A Team of Teams With OKRs

OKRs help Poplar Homes pivot and prioritize

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Misalignment is a common problem among companies with multiple departments. Learn how property management company Polar Homes used OKRs to align their many teams around top priorities — and cut out extraneous work in the process.

Have you ever thought about dipping a toe into the real estate rental market, but figured it might be too much of a hassle? The idea of investing in a property to rent out seems intriguing, but the investment is usually just the tip of the iceberg.

According to the National Multifamily Housing Council, 44 million American households are renters. Anyone who has ever been involved in the rental process knows it can be a hassle. For landlords who want to rent out a home, trying to set the right price, find and approve a tenant, and handle maintenance is a nightmare. And it’s no walk in the park for tenants either — finding and renting a home can be a time-consuming and tedious process.

Poplar Homes’ technology makes the rental process easier and faster for both parties. But what really makes Poplar Homes (formerly known as OneRent) unique is that the company also manages the properties. “Most of our clients are considered homeowners who want to invest in properties and have us manage their investment portfolio — or they’re renters looking to rent one of our managed homes and enjoy a hassle-free experience,” says Chuck Hattemer, Poplar Homes co-founder and CMO.

Landlords and tenants never see each other. Maintenance requests are submitted electronically by the tenants, and then Poplar Homes handles them. The company also ensures that landlords get paid on the third business day of each month — even if the tenant is late.

A common tool to drive success

Poplar Homes manages $1.4B in properties across seven major metros in California, Washington, and Colorado, and uses Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to help achieve ambitious goals. “As a collaborative company, we understand that aligning all departments and teams to overarching yearly, quarterly, and monthly company goals will improve team dynamics and focus,” Hattemer says. “In our industry of real estate services, we want to push the boundary for product development and growth.”

But with many projects across many teams, it’s easy to lose sight of how these various campaigns are impacting the company. “We looked to the OKR system to improve insight on how our daily tasks are driving value for our company’s ambitious goals.”

Before implementing OKRs, the employees understood the mission, but every department had its own method or plan to achieve it. Over time, misalignment can result in a disengaged workforce.

However, OKR goal setting serves as a reference point to stay on track. “If it isn’t clear how a project is linked to our OKRs, then we might opt not to work on it,” Hattemer says. Having this type of mechanism in place is crucial when considering new ventures, since there’s always a tendency to chase the bright and shiny new objects.

On the other hand, there will always be naysayers to any type of change. Both mindsets can lead to a failure to accurately analyze the viability of new projects and initiatives. “Properly defining how our efforts will impact our Key Results can reduce confusion and skepticism for new projects,” Hattemer explains. “OKRs provide proper alignment for not only a specific department’s Objectives, but also what other departments are doing specifically, and how all of these pieces fit together in the puzzle.”

And he’s definitely seen the results of using OKRs, saying they’ve helped teams collaborate and increase alignment. “It helped individuals within all senior levels be involved in our organization’s output and drive growth for the company.”

CEO Chuck Hattemer, credits OKRs with keeping Onerent’s product development focused.

Prepared for change

COVID-19 has caused a vast ripple within the proptech and real estate services industry. Concerned with maintaining social distancing guidelines, meet-and-greets, open houses, handling paperwork and keys, and other forms of contact are rightly viewed with apprehension.

This is where Poplar Homes’ focused product development process helped them pivot and reprioritize, rather than rebuild service.

A few months ago, the company rolled out ACE, a virtual rental assistant chatbot. The ACE chatbot provides 3D walkthroughs for any Poplar Homes-managed residencies, and even allows the company to continue providing necessary maintenance. “Local laws vary for how we can enter properties during shelter-in-place orders and lockdowns,” Hattemer says. However, since Poplar Homes has 3D scans of the properties, it has been able to provide virtual maintenance assistance using the chatbot. “There’s a troubleshooting guide that tenants can be walked through before we even decide if we need to send maintenance.”

By fostering coordination and concentrating product development efforts across teams, Poplar Homes was able to launch ACE at just the right time. Hattemer credits OKRs for helping the company keep the most important priorities at the forefront and create buy-in on every level. As a result, the organization continues to work as a team to provide hassle-free maintenance during the pandemic, allowing it to enjoy a competitive advantage.

If you’re interested in starting our OKRs 101 course, click here.

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