Turns out change management is a critical step in inspiring innovation within a company. Understanding how to leverage and integrate both typically male and female behaviors will be the path to modern leadership norms and success in a tech-led world. In this conversation with Kaycee Kisling and Kim Senn Cross, we dive deep into what executive women are doing to continue to engage their teams.
After a break, Day 2 of the Multifamily Women® Summit continues the conference with Kim Senn Cross and Kaycee Kisling. Carrie Antrim, the Chief Operating Officer of Multifamily Leadership and Co-Founder of Multifamily Women® who is hosting the summit, says this pairing is a good mix because they are both very innovative and focus largely on new technologies.
Kim Senn Cross is the President and founder of a multifamily consulting firm called the KSC Group. They do things like help desk support, data conversion, and more. They support clients on all platforms.
She started in the industry in 1990 at Lincoln Property Company. She’s worked for several companies in several locations along the way.
“What we’re doing is just trying to be of service to the industry and help our clients through the challenges of prop tech. And anything else we can do to help make it easier to use software.”
Kaycee Kisling is the Managing Director of Multifamily Investments at a property management company in Scottsdale called Mark-Taylor, Inc. She’s been with the company for 16 years and oversees about 30% of all the build-to-rent products and helps them stay up-to-date with the latest technologies.
The Times, They Are A’ Changin’
“We talked a little bit earlier about change and getting by,” said Antrim, pivoting from introductions to the start of the discussion with Cross and Kisling. “Why do you think it’s so hard? Do you experience it being difficult to introduce change?”
“Change is difficult, positive or negative,” answers Cross. “If you’re on a platform and you’re looking for change, it disrupts the entire company, then the organization. You’re taking something that you’re familiar with and you’re introducing something that’s brand-new. Your super-users, your strong users and learning just like everybody else in the company.”
Even good change, like being newly promoted, can be difficult. The pandemic also showed how difficult change can be, although much of it turned out to be fantastic and likely to stay permanently.
Kisling agrees, particularly through the coronavirus, there was no option but to change.
“In the absence of knowledge and understanding is fear,” said Kisling. “Superusers – people who feel like they know how to navigate a platform or they know how to navigate a process – when they don’t know what it’s going to look like on the other side, how they’ll adapt to it, they’re fearful. I think navigating through that requires a lot of transparency – radical transparency from your leadership team. Just having people that can galvanize you around why you’re making the change so they really understand the precipice behind it, down through every user level, they are easier to opt in and adapt to the change ideas and get excited about it.”
Antrim asks what people should do if they come to realize the change they’re trying to make might not be the proper path. Do you keep going or jump ship?
Cross says even if you do plenty of vetting of a product before adding it on, you may come to realize some small element is missing, or the product isn’t quite what you wanted.
“There are times when they put that on hold, but then there’s times where the executives are getting pushback from their teams and they have to be the change agent. They have to say, ‘We’re moving forward. Even if 25% of the company disagrees, this is the path we’re going down,’ and they have to help push that.”
“The change has to be smart,” adds Kisling. “It has to be timed properly.”
Kisling points out that teams are dealing with more now than ever before, so any change you make has to be geared toward efficiency.
“It’s really about having synergies in an ecosystem that makes sense and you’re using your best in-class products together,” she says.
Antrim points out that Kisling started as a leasing consultant with Mark-Taylor and worked her way up.
“Does that give you some unique superpowers, having been from where you started to where you are now in managing teams, because you understand firsthand what they’re going through and how to best approach things like this?”
Kisling says it’s both a superpower and a handicap. She has the firsthand knowledge of what her teams are going through because she’s experienced it herself, but she doesn’t have the experience from being in other industries that might have broadened her horizons. She tries to bring in people from other job sectors because of that.
“We always talk about building healthy organizations and having all conversations represented at the table. Are you seeing the approach to change differently between men and women at all?”
Kisling says women are more adept to change and don’t back away from a crisis.
“We’re also excellent communicators by nature and intuitive and we really see other people and what they’re going through and learn how to lean into them. I think all of those are superpowers for women who are going through and pushing forward with change.”
She adds that men do bring a lot of other things to the table that can help.
“Here’s the irony,” says Cross. “I will go into a company, and they’ve made a choice, and sometimes those are the male executives. Then they turn around and have a female deploy it.”
Kisling agrees women are great at discernment.
“What do you do when you get pushback?” asked Antrim. “When you say, ‘Yes, this is the best decision, we’re moving forward with this,’ do you get pushback? How do you handle that?”
Cross says to handle it with kid gloves.
“Try to understand the reason for the pushback,” she says, reminding the audience that it probably is rooted in fear. They might be worried about losing their jobs, but typically it’s about repurposing positions rather than eliminating them.
Dealing with Pushback
“When somebody digs in their heels because they just don’t want to change, then we flip it up to the executives and say, ‘That’s your problem, you’ve got to go fix that,’” Cross says only half-facetiously.
Kisling says sometimes the pushback is coming from the executive level.
“You have to give that process time to work through, because if you skip steps then the user end is going to feel that in their implementation.”
She admits they’ve rolled things out too quickly before, but it’s all a learning opportunity.
Cross says she’s seen lots of trends come and go through the years, like revenue management or mandatory rent insurance, or smart homes.
“It’s funny to see what the tipping point is for the adoption of the technology.”
Kisling reminds the audience that this industry was still typewriting leases within the past 20 years. “We’re an industry that technology forgot about for a long time, until institutional money started coming in that required us to be tech savvy and move more quickly,” she says.
“Are you noticing with your teams and the people you’re working with – is there a fear of that technology coming in? You know, ‘The robots are going to take over and our jobs are going to go away.’ Are you noticing that fear or are people more willing to adopt that technology and understand how it could help them, potentially?” asked Antrim.
Cross says she’s finally seeing a change and people are coming to embrace technology. AI has been a great fit in some places and can help gather data. Innovation to help with training new people is good, and everyone is trying to figure out the model that fits for them to best support their teams.
Kisling says communicating the benefits of the technology helps people adapt, especially in the service teams.
“How much time are you willing to spend rallying your troops around your idea, getting them excited about it so that they understand how it’s going to benefit them,” Kisling brings up. She says it’s important to have a transparent company, whether you’re communicating downward to lower-level employees or upward to the executives.
Cross says in her consulting company, they try to funnel things to the appropriate team.
“We just keep a pulse going on what we see in the different aspects we’re involved in. If we see trends, support tickets go up or somebody struggling, we contact and say, ‘I think this person needs a little more help, can you give us permission to work one-on-one with them?’ Because ultimately, our goal is to make whatever platform you choose to operate smoother for you so at the end, you have all the data you need to analyze,” said Cross.
Antrim asks whether there were any silver linings with the pandemic.
“Obviously, technology advanced very quickly,” Antrim says. “But I’m curious, in your own opinions, what good happened? There’s got to be something, right?”
“If you’ve let a good crisis go to waste, you’ve lost a huge opportunity,” said Kisling. She says Mark-Taylor understood that people still want a human connection, even as technology advances and things become more automated. They saw what happened when they unplugged completely, so now they can work to find the perfect middle ground. Never forget to put people first.
Becoming a Leader
Cross says she identifies as an “accidental leader.”
“In working with the companies I worked with, I managed teams and I managed deployments. The human element really came in, and all of the sudden, my team is hurting,” said Cross. She explains, some had issues with COVID, some were homeschooling. She decided to choose a family-first mentality.
“You have to take care of your mental health first,” said Cross. “I became very intentional about learning to be a leader. I became very intentional about reaching out and getting a life coach and asking questions: ‘How do I lead? Because I don’t know what to do.’”
She says the whole experience has given her fresh eyes.
Antrim asks Kisling whether she had any mentorship at any point. She says the founders of Mark-Taylor started with a family-first mentality like Cross was discussing, aiming to always do the right thing and aim for quality. She says a lot of men in the company have been fantastic in teaching her the fundamentals.
There are several other Mark-Taylor members in the crowd, who Antrim has raise their hands or clap. That leads to a discussion about the work family.
Cross says she had a hard time during the pandemic, trying to be a leader. Sometimes, she’s learned, it’s a good thing to show your vulnerability.
“Everyone talks about the work family, but just because you’re the leader doesn’t mean you’re bulletproof and invincible. And I broke during this. And my team came to me and said, ‘We’ve got your back, and we’re going to take this on while you get through this.’ That meant more than anything to me. Because I give my heart for them, I love them, and for them to then support me was life-changing.”
Kisling says seeing her work family in the crowd supporting her has been fantastic.
“This industry is not so large. So the support we’ve had, the comradery through the past few years as we all go through the same things together has been really fantastic.”
“As moms and women and just a human in general, I’m assuming we all have those mornings when you wake up and it’s just not happening today. You’re both leading teams, you both have people looking up to you and need you. How do you work through that when you just wake up and something happens and you’re just not in it to win it for the moment?” asked Antrim. “Do you have a walk-up song?” she joked.
Cross says she learned from something she used to do with her kids when they woke up and were simply having a bad time of it. She’d have them go through a “do-over.” She’d tuck them back into bed and have them close their eyes, and then they’d pretend to start the whole day over. Cross says when she’s having a hard time getting up, she asks her husband to play her music. He plays fun, energetic songs that make her giggle and get her ready.
Kisling is going through something with her children. She asks them to analyze whether something is a big deal or a little deal, and now she does the same thing to get herself to think about whether she’s overreacting. She also does the “Five-second rule” to get herself to snap out of something if she catches herself disassociating. Another trick she has is to reframe her mindset, so if she’s nervous, she’ll instead tell herself she’s excited, since the two things have similar physiological effects.
“Do you find yourselves getting caught up in the competitiveness, either with yourself or just in general?” asked Antrim.
Cross says she was competitive and controlling when she was younger. Eventually, something changes.
“I think you get humbled a lot,” said Cross. “I’m on the back half. So for me, I have a different viewpoint and it’s more like my passion is to give back, to lift others up, to pass things along. I choose now to love people for things instead of controlling them.”
Kisling brings up the “I give a damn about ___” stickers she and the rest of the Multifamily Women’s Summit filled out earlier in the day.
“I’d written on it that continuous development of myself and others is what I really give a damn about,” said Kisling. “I’m probably the most competitive with myself. I want to be better than I was yesterday, and I want to do better than last time. If I make a mistake, I’m harder on myself than my biggest critic.”
She says she works with such talented and varied women that she couldn’t possibly be competitive. Instead, she’s in it for everyone’s growth and development, and believes she can grow from the power-houses she works with.
Antrim checks in with the audience to see if anyone has questions.
“How did you deal with your patience?” someone from the crowd asks. “Climbing up that ladder and getting closer and closer to making bigger decisions and managing teams – how did you cope with the time that it takes to get there?”
Kisling says it took her much longer than she expected to get to where she is. She was a manager for 12 years before moving up.
“Some of that, I think, is just professional maturity. When I got knocked down, I took it really personally. And then, I got really introspective: okay, why, what do I need to do to be better? What do I not know that I need to overcome?”
She says you need to have the grit to always strive to be better. You need loyalty and trust in the organization. Working on your patience takes work daily, Kisling says.
Cross says once she stopped being competitive, she started seeing life in abundance – she says she’s learned that there is enough to go around in this industry. That’s not to say that there aren’t competitive people in the consulting industry. But she’s confident that she doesn’t really have to worry about others in her space.
The audience member who originally asked the question recommends a documentary called The Secret.
Another audience member asks, “How did you get into the business? When you started, was that your vision?”
Cross says her path has been unexpected. Once, she was in a lobby to apply for a job when someone randomly asked her to fix a printer. It turned out to serve as a test and she got the job. That experience came into play later, she says. She loves going to properties to get tours. One day, she was at a leasing agent’s desk and a prospect came in, but there was no one to show the person around, so she grabbed a clipboard, took the person on a tour because she’d heard the spiel often enough, and ended up leasing the apartment. She got the leasing bonus on her check.
“I think once you get in, you stay in. It’s whatever you want it to be. There are so many opportunities,” said Cross. “Whatever it is, there’s something here in this industry for you.”
Kisling says she was a cocktail waitress working two jobs and going to school full time for a degree in psychology (which turned out to be useful). One of the guys she knew from a restaurant had a sister who worked with Mark-Taylor and asked her to try out being a leasing agent, simply because she thought she’d be good at it.
“I was five years in before I even signed up for my 401K because I just didn’t think of it as a career at first,” said Kisling. “But I really fell in love with the industry.”
Another audience member asks, “What are some resources for those of us that are trying to climb that ladder? Books, podcasts, organizations to join, or other conferences?”
Cross says she likes to lift up the individual. This year, they’re launching the KSC Prop-Tech Division and one of the things they’re aiming for is to take training to the individual or to companies to share that knowledge.
She also recommends getting involved with your local apartment association. “They have classes all the time for certified leasing associates and certified maintenance technicians, and they have all the different classes.”
If you want to learn about business, the Small Business Administration offers a nation-wide virtual teaching program through score.org that has classes on budgeting, reading financials, starting a business and many other things.
When you get involved with those things, Cross says you make connections within the industry who will want to help you.
“I want to leave a legacy, me personally. I want something left behind from my love for this industry,” said Cross. “So what I’m trying to put together now – and I don’t have it all worked out, so I’m just going to share with you my idea. I want to start a nationwide school that takes people that may be in affordable housing or an individual and I want to bring them, teach them, mentor them, and then have job fairs to place them in our industry and get them started.”
She says once you’re in the industry, you have opportunities for growth and can get bonus perks like having a portion of your rent discounted.
The industry is only growing, and will only continue to grow. There are tons of people working on different types of living styles, like co-living which is basically like student housing for adults living in expensive cities who need roommates.
Kisling says mentorship is critical.
“Be around the people you aspire to be like. Find somebody who is going to teach you things you don’t know. One of the hurdles I had to overcome in coming from on-site to the corporate world was that there were things I just didn’t know that I didn’t know. How do you close that gap and identify what those are and be able to develop those skills? You have to have a mentor who will be transparent with you and walk you through those things and give you a road map.”
She also says you should always do the job you aspire to do by taking on extra responsibilities and building confidence.
Another bit of wisdom Kisling shares is that leadership isn’t about you; it’s about the people you’re leading.
“The more robust your coaching tree is, the more fulfilling your day is going to be,” said Kisling.
“For resources, I always try to have an entrepreneurial mindset,” Kisling adds.
She recommends the EntreLeadership podcast and Pat Lencioni’s podcast.
Cross recommends Jason Stoughton’s books and podcast. Brene Brown has another podcast she likes.
“Always be reading, always be discovering,” said Cross.
Antrim contributes her own bit of wisdom: “Take your education into your own hands.” She says that helps people to understand their own passions and what journey they want to take.
“There are so many resources,” Antrim says. She reminds the audience that the audio from each of the multifamily summits is stripped down so people can listen to it as though it were a podcast, then closes this session of the summit.