What do CEOs, hedge fund managers, coaches, college students, parents and presidents all have in common? They all have a statistical tendency to overestimate their performance. They make up the residents of the fictional town Lake Wobegon, where everyone claims to be above average.

Property managers, before you find your name added to that list, consider this a lesson already learned from other industries. The tendency to believe that one’s performance is better than it actually is, is not only a professional handicap but also an organizational one. Whether it’s the Lake Wobegon Effect or insufficient data, this general misconception of inflated performance is often at the root of poor customer service, overconfidence, mismanaged risk, and inefficient processes.

When I went out to visit a client a couple weeks ago, I asked him, ‘How quickly do you think you’re completing your priority one issues in the building?’ He answered, ‘We complete them all within eight hours.’

When I asked him, ‘How do you know that?’ he replied, ‘because my chief engineer tells me that it’s true.’

And I said, “Well, in fact, you’re completing them in 125 hours on average.” And jaw dropped.

-Kyle Makaith, Vice President Client Service & Support

Illusory superiority may be a confidence builder, but it has little place outside the Psych classroom, let alone in your real estate organization. Before you strut, make sure you have a firm ground to stand on! The one simple way to prevent the Lake Wobegon Effect is to answer: “How do you know?”

Put yourself to the test:


Can you answer these questions? With hard numbers?

What is your level of tenant satisfaction in the building? Today? ____________

What are your arrival times or response times for priority 1 issues? ____________

How quickly are you completing work orders in your building? ____________

How do you evaluate the performance of your engineering staff, and how do you compare them against each other? ____________

Which of your engineers are performing at a higher level than others? ____________

Which tenants are being under-serviced or over-serviced or properly serviced? ____________

Which tenants are you servicing less frequently or less adequately than other tenants? ____________

How do you know that the tenants in your building are getting the level of service that they require? ____________

Which buildings are performing better than others? If you are somebody who oversees an entire region, are there problematic buildings within that region? ____________

How do you maximize the efficiency of your workforce? ____________

Effective managers routinely question and analyze their own and their team’s performance, as well as their processes and workflows. Don’t be afraid to ask “How am I really doing?”, “How do I know?” and “Can I show it?” – and seek better solutions. Only then can the woebegone effects of Lake Wobegon truly be gone.

Learn more about Operations Performance Management in an on-demand webinar, Managing Property Performance- Using Operational Insight to Outperform the Competition.

Lake Wobegon Effect