A Work-Love Connection at Cortland

As chief people officer at Cortland, Priscila Mattingly is changing how human resources works by pushing people to explore what they truly love about their work

By her own admission, Priscila Mattingly is not your traditional HR professional. She’s the chief people officer at Cortland, a title that fits its corporate culture and changes in human resources, which she says generally has the bad reputation of being a company’s police—the department that makes things more complicated. But that isn’t the case at Cortland.

Mattingly says Cortland, which owns and operates apartment complexes nationwide, has a people-first mentality, whether it’s toward the company’s associates (the preferred name for employees), clients, residents, or investors. Likewise, her department, called the talent team, takes a proactive rather than reactive approach, including a new review process and an innovative mentoring program for high performers.

Priscila Mattingly Cortland
Priscila Mattingly, Chief People Officer, Cortland

“The talent team solves a lot of problems at Cortland—it’s still a big part of who we are and what we do,” she says. “But we have a larger mission to be the protectors and cultivators of the company’s culture, which is very different than the usual HR department reacting to problems.”

Mattingly’s path to her current position was accidental. In March 2004, she arrived in Georgia from her native Brazil—where she worked in communications and marketing for a software company—to study English. She planned to stay three months while working remotely—but then she met and fell in love with her future husband, Mike, and decided to stay in the United States.

With very limited English at the time, she took a job delivering pizza. “I could drive and I could count money,” she says.

Eighteen months later, a mentor at Pizza Hut promoted her to trainer. Here, Mattingly became keenly interested in training after seeing how knowledge can make a positive difference in the way people perform their jobs.

“I’m really passionate about helping people figure out what they love to do and do more of what they love to do,” she says. “I think that’s the secret for happiness at work and for high-performing teams.”

Mattingly is certainly grateful for her mentors. “What was important to me, especially in my early career, was to have people who believed in me before I believed in myself,” she says.

Training for Pizza Hut launched Mattingly’s US career. She became a training manager at Arby’s Restaurant Group, and then a learning and development manager at Hospitality Staffing Solutions. Now at Cortland since 2014, she heads a forty-seven-member talent team that oversees areas from recruitment to engagement.

She admits to being an oddball in the real estate industry—younger than the typical executive, female, and a Latina.

“We are here as a company to challenge the status quo–certainly about housing,” she says. “My personal mission is to help people understand we can challenge the status quo in every point, including the fact that this is a male-dominated industry.”

Mattingly’s focus is to simplify HR at Cortland, which has two thousand associates handling every aspect of the multifamily apartment complexes it owns nationally and is now developing in London. The company has also expanded to manufacturing components for its living spaces for better control on quality, time, and cost to build.

Through her initiative, Cortland is midway through a three-year process to replace the annual performance review, which Mattingly says is not a high-performing practice, with real-time feedback and coaching.

“Everyone hates performance reviews, but then again everyone loves to do a good job,” she says.

Rather than dwelling on what happened a year ago, associates are continually kept appraised of how they are doing their job and what they have accomplished by managers and their peers via check-ins and meetings. Goals can be set. And there are opportunities for public recognition.

As for training, Mattingly says it must go beyond the basics. With that in mind, she is leading a mentorship program in 2019 in which high performers will have opportunities to learn what interests them. Say a high-performing associate who is passionate about hair styling would like to start a business in the future. This program would link that person with someone who knows how to run a business.

Creating such learning programs will help retain high performers who might otherwise seek challenging and more interesting opportunities elsewhere. After all, she notes, the average person only stays two and a half years at a position.

Mattingly’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by Cortland’s outside partners. “Priscila’s drive to innovate and move programs beyond the basics to retain high performers is evident in all areas of HR planning. This makes Priscilla an ideal client, always asking what more can be done to differentiate Cortland and create a great employee experience,” says Camry Blaising, chief operating officer at Northwestern Benefit.

Outside of her hectic work that includes travel to Cortland’s various locations, Mattingly lives a calm life. She and Mike dedicate Friday nights to movie dates. Her family in Brazil frequently visits.

Her advice for young professionals? Find your passion instead of chasing a dollar amount. That, she says, is key to being happy and fulfilled at work, as she is in her position at Cortland.

“Take as much time as you can early in your career—say the first five or seven years out of college—to figure out what you love to do, because that’s a time when how much money you make is not as important as it is after you are forty,” she says.

Northwestern Benefit is proud to call Priscila Mattingly with Cortland Partners a valued client. Priscila’s commitment to innovative solutions for employee development is evident, and Northwestern Benefit is honored to be a part of these efforts through our comprehensive employee benefits services. Learn more about how we can drive your employee benefits engagement at www.northwesternbenefit.com.