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Pamela Van Nort, Irvine Company’s Regional Vice President of Operations since 2013, sees curiosity as a necessary Irvine Company staple — and one that is a timeless, yet effective approach to being a successful, dynamic worker, thinker and person.

Portrait of Pamela Van Nort, Irvine Company's Regional Vice President of Operations

In a recent Forbes article, the author talks about what happens in environments where leaders exercise a clear orientation and commitment to continued learning. Studies show that people find their minds are more active than passive, they find joy in intelligence, they are more “in the moment,” they embrace both relevant facts and feelings, they search for feedback, and they engage in reflection to see and correct mistakes. What are your thoughts on the importance of continued learning in the teams you lead at Irvine?

The concept of “forever learning” is highly regarded by Irvine Company for its ability to produce results and engage its employees. Those individuals who intentionally exercise curiosity and learning with a passion are distinguished with a strong personal brand and remain well-equipped to succeed in a fast-paced, competitive environment.

Unmatched by any of our competition is Irvine Company’s Academy, where employees can pursue leadership training, job skills training, life skills and cross divisional training. Our company also supports the pursuit of degrees and advanced degrees for its employees. This encourages employees to understand what “forever learning” means by always striving to know and do more.

Curiosity leads to innovation, and separates the person who gets their work done from the person who is generating new ideas. How do you encourage curiosity as a leader?

I have overseen field teams for Irvine Company for the past 16 years. In my experience, some of the best ideas and innovations come from those field teams. They have first-hand knowledge of our customers and a clear understanding of where there may be friction or gaps in our operations and the experiences we offer.    

Curiosity and the act of challenging the status quo (to make what’s great even better) not only differentiates the Irvine Company from its competition but also instills employee pride and confidence.

To promote curiosity, I do a number of things:

 1.  I task everyone in my organization, as part of their goals, to generate at least 2-3 ideas a year that simplify a process, elevate an experience or create an economic return for our company.

2. We reward and recognize creative thought and innovative accomplishments as part of a monthly “WOW” report that’s distributed both across and up channels.

3.  We look outside our department, our direct competition and to other innovative companies to gain different perspectives and learn what’s current.

Success is more than just giving directions and executing decisions. It is also about encouraging curiosity, and inviting productive dialogue. Tell us about your approach to successful leadership.

As Regional Vice President for our Chicago operations, I have joint accountability with the RVP of Leasing for our portfolio results. This structure mandates productive dialogue and alignment of purpose in order to lead our teams and to efficiently sell our localized needs to the Executive Team.

A collaborative, open-minded leadership style that can negotiate through dueling interests or established paradigms to achieve the best solution is key to our success.

In a Harvard Business Review article, the author observes that efficiency and productivity are positive outcomes in environments where you encourage curiosity. Do you have examples of your experience in leading teams at Irvine where encouraging the curiosity of your staff results enhanced performance?

  1. After contemplating the cost of meetings, our 8-person team took it upon themselves to re-assess the format and necessity of each of our regularly scheduled meetings for the year.   The final recommendation was to eliminate two 1-hour meetings a month — yielding $100,000 in resources that could be applied to more productive efforts.
  2. Several months after rolling out  new amenities at 71 S Wacker, we invited a cross section of HR and Business leaders to attend a customer roundtable to learn what was working well and what could be improved. As a result of that feedback session, we identified 7-8 low cost/high value modifications to our programming (e.g. the addition of the self pour operation infographics, inclusion of a microwave, the addition of more vegetarian food options, more peloton bikes, music changes, etc.) that have improved satisfaction and are driving usage.
  3. In selecting Jeannie Torres to lead the management team at 300 North LaSalle, we challenged her with our belief that there was opportunity to build community and drive even higher customer satisfaction. Jeannie and her team embraced the challenge, offered a new perspective and listened to their customers to identify gaps. With the goal of adding programming “that mattered” to their customers, the team has successfully re-worked security resources to add a much needed doorman / safety ambassador for the project, have expanded wellness options to include more exercise classes, have negotiated a preferred water taxi rate for her customers, have rolled out the beloved LISA app, have restored the seasonal farmers market and added a rooftop sustainable apiary. As a result of their efforts and as measured by the highly regarded Kingsley satisfaction survey, the 300 North LaSalle team has achieved some of the highest satisfaction rates in the country.

Success Works Here.®