Employee engagement is something many companies struggle to maintain. It’s a core part of the culture, which makes it vital today given the hiring and retention challenges in the apartment industry.
Venterra Realty has found a way to heighten staff members’ involvement through a program dedicated to listening to its associates and investing in employee and customer-driven innovation through idea-sharing.
In 2021, Venterra Realty relaunched its Better Way program, an initiative that opened communication channels so employees can problem-solve and suggest opportunities to make their work responsibilities more efficient.
The initiative is over 16 years strong and was the first of its kind in the multifamily housing industry, successfully giving property operations and leadership teams insight into areas for improvements within the organization.
It also is a way to celebrate and reward Venterra Realty colleagues and its customers for their ideas, with Venterra Realty paying out over $93,000 in prize money to winning suggestions over the years.
Inspirations ‘Come Alive’
However, as Venterra Realty’s portfolio grew rapidly from less than 10 communities to now over 70 communities, the platform on which it was built became outgrown, which led to the investment in BrightIdea.
Venterra Realty’s innovation ideas now run through the BrightIdea platform, an innovation hub that the company refers to as “Innspire,” which was named by a Venterra Realty colleague based on the notion of “providing a place for innovative inspirations to come alive.” On the platform, submissions by Venterra colleagues can be made anonymously or with their names included.
Driving the decision to invest in the program was the desire to find a way for employees to showcase their thought leadership skills, visible to everyone, demonstrating how they would handle a situation, solve a problem, and move the business forward.
As an additional benefit, Innspire provides employees the opportunity to highlight hidden strengths that may be currently unknown by colleagues and leadership in a collaborative environment built on trust.
“One of the strengths of Venterra is that our colleagues have a diversity of experience outside of the real estate industry,” John Foresi, CEO of Venterra Realty, says.
“Through BrightIdea, we have a platform in place that will allow Venterra to utilize our colleagues’ varied backgrounds, take part in collaborative conversations and challenges, and enable leaders to have access to ideas and innovations surfaced from colleagues across all departments of the organization.”
Collaboration Improves Operations
For each challenge in Innspire, a team of Venterra Realty employees is dedicated to reviewing submissions, while all employees are encouraged to read through their colleagues’ suggestions and provide their perspectives or other ideas that can be implemented based on those proposals.
“It’s become imperative for companies to provide their employees more agency,” Venterra Realty Vice President, Innovation, Stephanie Gonzalez, said. “Collaboration improves the way teams work together and problem solve which leads to more innovation, efficient processes, and increased success.
“With the portfolio growth that Venterra Realty is experiencing, it is important that our investments in innovation continue to be fun and meaningful while adding a more inclusive, collaborative, and scalable solution,” Gonzalez said.”
Since 2017, Venterra has had 3,250 individual Better Way entries, 75 team Better Way entries, and over 380 Better Way winners. In total, Venterra has awarded over $93,000 in winnings to these participants.
Many suggestions have been implemented. Venterra Realty recently held a STOP Challenge to understand the frustrating or low-value back-office processes that exist and ensure that they are eliminated and improved. This included back-end processes related to HR/hiring, financials, approvals, payments, paper vs. digital, and property inspections. The goal was to “Unlearn. Stop. Or Automate. And Do Less Things Better.”
One winning idea that came from the STOP challenge was to provide onsite access to the digital site map editor for its reserved parking lots. A Venterra Realty employee suggested this as a way to efficiently manage all locations of reserved parking spaces and easily confirm with residents which parking spaces they desire. Giving all onsite team members access to update the system provides a simple and seamless process, something that is at the root of Venterra’s values.
Continuing Venterra’s goal to do the right thing, the company held a challenge dedicated to becoming a “greener” company by encouraging employees to submit their ideas to support energy and water usage reduction, reducing waste, and minimizing the use of hazardous chemicals.
The winning submission suggested smart thermostats to control the schedule and temperature of the front office by installing UV-resistant window tints, replacing office lights with LED bulbs, and upgrading the office HVAC to a higher SEER system.
Another finalist shared how their community successfully implemented a textile recycling box onsite as a way for residents to conveniently donate their clothing and reduce waste in the community’s compactor headed for the landfill.
Other suggestions in Innspire have included implementing a Leasing Appreciation & Maintenance Appreciation Week to celebrate Venterra Realty colleagues on the frontlines who create positive experiences for residents and to invite maintenance teams to join when new residents are escorted to their apartment homes, enhancing their experience and helping to fix anything right then and there.
“I am a big believer that positive disruption for businesses begins with imagination and allowing the opportunity for valuable ideas to come forward,” said
Andrew Stewart, Chairman and Co-Founder of Venterra Realty, said, “As part of our never-ending pursuit of excellence, we encourage colleague-driven innovations and applaud team members who share strategies and feedback that help to provide new and better processes in all dimensions of the business.