It’s never too soon to start working with future leaders.
That’s a key focus for Christie Ernst, Lloyd Companies’ vice president of property management, and Ashley Lipp, who eventually will take her place in leadership. We caught up with them to learn more about how they’re working together with the future in mind.
Question: Christie, first, how did you identify Ashley as your successor?
Answer: I feel it is dangerous to allow someone to choose their successor, so I had a team of people that I was relying on throughout this process. We reached out to employees across all divisions explaining that we were looking to fill the VP of Property Management position internally, and if an employee had interest then I asked them to setup a time to meet with me.
We had at least five people express interest and had each candidate complete a job fit assessment. The assessment tool helps uncover the areas where each candidate’s natural interests are, what parts of the job will be more of a challenge and where there are opportunities to develop. Ashley wasn’t necessarily the person that I had pictured in my mind as my successor, and the process we went through opened my eyes to Ashley being a viable candidate.
My initial hesitation was because she is 11 years younger than me and had been in property management less than three years when the process started. Before announcing Ashley as my successor, we tested the waters a bit by giving her complex projects/problems to work through, and her approach and execution were what we were looking for. At the end of the day, the team of people making the decision felt Ashley had great potential to grow into the role and that she has the capability to grow the business not just operate it status quo.
Question: Ashley, tell us about yourself. How did you get into property management? What do you like about working at Lloyd Companies?
Answer: When it comes to property management, I just happened to fall into it. I went to school for public relations and advertising and tried that for a few years out of college, until I realized it wasn’t something I could see myself in long-term. I decided to try leasing, and really enjoyed it! From there I just kept working toward the next step until I found myself where I am today with Lloyd Companies. What I like most about working for Lloyd Companies is the fun culture the company strives for, and the people I get to work with every day. The company also provides a lot of different training and growth opportunities which is something that is important to me.
Question: How closely do the two of you work together?
CE: Proximity-wise, very close – we share an office! I wanted to share an office so that Ashley could listen in on my conversations/meetings and get an idea of my thought process. Prior to moving into my office, she shared an office with the regional team that will ultimately report to her, and I felt this didn’t help her establish the lines of communication she would need as she transitions. As we move along in the transition it is convenient as she is working through decisions for her to quickly ask me a question. In the long term, we know that it will be best for us to have separate offices so that she is forced to make decisions without checking in with me.
AL: As Christie mentioned, we work in the same office, so naturally we work together often. Christie includes me in her daily tasks and asks my opinion on different problems or opportunities that arise. She frequently assigns me tasks that are challenging and will go through my findings with me, showing me alternative ways to complete things.
Question: What are some strategies you are focusing on as you work on eventually transitioning the leadership role?
CE: In general the areas I manage fall into four categories: human capital, assets/budgets, owner relationships and strategy. In transferring the leadership role, I differentiate between doing a job and owning the result of the job. Over the next six months there are tasks that she will do but I will still own the results. The goal is transitioning the task and owning results by June of 2018.
AL: My strategy with this transition involves a lot of “boss watching.” If I look over and see Christie working on something, I ask what she’s doing and if I can help. Sometimes we end up having different results on projects, and she will show me her methods. When different situations are brought to us, I try to predict how she is going to handle them to see if my way would align with hers. I have noticed that often times our problem-solving techniques end up being similar.
Question: Christie, why did you think it was important to start working with Ashley long before you eventually transition to her?
Answer: We used a similar process when Craig made his CEO transition with Chris, and by the time the transition occurred it felt natural rather than rushed. Overall the stakeholders knew what to expect. It was important for two reasons: First a change in leadership is tough on our employees, and second there are a lot of moving parts in this job so it is tough to learn the job while also making the decisions necessary to keep all the balls in the air.
Question: Ashley, how would you say it helps you to be working with Christie long before you take over for her?
Answer: It is extremely helpful, and I’m not sure I (or anyone) could be successful in this position if it were done any other way. Christie has natural insight with this industry having grown up in it. She sees things a little bit differently, and passes that knowledge on to me as well.
Question: How do you plan to know when the time is right to make the transition?
CE: We have set milestones of areas that Ashley will take over in the next year and as she masters each. Then I will hand over another piece until there is nothing left to transition.
AL: As Christie stated, we have set milestones up over the course of the next year. This has helped me focus on what areas I need to master first, and when I need to master them by. I think this will be a natural transition and we will both know when it is time for me to step in.
Question: Is there anything else you’d like to add about the process?
CE: Most people ask me what I am going to do after the June 2018 transition. I feel it is important for Ashley to master the core of our business while I get the new ventures going. For example, we have some big projects that we are working on both in Sioux Falls and in Des Moines where I will be heavily involved in the process from floor plans to finishes.