website).


Speaking of Google, did you know that they reestablished their agreement with Twitter, allowing tweets to appear in Google search results? This means your tweets or tweets mentioning your name have an even bigger impact on your online reputation. So it is important to not only set up a community Twitter account to be able to respond to tweets, but also to curate tweets that will be indexed by Google instead of those few and far between negative tweets.


Not to mention, social media sites are becoming additional review sites, as if there weren’t enough to manage already! With Facebook sprucing up their reviews interface and Google incorporating reviews into Google maps, it is important to not neglect these players. You can ask residents to share their experience on Google, Yelp, Facebook, etc. in monthly email blasts, while they are in your office or attending a community event, or even over the phone. The possibilities are endless. Be careful not to solicit for reviews with gifts and incentives. This could get you into trouble.


At the end of the day, people are talking about your brand whether you are on social or not. Wouldn’t you rather know what they are saying and be able to respond to them? Reputation management and social are a great way to not only monitor your presence but also direct the conversation. It will put you in the driver’s seat of your overall reputation management.

Posted in: Uncategorized |


What Your Residents and Prospects Want on Social Media

What Your Residents and Prospects Want on Social MediaSocial media is crucial for any business, but it plays an even more significant role in multifamily. Social media gives prospects a virtual tour of your community and allows them to get to know you through the voice of your brand. It also gives residents a way to communicate with you, share their living experience, connect with friends and neighbors, and so much more. It is important to understand what they want to see from you on social media.


Good social media delivers the right message to the right people at the right time. Therefore, you have to do a little research to decide which social networks are the right fit for your community, because social media it is not a one size fits all. For example, if your resident demographic is mostly made up of families and retired couples, Snapchat probably isn’t the best outlet for you, but Facebook and Pinterest would be a great fit. On the other hand, if your community is a student housing community, you will want to utilize social networks such as Snapchat and Instagram.


Now, what do your residents want from you on social media? It’s far more than just discounts and giveaways.


Be interesting. We all want to be entertained or enlightened from the people we follow on social, so be interesting. If you don’t like what you are about to post, don’t post it. A rule of thumb: if you find that something is boring or irrelevant, chances are your residents will too.


Build an online community. Have you ever gone to an event or restaurant, had your photo taken and then checked their social pages for your photo? You aren’t alone! Residents want to see pictures of themselves, their neighbors, and of people in general. The convenience of owning Smart phones is that you always have a camera on you, so always be taking pictures. You can save these pictures in a folder and post them gradually over time to spread out your content. Bonus tip: Pictures of people are known to get the highest reach and engagement.


Be exclusive and original. If your social pages are filled with generic content, what is going to set you apart from your competitors? You want to provide residents content that no one else can. Use pictures of the community, apartment decor inspiration pulled from your model units, and of course pictures of your residents and staff.


Make it pretty. Social media is becoming extremely visual, so it is important that your content is pretty and visually appealing to your audience. This is especially true on Instagram where users are quick to unfollow an account if they are posting low quality and uninteresting photos. It is also not very often that text filled PDFs get our attention in the social space, so it is best to keep flyers and PDFs in old fashioned printed form. If you are using a tablet or Smartphone, download photo editing apps such as VSCO and Snapseed to edit your photos before posting.


Be personal. The Gen X and Gen Z cohorts are a smart bunch. They want authenticity from the brands and even celebrities they follow and can sense when a brand is not being genuine. Your residents want to get to know you and your team (without friending them on Facebook, because that opens up a whole can of worms). Use your own voice when crafting posts and post the personal stuff: staff birthday shout outs, pictures of team celebrations, pictures of your team on property or around town in action, etc.


Make your audience smile. Whether it is something heartwarming or funny or just a pretty picture.  You want to make the viewer smile.  No one wants to see depressing posts or negative posts.  We get enough of that from our friends!



If you are using social media as a way to connect with your residents and prospects and not to solely promote your property, you are already on the right track. These tips will help you curate content that your residents and prospects want to see.

Posted in: Understanding Your Customer |


Creating Sticky Customer Communication that Wins

Creating Sticky Customer Communication That WinsThrough automation and routine customer touch points customer communication quickly becomes an illusion. We are talking at them instead of taking the time to truly engage with each customer. This is where creating sticky customer communication comes in hand.

Creating regular and engaging streams of communication can help you track customer sentiments or resolve potential problems areas that would not have been brought to your attention otherwise.

Unfortunately, 96% of unhappy customers won’t complain when they’re unhappy and 91% of them will quietly take their business elsewhere. However, improving your customer communication strategy so that it is sticky and engaging with the following tips can change these statistics drastically.


Keep it profound.

If you are constantly using industry jargon in your communication, residents and prospects are likely tuning you out. Your message should be simple and memorable, and it should resonate with your customers.


Surprise and delight.

As we mentioned above, customer communication can easily become automated and can sound robotic – a pattern that we need to break starting today. The best way to get your customers’ attention is to disrupt their expectations, and do this with a gift or a reward for them – something that they aren’t expecting.


Be visual.

Our eyes can skim through blocks of text all day long without truly reading or understanding what message the text is conveying to us. Using beautiful and eye catching images is what we need to stop skimming and start reading. The next time you want to get your customer’s attention via email or social media, find an image that will make your message naturally sticky.


Tell stories.

When your brand has a story, customers can connect with your brand emotionally. Everyone wants to be part of something, and having a story that residents can take pride in is a great way to get residents to invest in your brand and communications emotionally.


The final key.

The final and real key in creating sticky customer communication that wins is to stay in regular contact with your customers. Every interaction with a customer should be treated in a unique and specific way that benefits that specific resident. Add these final steps to your everyday communication strategy and you will have a guaranteed winning strategy: Follow up consistently and timely by phone, email, or social media; send customers friendly reminders that are genuine and beneficial to the resident; send customers regular emails with community updates, events, and local news.


Lastly, treat each customer communication tactic so that you can ask for a referral or a positive review afterwards. With them leaving you a reviewing, they are essentially giving the world their stamp of approval and showing their commitment to you and your brand

Posted in: Uncategorized |


Turning a Negative Experience into a Positive Experience

Turning a Negative Experience into a Positive ExperienceIn a perfect world, all of your customers are pleased with your community and their experience with your team and services. However, the reality is negative experiences happen and difficult customers exist. No matter how hard you try to prevent it!


Leasing teams typically have the first opportunity to diffuse a negative experience. You all are an intricate part of the customer experience and your roles are extremely important. When residents are testing you, it is important to follow several guidelines to create a better outcome.


Listen carefully. When customers are upset, they first want to be heard. Listen to your customer closely and carefully. Avoid interrupting them, multi-tasking, or making unpleasant faces while they are explaining their situation to you. The more they feel that you know and understand what has happened, the faster they will begin to relax and let you take the next necessary steps.


Don’t be confrontational. Customers can be unrealistic and difficult and that can cause frustration. Be careful to keep your cool and choose your words carefully so that you don’t come across as being confrontational. If the conversation escalates, get assistance from a supervisor. Remember, 9 times out of 10 the customer is not personally upset with you.


Be honest. Mistakes happen. Be honest with your customer and admit when a mistake has been made regardless of whom made the mistake. You can then highlight your company’s strengths by communicating to them that this situation is not typical and promise to do better.


Never say no. The customer has come to you with a problem and they are expecting empathy and a solution from you. And even though customers can have unrealistic requests, never tell them no. Tell them that you will look into their request and that you will get back in touch with them promptly with options.


End the conversation on the right note. Wrapping up a heated discussion can be a challenge. Give them a brief overview on what you have gathered from your conversation. Be sure to apologize once more and provide a solution or, if you don’t have a solution at that time, give them a time that you will follow up with them. Lastly, thank the person for their time, tell them you will be in touch very soon, and smile. Genuine smiles make all the difference!


One final tip, treat every upset resident individually and try to truly understand why this specific customer is unhappy. By turning a negative experience into a positive experience, you will receive benefits beyond just changing the mind of one customer. It will improve your entire reputation.

Posted in: Customer Experience |


Overcoming Community Weaknesses

Overcoming Community WeaknessesAdmitting your weaknesses, let alone talking about your weaknesses, can be difficult! But as the old saying goes, the first step is accepting it.

The challenge is that with weaknesses specific to your apartment community come prospect objections.

Although objections are rarely great news, they do indicate interest and are an opportunity for you – an opportunity to overcome the weakness and close the deal.


The first step in overcoming community weaknesses is preparing yourself. Many sales people fear their weaknesses, but you cannot avoid them. Objections are a key part of your job. After all, a prospect that has zero objections is often a prospect that isn’t going to lease from you. Your prospect is asking questions or raising concerns about a weakness because they are interested. You are in the power position. If you want to convince your prospect that you are the right community for them, you have to be mentally and emotionally prepared, and you must steer clear of the natural defense mode. A question about a weakness is not an attack; it is merely a misunderstanding. Cue your opportunity to educate and engage your prospect in an easy and comfortable dialogue.


When a prospect presents you with their hesitations, be empathetic and understanding by acknowledging your weakness (or their objection) for exactly what they are. Learn to agree and to say yes. By agreeing and confirming the weaknesses you can move on to resolving the problem for them. It is important not to let one weakness taint your own impression of the community. Become comfortable by practicing and learning from each conversation you have.


Once you are prepared you must work towards increasing your credibility. When a prospect looks at your weakness, he weighs it against your strengths and then decides whether to lease from you. Your job is to ensure that your strengths outweigh your weaknesses and that those weaknesses become non-issues. You can use these opportunities to become a problem solver, which will then increase your credibility for your prospect.


The following tips will help increase your credibility while also overcoming your competitive weaknesses:

  • Treat every prospect as if he’s the most important person in the room
  • Focus on the prospect’s needs to establish trust
  • Listen carefully and never make assumptions
  • Offer information and educate the prospect
  • Explain the benefits of living at your community
  • Share stories about similar situations or concerns
  • Don’t pressure the prospect for a decision


The more you educate your prospect, the more your prospect believes that you understand his problem and have the skills and qualifications to solve it. Listen to your prospect carefully so you can determine which points are most important to your prospect. Be careful not to offer boilerplate solutions before you have genuinely listened to your prospect’s problem.


Lastly, keep the line of communication open.  If the prospects says no now, that isn’t a forever no.  Make sure the prospect knows that you are always happy to answer questions, whether it is now or in the future.  This builds trust better than anything else, and trust can overcome any community weakness or objection.

Posted in: Sales and Marketing |


How to Utilize Your Advocates

Cultivating Your AdvocatesYour customers and residents are more trusted than any other source when it comes to making purchasing decisions. This even includes your community website.  Advocates are 50% more influential than the average customer. They are those happy customers that are willing to promote your brand for free simply because they are passionate about your customer experience and your community.

Each community and every (good) brand has their own unique set of advocates, and if you are smart about it, you can partner with them to create successful marketing strategies and customer experience without busting your budget.

“The web isn’t really made up of algorithms. It’s made of people in all their frustrating, imperfect, and complicated glory.” – Sonia Simone

We always want to get the maximum exposure without spending a painful amount of money on traditional paid and print media. Cultivating brand advocates who are excited to share their experience is a cost effective solution to achieve that goal. To foster a dedicated group of advocates, you have to recognize what it is that they love about your community and what drives their loyalty. Use these advocates as a source for customer feedback and work towards implementing their suggestions while letting them be involved in the process.


Harnessing your advocates is a “give first” relationship. Most marketers focus on how to get the most out of their advocates, but you first have to focus on what you can give to them. Advocates crave opportunities to be a resource. They also want to be considered a trusted thought leader for their personal following.  Make sure you reward them when they are helpful and insightful.  A cost effective way to do so is to give them access to your private amenities or offer them any neighborhood discounts that are exclusive to your community. This will create greater affinity and exclusivity.


Here are additional tips to cultivate your tribe of advocates:


Send a handwritten note. No matter how much of our time is spent online, people still love to receive a personal note in the mail. Dust off your branded stationery and send your advocates a personalized thank you note for what they have done for you personally and your community.


Send an email. If you aren’t able to send a handwritten note, send a personal email to show your gratitude. Even if you find that the people who are regularly interacting with your brand are doing so on social media, take the conversation offline. This will allow you to continue to build your relationship with the advocate while also showing how much you value them.


Feature them on your blog or social media. Advocates are great at sharing their experiences via social check-in, tweet, vibrant Instagram pictures, Facebook post, and even Snapchat. They are busy crafting content for you and encouraging their friends and followers to take interest in your brand. Rather than liking, sharing, or retweeting their posts, feature them on your brand’s social channels, blog, or website. Just make sure to get approval first!


Treat them. The best way to cultivate your advocates is to build genuine relationships with them and get to know them beyond their social mentions. Treat them to coffee, send personal invitations to your community events, or send lunch to their office.


Encouraging and fostering a community of people who are passionate about your brand and are  willing to share their living experiences should be the main focus of your social media strategy. Your advocates are boosting your SEO with their positive reviews, improving your online reputation by sharing their stories, and extending your word of mouth reach and social engagement by way of social media comments and tweets. You can’t buy for these results with paid advertising. Identify and cultivate your advocates, make the process easy, and your advocacy marketing strategy will be wildly successful!

Posted in: Customer Loyalty |


Role Playing: Riding the Ginormous Elephant in the Training Room

Riding the elephantRole playing has been used as a sales training tool for a many years, yet the expectation of having to role play with others still strikes immediate fear into the hearts of many. Trainers see it as an opportunity for employees to practice their new skills and knowledge in a safe place, but trainees see themselves in danger of suffering the severest injury that can be inflicted – embarrassment in front of their peers.

Quite often, it is the “ginormous elephant in the training room”. Role playing strongly resembles public speaking and according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 74% of people suffer from social anxiety, and many people fear public speaking more than death. But since role playing is a valuable learning opportunity that results in greater learning gains and retention, we need a way to move employees past that fear and inspire them to jump up and ride the elephant. Here are 3 steps you can take to achieve greater success during your next role-playing session.

  1. Explain the Process and Set Expectations

Role playing is often presented without explanation or expectation. As a result, it is not uncommon for employees to immediately dislike the idea. They get hung up on “acting”, when in reality it has nothing to do with acting. The general purpose of a role play is to provide a safe place to practice, fine-tune skills, and obtain new knowledge. A sports analogy works well here. Present the following question, “How many of you like to play _____?” “We could spend the next four hours discussing ____ or we could spend time practicing _____. Which would you rather do?”

  1. Determine Your Approach

The planning and approach for role play should be determined before the class meets. Consider the following:

  • Jump in the Hot Seat: The trainer is the best person to set expectations by modeling each role play for the entire group. A sprinkle of humor and little exaggeration helps to clarify your point and put everyone at ease. Model a familiar scenario in front of your entire class while they score the presentation (use a mystery shopping report) based on their understanding, knowledge, and perception. Debrief with an open dialogue regarding what could have been done differently. Proceed with a second role play based on this new knowledge. This time give the trainee a turn.
  • Take a Micro-Bite: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. We know the best way to accomplish something big is to approach it in smaller pieces. When you break down, for example, the telephone process into the following 2-3 minute role plays: the greeting, connecting with the customer, building rapport, identifying specific needs, etc., you are able to make small corrections in areas you might have missed otherwise. This is much more effective than asking employees to model the entire process at once.
  • Three is Company: Two people take designated roles as leasing consultant and customer, and the third person plays the observer role. They rotate roles.
  • Use Real-World Scenarios and Environments: Gather prospective role play scenarios from current employees. Remember—this is practice—so, why not practice what is taking place at the office? If possible, the role play should be performed where the scenario would take place – in a leasing office, in an apartment, walking through the fitness center, etc.
  • Do it Early and Often: Introduce people to the role play experience early in the process by holding micro-bite role plays from the start of training. This gives the trainees time to become more comfortable with the idea of practicing in public. Don’t let the ‘the ginormous elephant’ loom large in their minds all day.
  1. Stay Connected

riding the elephant2Walk around the room to make sure everyone is engaging appropriately in their roles. Set an alarm to make sure each person gets their fair amount of time in each role (5 min max). Refrain from commenting on the details of their particular role play during the process. Save that for the debriefing which comes next.

  1. Dual Debrief Your Teams

There are two debriefings that should take place – in each respective group and as an entire class. The small group has an opportunity for personal reflection and to benefit from their fellow role players’ observations while the entire class can share their experiences and learning gains. Post the questions for discussion on the board. How was the role play helpful to them? What did they find difficult or uncomfortable? What will they do differently next time? Document the key highlights shared by participants to be used in future training sessions.

The biggest challenge for most trainers will be encouraging employees to ride rather than hide from the “ginormous elephant in the training room”. But role playing is a priceless learning experience that provides a chance to practice being on the job. It serves as close to real-life experience as you can get, and we all know that experience is often the greatest teacher.


Maria Lawson

Vice President of Training and Development

Ellis Partners in Management Solutions



Posted in: Employee Engagement |


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