Inspiring Intentionality

Rylan Kean and Christina Hayes, Millan Enterprises
Nov 24, 2021

Leaving your mark on the world requires creativity. For Rylan Kean, Director of Business Development, and Christina Hayes, General Manager, of Milan Enterprises, this included an old printing press and a small but mighty team. On this episode of PIVOT, they share how their focus on a common goal grew into a catalyst of growth in their community.

Leaving your mark on the world requires creativity. Rylan Kean and Christina Hayes  Director of Business Development, and Christina Hayes, General Manager, of Milan Enterprises, transformed an old printing press creating a lasting legacy in their community.

Milan Enterprises, a real estate investment and property management business, centers everything they do around what they call WIGs: wildly important goals. On this episode of PIVOT, Rylan and Christina teach us what having a common purpose can accomplish.

On this episode, you’ll hear:

  • [03:00 – 06:42] How Milan connects their people to work that matters
  • [07:26 – 10:35] Why a high NPS score is one of Milan’s wildly important goals
  • [11:00 – 13:03] Setting and following through on goals
  • [14:13 – 18:20] Recruiting in a personal way
  • [19:40 – 23:25] Helping people learn their way into their role
  • [23:43 – 26:03] Using your time, talents, and treasures purposefully

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POPS Star Bios

Rylan Kean is the Director of Business Development at Milan Enterprises, a real estate investment and property management business. Throughout his career, he has successfully started a company, become a licensed real estate agent, and provided small business consultations. Ryan enjoys making connections and guiding others in their dreams.

Christina Hayes is the General Manager at Milan Enterprises. She never imagined staying somewhere like Clarksville, Tennessee, but when the military moved her husband there, she quickly got hired by Milan Enterprises. Six years into her time there, she’s gotten to see the team grow, has taken on several different positions, and now manages all operations of the company.


Didi: On this episode of PIVOT a POPS show by Zenefits. 

Rylan: We all talk about how awesome it is to leave your mark somewhere. And you don’t always get that opportunity. Sometimes you’re a part of a project and your name’s forgotten and it’s just gone. This was that chance to really come back and say, Hey, I was on this team.

I was on this project and I was a part of this, something that I’m super proud of.

Didi: The people ops podcast from Zenefits, the only show dedicated to small business. Sharing stories of pivotal people, moments. I’m your host Didi D’Errico. 

What can a shared purpose in a small business accomplish? In this episode, we’re taking a look at a wonderful example at Milan enterprises in Clarksville, Tennessee, Millan Enterprises is a real estate investment and property management business that centers everything it does around what they call wig.

Wildly important goals. What each of the company’s goals has in common, delivering a great experience for the business, for the employees and for the local community today Reiland keen and Christina Hayes. Join me to share the Milan story and ideas for other businesses. Looking to leave a broader mark, we’ll start with one recent example, a project called the pre.

Uh, community coworking space. That’s been in development for about two years. 

Rylan: Every obstacle you could think of that involves COVID when you hear people talking about challenges we’ve faced in that project. So just to kind of give a quick recap of what that is, that’s one of our highlight buildings in our downtown community.

It was a former newspaper printing press in Clarksville. And so we have owned that property for a few years, Leo and cast this vision of really wanting to bring something to the community that was kind of an entrepreneurial startup. Deep belief and just helping people get started. But also co-working space we have a college in our downtown pretty large university, and then we have the base obviously. And so this was a passion project that just happened to get started at one of the toughest times. And with the staff, that to be quite fair. We’ve never done this before. And so we had a lot of challenges that kind of walked into that.

And then all of a sudden COVID hits and, and so we’re wrestling through how do we learn how to do something we’ve never done before? We can’t even go look at the places that have done this because they’re actually closed. so coming together, I think as a team was really, it was actually kind of a cool opportunity because we got to bond over that kind of learning moments, some of those failures, but also some of those successes.

Didi: Now let’s dig into some specifics behind a purpose driven culture, like Milan’s and learn about the impact it can have on your employees, engagement and sense of wellbeing. We’ll start with the intentional ways. Milan connects their people to work that matters. 

Rylan: One of the things that came out from a retreat earlier this year was we don’t always connect people to our projects because we have so much going on.

So we had started something about a year and a half ago, two years ago called FastPack Friday. Everyone on the team takes a turn and they get to share something, you know, that’s going on in their department or just any kind of random information but on this particular fast fat Friday, we took the entire team down.

All 20 of us went down to down to the press, took them on a detailed tour, really explained what was going on, the importance of it, the history behind it, really the vision that was more behind. And what Leo Milan had, had kind of set out and cast, uh, of what he wants to see here. And from that, we actually went in and we signed the studs on the inside of some of the walls and offices.

And that was just a super impactful moment, I think, as a team for, for several reasons. But the first, you know, we all talk about how awesome it is to leave your mark somewhere and you don’t always get that opportunity. Sometimes you’re a part of a project and your name’s forgotten and. Gone. This was that chance to really come back and say, Hey, I was on this team.

I was on this project and this, I was a part of this, something that I’m super proud of. And then twofold. Also just encouraging words for the people who are going to be in there, whether you’re religious or not, but just good vibes, prayers, you know, words of affirmation. So those are all things that I think we really value.

We don’t see it as just a place to make money. I see it as a place that really will help people grow and, and be inspired to do great things. And so our, our blanket statement is we just want to help people thrive in that space. And I think that was a very intimate time to bring our team together, to show what we’re doing and how everyone is a part of that picture.

Whether you’re a leasing agent, who’s dealing with our residential tenants all the way up to, you know, someone who who’s doing our design work, every person has a place. And without that person doing their. We can’t do projects like this. 

Didi: Were you surprised by the response on the way back, was the conversation different for your team of how 

Rylan: that.

Honestly, I was just thought, Hey, we’ll just sign it. You know, we’ll put our names. There is a cool little marker. And I think as we got over there, I kind of realize the importance of what we were doing. And it went from just writing your name and maybe the date, you know, just kinda like a little memory maker to people were literally writing paragraphs of.

Oh, those words of encouragement of those prayers, of those affirmations, I’m really blessings to the people that were going to be in that room. And, and I think that mood of jolly happy, you know, all we’re getting out of the office field trip kind of deal was really just one of like other kind of like respect for, oh man, this space is going to be.

So impactful to so many lives and to our community. And it’s also a game changer for our company and it kind of sets the tone of, we’ve talked about doing some of these projects, and this is one of the first big ones that’s come to fruition and almost to the finish line that really shows like, Hey, we have some big things coming down that pipeline.

So I think. It did a lot of things, but one of the lasting effects is we talk a lot about cool things that are coming. Christina does a great job talking and trying to share as much information that Leo our owner has in mind. But until you see it until you physically see it, it’s sometimes doesn’t translate.

And this was one of those opportunities where it was translated and you could see it physically touch it. And I think that was the moment that I think a lot of people were like, I’m in, like I get it. And we’re like, I want to be. Yeah, 

Didi: I love this so much in business. Often, as you said, you get involved in big projects, you finish the project and go onto the next big project, right?

So let’s, let’s start to, let’s start to back up from that a little bit and give some more context that this is a culmination of one of many things that, that Leo Milan calls, wigs wildly important goals. And I know that one of the major goals you have as a company is high.

Promoter score. And so talk a little bit about how you turn that high net promoter score, general premise of a goal behind your business into something that is bigger than that. That’s good for the business. It’s good for the team and good for the company. 

Rylan: So the wildly important goal is it starts from a book called 40 X by Sean Covey.

It’s a very popular business book, but I think it’s a very missed over application in a lot of people read it. It may become a highlight for a few weeks, you know, they’re like, oh, we’re going to do it. And then it falls off Leo. had decided, no, this is something that I believe in.

I want to, to stick to it and we can make real progress. And so they’ve been doing this for a few years and over the years, different wigs have come about those wildly important goals. But the net promoter score is one of those things that we came about about two years ago as kind of that benchmark for us of how are we doing?

What’s the real pulse of, of how Milan is to our tenants, to our employees. And then, so the community, those were our three kind of pillars and. The first step is obviously knowing where you’re at. And so we kind of had to be honest with ourselves a little bit and say, Hey, how are we doing? And thankfully, we have been very blessed here to, I think, have a really strong reputation, you know, just in general, but there’s holes there and there’s things that you can always improve on, but that was a team-wide focus to come together and say, what are the things we can do better?

Not only to serve our team here to make their lives better, but also our tenants, you know? Yes, it’s a business and yes, we have to be profitable, but that doesn’t excuse being good people. Right? Like you’re still. Cool. And then also our community and how do we take care of the people that are around us and serve our community.

And we’re definitely a different group. It’s not for everyone, but we truly pride ourselves on this adage of we build great projects by building great people first. And that belief, I think, drives that net promoter score. And we saw it go up the first time we saw it kind of level off this last time. And I think there’s a numerous factors at that, but instead of being discouraged, I think we took an honest look at, okay, why was that?

And I think we missed the mark on a few things from a company perspective. I think it’s good to actually have that, that feedback that says, Hey, there’s a few things that we weren’t doing so well. And what we are correlating that a lot too is we’ve had massive growth this past year. And so with that, You know, holes that you got to go back and fill in and processes and people and staff.

And the important thing is we’re recognizing that now and we’re getting that feedback for being honest to it. And so instead of just saying, oh, we know we’re just another business in the pipeline, you know, we’re going to treat you like another property management company. We’re saying, Hey, We’re going to treat you like we treated our other customers, you know, three years ago, we just got to figure out how to do it and then do it better.

So that wildly important goal is critical. We meet every Friday morning at eight 30. In fact, if we don’t meet on Fridays, cause it’s a holiday, we meet on Thursday. So we’re very committed to it. And then. Accountability then that cadence is what keeps it being successful in it. And it’s really true. There are many days, some of us have so many things going on in our whirlwind that that will allows us to be successful on those goals.

We’re customer driven and customer success is important. It’s more about the experience at the end of the day. And that’s something that I think we’re trying to dial in as you can have great customer service, but customer experience is really where it sets you apart from everyone. There’s 

Didi: so much there to, to unpack, but Christina, let’s talk a little bit about, you know, your role as the general manager of the company is really to make sure that you’re embedding that ethos into your culture and your project deployment and your bottom line all the same time.

So can you talk a little bit about how you, how you take that, that intentionality and that ethos 

Christina: for. And I think you said it really well, honestly, just being intended and all that. We joke that is kind of our word of the year, just with everything going on and all of these changes, we, we have to be intentional about what we’re doing and where we’re going and how we’re investing in those people and how the projects are turning out and really holding those people accountable to what we set aside for them.

Truly. I mean, I wish there was, everybody always says, well, what’s the secret. Like I don’t get it. There’s gotta be some secret behind it. How are, how are you doing this? And it really comes from the top of our, our, the owner at Leo Milan really saying, this is what we’re doing and where we’re going and how we’re going to set these goals.

And then obviously it just goes down the line, but we hold those people accountable, being super intentional about having those meetings and, and not letting. The busy-ness or we call it the whirlwind of the day-to-day operations get in the way of what’s really important to us. And it definitely has been a struggle.

I mean, that’s like Brian said, it’s so easy to just get caught up in it, but we’ve seen, and I think over the last couple of years, especially being able to set those goals and then having each person have a piece of that. Seeing at the end of, you know, once we, once we hit a certain goal, being able to celebrate that, look back on our progress.

I mean, that’s been so huge for us and it’s really allowed us as a team to set goals that make sense for us. And then. Be able to follow through on them, but I think a hundred percent, it comes from the top down and making sure that really back to the press. I mean, not everybody has a hand in that directly, but just being involved in that project and being very aware of what that looks like for us.

I mean, it gives you. Everybody on your team. Buy-in and we always kind of refer to in our employees, they’re ambassadors of what we do and in the community, if they’re feeling bought in to what we’re doing and are aware of our goals and are aware of what the impact we’d like to have on our community. I mean, that’s what we want.

So making sure that we invest correctly in those ambassadors of our team is so. 

Didi: That reminds me your CEO, doesn’t call himself a CEO. What does he, what not? What is this title? 

Christina: He never does. And it has his title. He calls, he calls himself chief member, but I think a lot of us, and then he’s modeled that really to us.

But I think most of the time. I don’t ever hear anybody introduce themselves on our team as I am this at Milan enterprises, you know, it’s very, we were not very title driven. Everybody has honestly multiple hats, but we really don’t go by the title of whatever position they’re in. It’s really individualized.

So it’s very cool, but he’s modeled that behavior for sure. And so 

Didi: that’s a great transition into, to Reiland because even a really interesting hiring methodology there as well, right. When you’re bringing on people, it’s not, I have X role and I need to put somebody in X role next week. It is a much, it’s a much broader look and then maybe it’s a much longer term to get the right people in place.

So maybe Ryan, if you can talk a little bit about, about what that looks like in terms of getting those future ambassadors into the organization. 

Rylan: Yeah. And I, and I would say that actually starts with what Christina was saying, our ambassadors now, I think we are very driven to always be looking in the community for people that fit who we are.

And so when we recruit. It’s literally like kind of recruitment. It’s not always just a job application, so yeah, we’ll post a job and there’s jobs and we’ll interview and do things like that. But I would say that’s probably 50, 50, probably 50% of the people that are on our team came from random connections.

Not necessarily that we knew someone, but someone knew someone who knew someone or. We met someone at a coffee shop and overheard a conversation and struck it up and made friends with them. Christina is notorious for frequenting, certain places repeatedly and hunting them down and inviting them to, to come hang out with us.

And Leo was. So I was recruited that way. I started with a simple, very low key just friendship with Leo while I was doing my own thing and at a life circumstance change. And just honestly just kind of said, Hey, I’m coming back to Clarksville. And he invited me to come hang out for a little bit and. Yeah, everyone in the office at that time was like, man, who’s this guy just like, why is he in the office?

Because there was no position. There’s nothing like that. And over time, that’s just kind of been our thing. We identify people that have those soft skills that you can’t teach that really embody the core values that we believe. And then we kind of placed them into spots. That makes sense. And yeah, we have certain duties that have to get done.

That’s why we do wear multiple hats. But we also, we don’t want someone to be miserable, right? So like we’re not going to hire, you know, a server from Starbucks who does amazing customer service and then go make them be an accountant that doesn’t make sense, but we have something in mind and we know someone might already kind of fit that role.

We’re thinking about who are those people that we know that could fit that in. That would make good. That’s for our business. And so it’s not, it’s not for everyone. It doesn’t work for every organization, but it works really well for us. And sometimes you don’t know until you get someone in. And so there’s that adage, you know, you gotta be quick to identify, you know, problems and address them very quickly.

But at the same time when you get those right people in it’s a game changer and you really are able to flourish and what you’re doing, you know, it does come with a longevity of learning because we don’t always have the most experienced. It’s on paper. We don’t always have the, the resume that matches that position, but it’s made up tenfold and the person that’s filling the role and that’s really helped us.

And I would say almost everyone that’s at any position they’re at myself, Christina, and the list could go on. You could probably look at it. Almost everyone, no one has credentials to be in the roles brand. It was from learning and it was from, you know, just working hard and doing the things that we know to be.

And making a lot of failures, but being responsible in those situations and that’s allowed us to really flourish. So it’s hard to recruit sometimes because we don’t have that. Sweet, nice. Oh, we’re hiring for these 10 positions, but it allows us to be so much more personable. And once you do get them involved, I can’t tell you how many people we sat in here.

Three months later, once they’re hired. They’re. I didn’t believe it, but the Kool-Aid is legit. Like we drank it and we believe it. So it’s really true. It’s a cool process. It’s different. We, we actually, we were just at this conference listening to a, another guy, talk about company culture, and it’s your.

Culture and, you know, bosses and rules and policies and stuff. And you got to have some of that as your accompany, right? Like you have to have these responsibilities, but I remember just kind of being disheartened a little bit, listening to some of it, because there was a lot of personal touches removed from that.

And it became very cold. And I remember telling Christina, as we walked out of that, I was like, I would never work for him because it removed that personal element. And so I think we have to find that medium ground and we’re learning that now. Like we’re growing to a point where we have to, we have to have some things, but we want the core thing to remain.

And that’s that family caring mentality, because we believe that will help us be successful where others get caught up in the corporate rule book, essentially. So let’s, let’s 

Didi: turn to kind of the topic on a lot of minds at hand right now, you talked about explosive growth this year. You’ve talked about a lot of really interesting ways that you keep an engaged, the people that you have, but have you felt the great resignation in your company this year?

And, and if you have are some of the bigger picture of values and the ways that you think about your company and your team. 

Christina: I would say, honestly, we really haven’t. We’ve been super fortunate. We are kind of, I would say almost in a bubble here in Clarksville with the military base. But honestly, even with that being said, we have seen more growth this year than ever.

And I think obviously holding true to those values has been so important to us and really identifying what those were earlier on in the year. Being super intentional about that with everything that we do, we’ve been very lucky to retain. All of our staff really, and just continue to grow. So we’ve been super fortunate.

I know we’ve got now properties in other places that probably haven’t been as, as fortunate. And it’s such a, such a hard time over the last two years now that things have changed, but we’ve been very lucky to retain a lot of our staff and just continue to grow. 

Didi: I think there’s some good fortune for sure.

And there’s a whole lot of purpose. And I think that all of the things that you guys have been talking about really, really played into that is you talk about this longevity of learning. Can you talk a little bit about how you, how you guys approach. 

Christina: The biggest thing honestly, is going back to being very comfortable with not bringing somebody in for a certain role and saying, this is their job.

And these are your, this is your job description. These are the only things you’re going to be doing very black and white. You know, this, you don’t cross lines. We, we always use the term stepping up. There’s toes is not something we’re really doing here. You know, you don’t really kind of go all over the board and we’re very comfortable with each other that that’s okay.

And I think that comes from, you know, just us being able to be comfortable and curious of what, okay, can this person move to another position that they would fit better? Or can we create a new role for them? I think that’s something that a lot of places don’t do, it’s kind of, these are what we’re, what we’re hiring for.

And these are the only things that we’re interested in. We’ve had people go from the leasing department with no experience in construction and maintenance to now managing the maintenance department. 

So I think that definitely comes from obviously the Milan’s are very invested in their people if they want to, Learn something new. We’ll invest in them to be able to take the classes or get the training that they need in order to do that back to the quarterly performance reviews.

That was something that came from our retreat, which we held last year. People expressed on our team that they definitely wanted more feedback than they were receiving. A lot of times we would get so busy that. You know, we’d schedule a review and then it would get pushed. And, and then suddenly it was two months later.

And to somebody like me, I honestly just would get so busy. It would just become kind of that whirlwind again. And that’s not okay. And I think people realize. Appreciate and look forward to that feedback and learning. I think we came from a place where this is really so important to us that it’s just about the growth and I’m giving you feedback to help you grow and coming through.

You know, that comes from my heart, that comes from Ryan’s heart from Leo’s heart. You know, that’s definitely something we’re interested in. So being able to back that up and then show them that in real life, you know, w we’re showing, we’re saying these things needs to be fixed, or this is how we can grow, but then being able to give back to them in that way, it’s been huge for us.

It really has across the board and being very intentional, but that again is just, it’s hard, but it’s made a huge. And I imagine in the 

Didi: process of doing a lot of, as you say, we don’t step on each other’s toes, but we do a lot of dancing on the same floor, perhaps, um, that you’re, you’re also building your own set of internal mentors and coaches once you’ve you’ve had a role, and then you’ve gone on to try another role, then you become a really great touch stone in the organization for somebody next to you might try that out.

I imagine that’s kind of, that’s kind of part of the big circle of getting feedback and giving 

Rylan: feeds. I think a lot of times it’s leaders and managers give a lot of lip service. We’re going to invest, we’re going to teach we’re going to do these things. But I would really say that, you know, it started at the top.

It started with Leo and Christina kind of set that out for our team that, you know, one of these ideas as a leader, it’s not the. Mentality. It’s this mentality. That, to be a good leader, you’re surrounding yourself with people, people that are smarter than you in many ways, sometimes who are better than you in some ways.

And in ultimately the measure of success of a leader is that our teammates go on to do better and bigger things than we do. You know, because that just means we did our job, you know, we taught and then we did that. And in this organization, it’s very. To have that and to be able to do that and not feel like you’re, you’re threatened, you know, your job’s on the line.

And so that comfort level allows us to really invest in each other where others might not feel that way in another organization. So 

Didi: such a great point to kind of wrap this up for our listeners who were thinking about trying out, if they’re not already, or maybe more meaningfully getting back to a goal of purpose in their organizations, where would you suggest.

Rylan: Really take a look at what you do to kind of create that baseline. What is your organization passionate about? And sometimes that comes from the top. So you may have some set, you know, organizations that you support, but that also really, it should be driven by the team, in my opinion. And I think we embody that we have some organizations that we’ve said, yes, these are our.

But we’re also very purposeful to look at what are our passions from our teams. And from there, you know, it really, again, it’s being purposeful. We use the term time, talent and treasure. And so I think it’s a good time to take inventory of that. And to really look at as an organization, what are those time allotments that you can do?

What are those talents that you have? What are those treasures that you can invest? And then also look at your teams to do that because a lot of times it’s great, you know, it’s great that Milan can give away whatever it is that we might give away, but it’s also way more impactful if the team can be a part of that and to have buy-in and to believe in that.

And especially for things that we’re passionate about, this. So to me, you know, those organizations that really truly believe in community and are involved in the community, they’re doing a little bit of all of that, and it’s not just about money. Money’s great, but we’re heavily invested in one of the schools here.

We spend time going out there. We did a teacher appreciation day for the kickoff of the school year. We sent volunteers out to actually work. It, wasn’t just buying them food. We’ve actually been out there to read in those things, I think lasts a lot longer sometimes and just the simple writing of the check.

And so those things are important. But what I think is the most important is to look at what you can do and how you can maximize that best benefit. And all of it’s important. Some of us are at different points in our organization where money might not be an option to give away our resources might not, but we may have the time to do those sayings and it’s.

Uh, a huge sacrifice to find something that you can do. And that really is what our communities are about. It’s about giving back being a part of it. And sometimes that’s even within the team and we’ve even done that before. Seeing things that, you know, maybe something in our team needs to be addressed, that we can come together, rally behind and actually take care of ourselves and take care of our own.

So start with your. Figure out what you have, figure out what you can give away, figure out what you can take care of. And then from there, just spread the love and really make it a whole team effort. 

Didi: I’m Didi and this was PIVOT, a POPS show by Zenefits. If you want to learn more about inspiring people, operations stories like Rylan and Christina’s checkout or you’ll find bonus resources, profiles, and even a link to order our new book titled people operations.

Also, if you have questions you want us to answer on our show, check out the link in our show notes below and we’ll get it covered.


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