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PODCAST: Leading Through Uncertainty with Elizabeth Francisco, Inhabit CXO 

April 18, 2023
Michael Praeger of AvidXchange and Elizabeth Francisco of Inhabit

“The Power of Change” podcast delivers insights from industry leaders who embrace change, using it to boost their careers and energize their organizations.   

In the latest episode, AvidXchange CEO Michael Praeger interviewed Elizabeth Francisco, chief experience officer for Inhabit. The company’s product lineup includes ResMan, a property management platform that Francisco’s led as president and co-founder since 2016.  

Praeger and Francisco discussed what it’s like to steer an organization in these transformative times, the value of transparency, and the importance of self-promotion for career advancement.  

Read on for a summary of the podcast. Or click here to download the full episode now. 

Employee engagement in a hybrid work environment

A 2022 Gallup poll revealed that most remote and hybrid workers would look for a new job if their employer stopped offering remote work as an option. They said on-site-only work makes them feel less engaged and more burnt out. 

Francisco said she believes employees used their jobs as an escape from conditions out of their control, hence the uptick in productivity most organizations saw at the beginning of COVID. As remote and hybrid work become the new norm, she’s had to pivot strategies to keep teams connected and engaged.  

"I think we're in this new environment. But over time that takes a toll on people, and we become a little desensitized. And you can only escape through work so much. And what's going on in the world around us is still going on in the world around us. ... So how do you engage with people in a meaningful way going forward? And I think that's really the key. And I hope in my new role, that's where I hope to help with."

Transparent leadership

Praeger shared that he’s felt himself shifting from a “peacetime” to “wartime” leadership style recently. Given the current economic conditions, employees and businesses alike are experiencing uncertainty that requires a unique approach.  

Francisco added that she’s learned through past recessionary periods that transparency in leadership is crucial. She believes honesty and collaboration helped ResMan weather (and thrive in) the Great Recession and subsequent real estate meltdown.  

Helping team members understand how they can contribute to the business’ overarching goals gives them innate value and empowers them to achieve, she said.  

"We've always had this spirit of transparency, open doors getting in the trenches with our team, because I think once we separate from that, we can lose valuable information. ... Regardless of what the individual role is, everybody wants to know what they do matters. And I think that's the other key part is that we make a real effort of helping our team members understand how their individual contribution factors into the bigger overarching goal."

Sharing successes

When asked the worst advice she’s ever received, Francisco said, “Let the work speak for itself.” In fact, she’s a believer in self-promotion and publicizing personal successes.  

As a woman in business, Francisco realizes this may not feel natural, but she encourages everyone, especially women, to let their colleagues and supervisors know what they’ve done and the impact it’s made on the business.   

"I've kind of been beaten over the head growing up with this concept “let the work speak for itself.” And I think what I've learned over time is that's not reality. It's not as always true. ... So learn how to self-promote, which I think is harder for women sometimes than for men, at least in my experience. You have to make sure that you're making a point to basically remind somebody what you've done for them lately."

Leading through uncertainty

Praeger brought the episode full circle by concluding with his own views on leading through change and uncertainty. He supported Francisco’s notion that transparency is essential.  

In volatile times, leaders must help their teams maintain optimism while also presenting a practical view of the challenges at hand, Praeger explained. 

"In navigating through any crises or challenging environment, (employees) need a leader that can not only provide them with an optimistic view of what the future may be, but also transparency to what it's going to take to get to the other side. ... And as a leader, you necessarily don't have all the answers, but you're having this real-life conversation with the teammates that you're leading, and I think it goes a really long way in developing the trust and the following as a great leader."

Learn more about leadership in times of change by listening to the full episode here.  

Check out more “The Power of Change” episodes as well as our other programs by subscribing to the AvidXchange Podcast Network. We’re available on popular streaming platforms like SpotifyAppleiHeart and  Stitcher.

LISTEN NOW:

Complete transcript: 

The Power of Change with Michael Praeger: Elizabeth Francisco, CXO of Inhabit

Please note: “The Power of Change with Michael Praeger” podcast is designed for audio consumption. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

00:08

MICHAEL PRAEGER – INTRO

Welcome to The Power of Change, a brand-new podcast series produced by AvidXchange. I’m your host, Michael Prager, the CEO and co-founder of AvidXchange. And my goal with this podcast is to bring insights from business leaders who embrace the power of change to fuel their careers and transform their businesses and organizations. Each month, we’re bringing you a new interview and actionable advice to lead your business through change and power your own professional journey.

Our guest in this episode of The Power of Change is ELIZABETH FRANCISCO, the chief experience officer for Inhabit IQ, which owns a collection of tech-forward products serving the residential and vacation rental management industries. Inhabit IG’s portfolio of products includes ResMan, an industry-leading property management platform that Elizabeth has led as president and co-founder since 2016.

In my conversation with Elizabeth, we talk about what it means to lead an organization during uncertain economic times, the unique approach necessary as a wartime leader, how to respect those in your organization by being a transparent leader, as well as her path from single mother college to a leading executive in her field.

INTERVIEW

MICHAEL PRAEGER

It’s great having our guest, ELIZABETH FRANCISCO, president and founder of ResMan and now the chief experience officer at Inhabit.

So, Elizabeth, super excited to have you here with us today. You have a unique role from the standpoint of you’ve been part of a founding team in terms of ResMan. Maybe talk a little bit about kind of that experience and then migrate us to your current role with Inhabit.

01:52

ELIZABETH FRANCISCO

Yeah, it’s it has been quite the journey and, you know, like I said, I often get credited, but I’m not the sole founder of her resume. And there’s actually quite a team of people who help bring ResMan to market. I kind of look at it more from that perspective because it definitely took a village team, relatives, whatever you want to say.

02:17

MICHAEL PRAEGER

Maybe just share a little bit about the growth of ResMan and then transition into the current or new role that you have within Inhabit IQ.

02:25

ELIZABETH FRANCISCO

So this will be the theme because it really kind of paved the way for the position I have now, which is the chief experience officer, because the story I just told you came back to one simple fact, and that was thinking about the experience for our renters and really ensure that we gave them the best quality living environment, which gave us gave our renters the reason to fight for our property.

We were in a recession. When the economy tightens up, you’ll see a lot of single renters double up into roommate situations, maybe start some relationships a little sooner than they had planned. At the time we wanted to be the property that our residents fought for. And to do that, we have to position our teams to do the very best they can be.

And it really came down to asking them first and foremost what it takes to be successful. We know there’s a market downturn. We know that we have all these challenges ahead of us. You tell us. So hearing the voice of our internal customers is really was probably the most impactful thing we could have done, not only for what eventually turned out to be ResMan, but for our successes in management company.

And then as we moved along to the journey for Resman we didn’t start off with funding like our competitors did. We didn’t really get our first round of funding until June of 2016, and we’ve been a market for three years. In fact, I would credit multifamily and all the bootstrapping. I had learned through three economic downturns were the exact reason why ResMan got where it was until 2016, because we knew how to fake it till you make it and we knew how to spread our money.

And that is totally unique to multifamily. I think we are uniquely excellent at dealing with it, so that makes sense.

04:14

MICHAEL PRAEGER

So yeah, well, it’s amazing what kind of circumstances creates innovation and just those companies that have the persistence to succeed the things they go through. So that’s a great story.

04:28

ELIZABETH FRANCISCO

Yeah. Well, and it’s the voice of the customer, whether it’s internal, external that will make or break you. You know, one of the people I really I’ve enjoyed following over the years and actually was a speaker at any one year was Richard Branson. And he always talks about if you just take care of your internal customers, you take care of your team, your employees, they will in turn take care of your customers and that will in turn take care of the business.

I guess I’m fortunate, I believe, that without making maybe say, stating it so eloquently as he did. But after hearing that and following him on his blogs over the years it’s true. That’s the whole journey for ResMan really came down to that. It’s listening. You know, people will always tell you what they need to be successful.

You just have to listen and be willing to act on it instead of coming in with a lot of preconceived notions about what they do or what they mean. And that’s really been instrumental in guiding up the entire journey because when we didn’t have the funds, we had to rely on our teams. We had to find creative ways to do things in spite of the lack of resources and we’re really fortunate that we did.

We had a lot of the right people on the bus, the entire journey, if we have quite a few tenured employees. So today, we have a monthly call and celebrate all the anniversaries and it’s really been cool now to see the six, seven, eight, nine, ten, 12, 16 years of tenure. Within a startup because you don’t you don’t normally retain the talent to that degree.

06:00

MICHAEL PRAEGER

Exactly. One of the things that we’ve experienced is that that that talent and retaining talent is just so critical from a domain knowledge standpoint. And one of the things we’re fortunate here to have at AvidXchange now across now 1,700 employees. is that over 25% of our teammates are now what we call part of the V Crew, where they’ve been at AvidXchange for over five years.

What is amazing is the domain knowledge. It just allows you to solve problems faster, grow faster, all those type of things. So I can totally relate to that kind of that experience.

We’re super excited about your new role and certainly with your energy and experience, it’s going to be high impact for sure.

06:50

MICHAEL PRAEGER

Whatever I can do to set that bar high for you because you’re going to beat it. Let’s talk about the kind of the employee experience a little bit in terms of it’s been really kind of challenging 24, 36 months for that employee experience. What’s your perspective about it in related to what have we learned through kind of the COVID experience related to the employee experience and maybe kind of how that shaping how you think of that experience going forward?

07:18

ELIZABETH FRANCISCO

I have had a lot of time to reflect on this, and I’ve had a few comments that I’ve made out publicly about it. But I think from an employee perspective, just as an individual human being, you could escape through work. There are so many things that people could not have and did not have control over that Being able to dive in to the work environment, albeit remotely, was an escape.

And I think I know we saw this. I know some other tech providers that I’ve talked to over the last two years. You know, initially we all saw a substantial uptick in productivity and unlike it was an incredible amount. In fact, I remember being on a webinar and having someone tell you all of the fears, and this was a older executive that admitted that they had some of those stereotypical fears about I need to see my employees to make sure they’re working so old-fashioned way of thinking.

And it really shows a lack of trust in your teams, which maybe whether or not you’re the right people to begin with. But in that webinar, they were very forthcoming about, oh, yeah, all that I was wrong, all that strange, We’re seeing such great results. But then I think as the pandemic continued on and things became, I don’t want to say the norm, so anything’s ever going to get back to what we would call normal.

I think we’re in this new environment. But over time that takes a toll on people, and we become a little desensitized. And you can only escape through work so much. And then what’s going on in the world around us is still going on in the world around us. So I think now you’re in this weird I think in general, companies are struggling with you’ve got really mentally exhausted employees who have potentially and I think this is true in multi families specifically, really burning the candle at both ends, diving into work really long hours in front, frontline multifamily essential workers as people.

And they’re going to this people are coming and going because of illness, whether they’re out for their two weeks to quarantine or whatever it is, they’re still putting this extra strain on everyone in the organization. And I think now we’re just dealing with fatigue. And when you have the fatigue and Zoom fatigue. How many times have I heard I don’t work here, I don’t want to attend another Zoom meeting, but in reality, we’re still we still need those things.

I still think for business to be productive and going for this hybrid work environment is now part of the new norm. And I think some of the things we did initially too, were to focus in on engagement and to stay connected to our teams. I think maybe to some degree, I’ll be honest, I know we did at ResMan and that’s like my reference point.

We pulled away a little from that because we felt like everybody was getting zoomed out and we realized quickly we needed to find a way to reignite how we interact even with our remote employees where we can get back in office. We have, but we opened up our doors. We’re all across the country and across the globe now with our employee base, and that’s true for Inhabit as well.

So how do you engage with people in a meaningful way going forward? And I think that’s really the key. And I hope in my new role, that’s where I hope to help with that masquerade.

10:25

MICHAEL PRAEGER

I think you know well, we all were forced to kind of figure out pretty quickly how we’re going to navigate a new environment. There are roles that we have at AvidXchange that we never thought we could do remotely because of security and other parameters, but we very quickly figured out how to support remotely.

And so it’s kind of a the necessity that forces the innovation many times. And I think I was at an innovation conference and said in the first 30 days of COVID more innovation occurred thanover the previous like 100 years across many different disciplines.

So certainly it’s been interesting to watch.

Maybe switching gears a little bit and talking about kind of the learnings that you’ve had from recessions, 2008 as a good example, and in leading. I’ve been kind of beating a drum here at AvidXchange about it’s really we’re transitioning from what I call peacetime leadership to wartime leadership in the current environment.

There are so many unknowns related to the economy, inflation, higher interest rates, impact of business, how it impacts a tenant. And you just have to be more attuned to manage the business in a different way. Maybe share your perspectives on kind of learnings you’ve had in navigating past recessionary times to the learnings that you can talk a little bit about that might be great nuggets for our audience listening today.

11:53

ELIZABETH FRANCISCO

It’s interesting because and hearing me phrase it that way, if I really take a moment to reflect back to what helped us get through the recession from a management perspective, ResMan just going back to property management and what led to us building the platform was just being honest and transparent with our teams.

And we as a 1031 sponsor, which is what we were we think we closed on our last year in 2008. So we had up to 34 investors in each asset that had unrealistic expectations of their investment and the performance that we had had. I was hired. And so, I say the performance I inherited, they called for like 10 to 12% growth year over year.

And that’s starting back in 2006 and 2007. We already knew we had a tight market and there’s already a lot of talk of a recession. And so that transparency that I just mentioned, getting through that time period when we realized that, yes, we were full on in a recession, it had started, occupancies were dropping. We’re seeing people lose their jobs.

Evictions were happening under the properties. It was becoming more difficult for payables to manage cash management. You know, the thing we did is we just went back to our teams. We came together collectively, is like, if we’re going to succeed, we have to find a way to outperform in spite of despite a down market. How are we going to do that?

And it always came back to some of the basics we’ve already talked about. But I think by bringing all of our teams together and having them buy into and help us shape the course for the future, it helped us pull through some of the most difficult times where we say was America is going to be going to grow, nobody’s going to be rolling together.

And that’s really what happened. And by being transparent and open, not only to the people on the front lines, help, but with some great ideas to help us navigate the situation. They helped us with some great ideas, some great software, but we ended up having our best fiscal quarter was fourth quarter of 2009. If you go back to the Great Recession, that’s shocking to a lot of people. But we actually did it.

And yeah, some you know I’ll say a lot of it has it is our software but in reality, it what has to do with our people and what they were willing to do and how bought in they were and how they had a sense of ownership and accountability. And so, when you say about the wartime leadership, I think the one thing that for me maybe might be different is I don’t know that I had a coming out of that situation.

I think that became my permanent management style to this day coming down through the different chapters of ResMan and even leading up to the acquisition, we’ve always had this spirit of transparency, open doors getting in the trenches with our team, because I think once we separate from that, we can lose valuable information.

You know, we’re slower to respond when things happen. Plus, we can drink too much of our Kool-Aid at the executive level. And I don’t know if it’s a good thing. So like the wartime leadership, I think learned from the Great Recession, I think became permanent leadership. I got I don’t know that I it maybe I have at times now myself with we pull back just to get so busy in the trenches, maybe get off track or we get off just a little bit.

But once I can realize that’s happening, it’s pretty quick and we’ll make the effort to put ourselves back on track. But it’s the same style of leadership that has done resonance really from where it is to where it is today, to the point that we were in attractive acquisitions and have it. And I don’t know that I would do anything different.

And I don’t know. I have heard some people say that that could also be a false being too transparent. But I just know that it works and I’ve seen it work.

15:51

MICHAEL PRAEGER

You know, I’ve been working with the ResMen team and as part of this partnership for a number of years. And you know that transparency is true within just how we interact as partners as well. And so the theme here is transparency. And it’s not just war time management. It’s just a basic, fundamental way of running the business.

16:11

ELIZABETH FRANCISCO

Regardless of what the individual role is, everybody wants to know what they do matters. And I think that’s the other key part is that we make a real effort of helping our team members understand how their individual contribution, how that how it factors into the bigger overarching goal. It’s amazing when people start to understand and know when they feel valued that they can see it for themselves and just it really changes their perspective about how they approach what they do every day.

16:45

MICHAEL PRAEGER

Yeah, well, well said. And I think that’s a natural transition to maybe move from some of the more serious topics we’ve been talking about to maybe line things up a little bit if it’s okay with you or you’re ready.

Okay. So, let’s start with what’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given that’s really been a cornerstone of helping you navigate your career.

17:10

ELIZABETH FRANCISCO

So right, so I’ve given this one some thought before because I it’s interesting because if you think about it coming up soon, multifamily and then finding myself are just department project company and helping lead that organization when by the way, I had barely passed computer science in college. It was really uncharted territory. And there are a lot of challenges you had in your career, but when you get up to basically starting a brand new one at 40 that you have no background in yet, you can have a lot of self-doubt.

And especially when you’re trying to raise money and you’re running drills it became very challenging mentally at times. And so one of the pieces of advice I got was to start a success journal because if you start a company you know, or a new department, a new product, there’s a lot of lessons, there’s a lot of setbacks.

Like I don’t think failure is a bad word because I think it’s just an opportunity to start again more intelligently. And I think that’s a famous quote from Henry Ford. But I believe it that when you do that, sometimes you can lose sight of the wins and you need to celebrate the wins. You need, even as the smallest win, because if you can start listing them will help you get through some of those more difficult times.

And I can tell you there were a lot of challenging times, a lot of we must be crazy to take on the industry giants that we are, but having a way to just look back and go, I’m not crazy, okay, this might have been a bad week, but look what we did this month. You know, look what we’ve accomplished this far, though.

That was an important part for me, at least mentally, in my own journey.

18:47

MICHAEL PRAEGER

Yeah, I think there’s you know, there’s a couple of well-known business leaders have said that every company needs a good crisis every now and then to really keep focused on their innovation. All right. So let’s go with this. What’s the worst piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?

19:03

ELIZABETH FRANCISCO

Oh I don’t know if I don’t know if everybody has the same experience, but I’ve kind of been beaten over the head growing up with this concept of “let the work speak for itself.” And I think what I’ve learned over time is that’s not reality. It’s not as always true. And not that it’s always a negative thing by the people above you.

And that’s why I talk about this with our team members at and have it is, especially with our startup environment when everybody’s got their heads down. And as you move up the road, you know the responsibilities grow, the accountability grows. Sometimes it truly is just innocent oversight. So learning how to self-promote, which I think is harder for women sometimes than for men, at least in my experience.

So learning to slow down and make sure that somebody is aware of the work that you’re doing. That to me I think is probably the advice that going back and what I try to correct now is yes, you need to deliver work. It should speak for itself, but you can’t rely on that. So you have to make sure that you’re making a point to basically remind somebody what you’ve done to them lately.

20:15

MICHAEL PRAEGER

We’re going to close, and you’ve had incredible success and remarkable career journey. It’s been fun to listen to over the last 45 minutes how you’ve navigated your career, but you’re incredibly humble, grounded. And so as you’ve enjoyed your success what you know, the event that occurred over your life that’s kept you grounded?

20:40

ELIZABETH FRANCISCO

Oh, so I have a really interesting background from how I was in college and became a single parent overnight. And I basically come from a very challenging background. And I think my one memory or the one life event that has shaped everything from that point forward was I paid for my own college, I had three jobs and I ended up in the wrong science class.

I ended up in the one for science majors, not for accounting majors, which is what I thought I was going to be. And I had a professor there that realized quickly that I was not a science major. And he used to belittle me. He was really condescending whenever I would try to ask questions. And this was like the first week. It was very obvious.

I did not forget that when we had to pick lab partners, there was a gentleman who was like Albert Einstein. His name was Fred and he was a genius that was severely dyslexic. So this is like bad dodgeball. Everybody’s taking their lab partners and spread in our last and nobody wanted to pick us and nobody had any confidence.

And like Penny in Big Bang Theory, like nobody wants her on her team. And so I never knew Fred well. Because of his severe dyslexia, he had unique ways of learning and he worked off audio cassettes and he also caught on to what was happening in class. And I was getting discouraged quickly and it was not a requirement for us to show up. We only had to show up for lab in the final.

So we started using that time to come together and study and then we go take our lab test was interesting out of that experience is that I went from really being concerned whether I could pass that class right in the very beginning to becoming the top two in the class/

We blew the curve in that class so substantially that when we came back to the final, only 17 people were left in it because everybody had transferred out. And through that exercise, like I would study five times as much as Fred. I mean, Fred was truly a genius, but I guess I started making the same grades he did.

And I think what a life changing moment for me was when I had a moment to reflect. I surprised myself was that I started thinking, Oh, there’s not anything in life I can’t do. There are just things I haven’t done yet, things I don’t know yet. And once I adapted that mentality, I think that shaped my path in property management.

It shaped my path and definitely in proptech because I’ve had to learn so much, I feel like I’ve been indefinitely forced back into college by executive career journey. But yeah, that’s my big my big life moment was that moment that helps keep me grounded. And I, I share that with our employees. Anybody that joins the company, even when I was in property management, my brand-new leasing agent, same story because it’s about the effort you want to put in.

You really can do anything. It’s just how much time and sacrifice and pressure it’s going to take to accomplish that goal.

23:39

MICHAEL PRAEGER

With that, I think you’ve said it all. And so today, everybody, the remarkable and inspiring. ELIZABETH FRANCISCO, thank you.

23:47

ELIZABETH FRANCISCO

Well, thank you for having me. I enjoyed it.

24:00

MICHAEL PRAEGER — CLOSING

Boy, it was great spending time with ELIZABETH FRANCISCO of Inhabit IQ. You know, what I found really interesting was her comments around having transparency and how she leads. In today’s environment where you have a challenging macro environment, there is a threat of recession, rising interest rates, rising inflation, a lot of uncertainty around what the future looks like.

You know, I think we can go back in time and look at different points in history where we had a similar event whether it be kind of the tail end of the dotcom era to the more recent 2007-08 era and some of the lessons learned.

And I think one of the things is going back to the theme of transparent leadership, I think in navigating through any crises or challenging environment where there’s a lot of uncertainty and teammates and employees not knowing what you know, necessarily the future looks like.

They need a leader that can not only provide them with what I would say is kind of an optimistic view of what the future may be, but also transparency to what the reality of the situation is and what’s going to take to get to the other side in terms of what are the objectives that need to be executed against or really the kind of the battle plan for the business and having transparency around what that plan is.

And as a leader, you necessarily don’t have all the answers and but you’re having this real life conversation with the teammates that you’re leading, I think goes a really long way in developing the trust and really kind of the following as a great leader.

That will do it for this episode of The Power of Change, this episode was produced by one of my teammates, Travis Durkee.

If you like what you’ve heard, make sure to subscribe to the channel and leave a five-star review. Keep an eye out for new episodes each month with leaders from various industries. In the meantime, make sure to follow me and AvidXchange on Instagram and LinkedIn. Links to each are in the show notes and visit AvidXchange.com for our latest research reports and business insights.

So until then, remember the best future is ahead of us. Make it a great one.

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