Saturday, February 11, 2012

Don't control your condo or homeowner association intellectual property and run the risk losing it or someone else controlling it for you!

All companies, including condo or homeowner associations have Intellectual Property (IP) that should be protected and managed.  In a traditional sense, IP is made up of four classes (Patent, Trademark/™ ®, Copyright/©, and Trade Secret.)  However, in associations there is another type that is just as important, but often "flies under the radar" of BoD leaders -- namely it's information, data, and records.  Losing this information or allowing someone else to take control of it opens you up to a host of undesirable situations, including accidental or intentional disclosure, modification, destruction or inability to process that information.  In simple terms -- it could shut your association down for a lengthy period of time and create a tremendous amount of work to restore it back to a useable condition.

Information is a vital asset for the success of an association, but most leaders do not even realize the extent of inherent risks that they are exposed to in the way that manage personal or other data critical to the operation of their association's business.  They probably have not even given a second thought and only face it when there is a loss, breach, or when they try to change Management Companies.  Consider these worst case scenarios:
  • The association Secretary has all records, blueprints, official correspondence, deed amendments, financial transactions, etc.
    • Manually filed at his/her home.  A fire destroys all documents'.
    • Stored on his/her computer when s/he loses a hard drive or a virus erases all data.
    • Managed by a unique data management software program that s/he has familiarity with.  S/He is removed from the BoD on unfriendly terms and is unwilling to train anyone on the software, making the data inaccessible.
  • The association hosts a website that has personal information of its members (name, address, bank account #, driver license, etc), when someone gains access and perpetrates identity theft.  The association is sued for damages.
  • The association BoD wants to change the current Management Company that uses its own proprietary data management system for all association records.  The MC refuses to turn over data for the term of its contract or the information is rendered useless unless you continue to use their system and services.
  • The association BoD decides to "bite the bullet" and go with another on-line data management system.  It now has to train, familiarize, and deal with all the start-up issues associated with its 2,000 member community that uses the system for all its daily operations.
Consider the cost of replicating the data that was lost in these situations!  It is huge and can bring an association to its knees.  Just ask someone whoever has lost their computer hard drive -- it only happens once, as the consequences are so severe that they put back up systems in place to protect their data from similar occurrences in the future.
So, what should an association do to get their arms around their IP?
  1. Go electronic.  If your association has not already converted its records to electronic form, do not wait any longer.  There are simply too many benefits to be gained.  All the association’s records should be stored in electronic form to save space and money drain and to allow you to take additional security measures to protect it.  You should begin to transition to electronic transactions with members, vendors, service providers as your organization matures and technology becomes readably available.  You should also transition to paperless access for all members and operate on a member "pull" system to extent possible.
  2. Select the Method of Storing/Accessing Your Electronic Data.  Determine how and where you will store your electronic data. This is an extremely important decision and you should approach it as if you are selecting a life-time provider, particularly if you use a website or on-line database storage provider.  There are too many negative implications for you to fall into the start-stop-start ditch of switching between providers or method of storage.  Make sure that you always own your data; you have complete control of how and where you store/access it, and NEVER outsource it or give control to someone else.  To a large extent, this decision will be dependent upon the size of your association, whether you are self-managed or use a Management Company and your level of IT expertise and/or availability.  Here are some of the main options you could consider:
    • Computer hard drive or disk.  This method would likely be used by a small association to store its historical records and may involve the use of off-the-shelf programs (QuickBooks, Excel, Adobe, etc) to help manage certain aspects of the association business.  The information is normally available to the person entering the data and cannot be directly accessed by association members.  Data security should be provided by regular back-ups and storage in different locations.
    • Association website.  This can be a very attractive alternative to small to medium associations and involves the on-line storage/access of data through an independent website provider.  A designated person maintains the website and keeps all of the data current.  Association members can assess the data on-line with the use of their computer or a hand-held device.  Security is very good as the provider regularly backs up the data and stores it in multiple locations.  Costs are minimal.
    • On-line database storage provider.  This becoming a more and more attractive options for all sizes of associations, as the offerings by different providers continues to grow.  They have all the advantages of a website, but can also include a multitude of features and options that go well beyond simple website storage and retrieval functionality.  Things like personal data management, automatic payment, resident surveys, move-in move-out forms, amenity and facility management, discussion forums, work order requests, email accounts, contractor management, access control, for sale/rental management, package delivery and tracking, etc., to name a few.  Costs are moderate and security is excellent.   If you are considering a service such as this, make sure you do your homework and again approach it as you were selecting a life-time partner.
    • Management Company.  Large associations (and some smaller ones) are likely to use the services of a Management Company to help them manage the day-to-day activities.  Most MC's will have a preferred method of data management and many have their own propriety system or partnerships with other service providers.  It is here that I wish to raise a BIG RED FLAG.  "NEVER, EVER GIVE UP CONTROL OF HOW AND WHERE YOUR ASSOCIATION DATA IS STORED AND ACCESSED TO A MANAGEMENT COMPANY!"  If you do, you could very well lock yourself into a continuation of those MC services into the future or having to reconstruct data that is not compatible or available, for a multitude of reasons.  It is up to the Association BoD to select an independent data management system (or provider) and then require any Management Company or other service provider to use that system as a condition of employment.   Other precautions you could take with a MC to protect your data would be to include a clause in the contract that:
      • Assures complete ownership and unfettered access to your data at all times
      • States that the association data is the property of the association and returnable upon demand
      • Requires the MC to provide "back up" copies of financial and other records on a CD upon request or on a regular basis.
  3. Set up the necessary security systems.  A risk management plan should be developed for the association that addresses such issues as data security (personal and association), disaster recovery, meeting any laws requiring record retention and availability, and back-up procedures.
In summary, condo and homeowner associations that do not have their own independent data management system for its processes, procedures or records leave themselves in a venerable position.  They run the risk of losing their data and having to reconstruct it or becoming hostage to someone else who has taken over control of how their data is stored and accessed.  A wise association BoD will recognize this and take the necessary steps to protect this data and proactively manage this very important asset called their intellectual property.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Where Have All the Association Leaders Gone?

Leaders of the past almost always seem more effective than those of today. It's a perceptual bias: We long for what we don't have, and mythologize what we used to have.  But even taking this bias into consideration, many of today's condo/HOA leaders don't seem to measure up to the expectations of their members.  .

Our parents talk about former leaders of their day that not only inspired confidence, but respect and reverence as well. They talk about Roosevelt, Churchill, Eisenhower, Gandhi, and others of that generation as larger than life figures.  Our generation often includes the likes of John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, and others. Sure they had their flaws, but they were courageous and decisive, and could communicate in ways that made it clear what they stood for.
So, where have all the good leaders gone?  "They're out pleading, trotting, temporizing, putting out fires, trying to avoid too much heat or legal problems, trying to please everyone, and trying to keep all of this in balance with their personal live that is impacted through this volunteer position.  They're peering out a landscape of bottom lines, multiple personal preferences and expected entitlements that often put them in the category of "hired help" or "landlords" by their constituents."  They resign.  They burn out.  They decide not to run or serve.

These leaders of today have to navigate a "very slippery slope" and operate in an environment that has changed significantly over the recent years, including:
  • First, the velocity and volume of issues that Condo/HOA leaders are confronted with today has increased substantially. This doesn't mean that the previous generations of leaders had it easy; rather they had more time between decisions than leaders have today. Now, with the advent of instantaneous communication within and across the members, leaders have very little time to think.  Most of them are inundated with information and overwhelmed with meetings. They move from one issue to the next with frequent interruptions as new developments occur.  Relaxed time to think, reflect, and plan is limited and fragmented. But leaders who don't find ways to carve out that quality time reduce their effectiveness.
  • A second reason for the diminished confidence might be that many of today's Condo/HOA leaders are overly concerned with the reactions of their stakeholders. This may sound odd, since a key function of leadership is to tune in to the needs of the people they are leading. Listening, however, only goes so far, particularly when the many voices do not agree. At some point leaders need to declare their intentions, even if not everyone will be happy. For this reason today's Condo/HOA leaders often hesitate to do what they think is right. Instead they seem to base their policies on polling trends, or about the reactions of influential members within the association. In contrast, respected leaders drive towards a longer-term vision and find ways to handle the speed bumps along the way.
Although there are theories that say leaders are born and not made, it is my belief that everyone has the leadership potential.  Leadership requires taking risks and initiative, which is discouraged by fear of failure, fear of repercussion (lawsuits, loss of job, criticism, damaged relationships, etc.).  Unfortunately, the operating environment will likely only get harder; therefore it is up to the men and women who serve as association volunteers to upgrade their leadership skills if they are to meet these increased member expectations. 

We can begin with accepting that fact that each of us can make a difference and begin by changing ourselves first.  We can become an effective leader by developing and enhancing our own leadership abilities.  We can begin by learning how to lead ourselves first, then by becoming an example to others.
One of the most important skills and a good first place to start is improving our decision making skills.  Association leaders are constantly required to evaluate alternatives and make choices regarding a wide range of issues that impact their association. Therefore, it goes without saying that successful leaders are good decision makers.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that they only make good decisions, but rather that they can make bold, timely decisions, and they are not afraid to make adjustments along the way, as needed.  They place a high priority on being fast and not necessarily always being 100% right.  Although you may think it is risky to make a quick, and possibly incorrect, decision, the reality is that timeliness is crucial in today’s ever changing and equally challenging environment for any business, including an association.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Waste Elinination In Condo or Homeowner Associations

The elimination of waste is the goal of any "Lean System", which has been popularized by the very successful Toyota Production System. It defines three broad types of waste; unreasonableness, inconsistencies, and activities that do not add any customer value. A condo or homeowner association is not exempt from these forms of waste and can also benefit from their elimination.

• Unreasonableness. This includes all the unreasonable work that a BoD imposes on its committees and members, such as forming a committee without a proper charter or description of the duties it is to perform, requiring a member to "jump through hoops" when satisfying a request for financial information, asking a member to investigate a project/idea, knowing that it will never be approved. Unreasonable work is almost always a cause of multiple variations.

• Inconsistencies. This is the variation and inconsistency that may exist within an association, such as; the enforcement of CCR's or the collection of delinquent maintenance fees, granting an architectural variance for one member, but not another. Lean focuses on how the work design is implemented and the elimination of fluctuation at the policy formulation level.

• Waste elimination. This specifies any human activity, which absorbs resources, but does not directly add value to association members such as; poorly run meetings, making a decision without sufficient factual information, continually revisiting a decision that has been made, calling a BoD member to find out the details of a past decision. These non-value-adding activities and results should be eliminated.

Lean is, in its most basic form, the systematic elimination of all forms of waste. Waste elimination is discovered after the process is in place and is dealt with reactively. It is seen through variation in output. It is the role of the BoD to examine the waste in the processes and eliminate the deeper causes by considering the connections to the unreasonableness and inconsistencies of the system.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Customer Relationship Management in an Association

In today's customer-driven economy, businesses and associations must move to a customer-focused personalized approach. The expectation of association members is that they are the customers of a BoD. Members want to feel important and they want to know that a BoD has the necessary expertise to manage their interests. The more you demonstrate your specific understanding of their problems, concerns and aspirations, the more quickly they'll support you, often without really understanding what you are promoting or deciding.

Therefore, the highest goal of customer relationship management for a BoD is making sure they are keeping customers (members) happy, discovering and solving problems. A problem is simply the difference between what you have and what you want. It may be a matter of getting something, of getting rid of something, of avoiding something, or of getting to know what you want. In order to do this, they must build and nurture relationships with the members.

As a business professional, you should ask yourself: "What business am I in?" The answer is quite simple: if your business has anything to do with people – and ALL associations do - you are in the business of building relationships. "Some BoD's think that if they manage an association, they are in the business of making business decisions. They aren't. They are in the business of building relationships – because that's how you make decisions that are compatible with the needs and interest of association members.

In every association and business activity, influential people succeed and non-influential people don't. You cannot influence someone unless he or she likes you in some way. People are motivated for their reasons, not yours. Rapport is the key to influence. Rapport and influence start with acceptance of the other person's point of view, their state and their style of communication. To influence you have to be able to appreciate and understand the other person's standpoint. And these work both ways: I cannot influence you without being open to influence myself.

Beyond making decisions as an individual, and as every BoD member knows, the landscape gets a little more complicated when you are a leader of an organization such as a homeowner or condo association. First, you have to make decisions in a group environment. This is very different than individual-based decision making and involves a whole different set of dynamics, considerations, challenges, and opportunities. Personality traits such as emotional maturity and the ability to get alone with others take on more importance in making these types of decisions and managing an association. Rather than focusing strictly on business acumen or technical skill, associations need BoD members who can persuade as well lead, and communicate as well as command. It is a different type of skill set than the traditional command-and-control personality. It is a more subtle, sophisticated type and requires someone who is an "influencer."

But, probably the most unique dynamic is that comes into play is that a BoD is made up from members of a community in which they live. The people who elect them and who they represent are friends and neighbors. Therefore, the health of the association is fundamentally determined by the relationship the neighbors have for each other and for the BoD. Make bad decisions or untimely decisions that do not adequately represent the views of the overwhelming majority of members and you will lose their critical support. Power freak BoD members, spurred on by expensive and egotistical attorneys, attacking neighbors with nasty letters including threats of fines is not how good neighbors treat each other.

For that reason, when making decisions in an association, everything possible should be done to create and maintain open and amicable relationships. Members of the community should be encouraged to attend board meetings, to form and join committees, and to express their needs and opinions and solve mutual problems together. Although in some circumstances they do not have the right to vote on a particular topic, they certainly they have every right to be involved in the discussion pertaining to that topic. Limiting discussion to a few short minutes might be appropriate for large organizations and/or city council meetings, but they are over-control and over-kill for condo or homeowner associations. In spite of well intended advice from professional management company people to be formal, experience would suggest that informality and friendliness are far more effective. Demands are resented. Requests are honored.

Friday, April 22, 2011

What Does a Good Association Decision Look Like?

Clearly, the top function of a condo or homeowner BoD is to make good decisions that are best for the association and its members. When a BoD does not make good decisions, it can alienate its members, create distractions, and build mistrust towards the BoD. Decisions won’t stick - they will be revisited again, people will implement actions not chosen, or the results of the decision will be invisible in a matter of weeks. But, what does a good decision really look like?

There are two critical components; the quality of the decision and the timeliness of the decision.

• Quality of the decision. How would you recognize a high quality decision for your association if you saw one? Many would give answers like:

o All the right people have been involved
o We had all the best information available
o Risk was considered
o A decision was made—action occurred!
o Everybody bought in to the process
o The process did not drag on and on and loop around
o We did not get bogged down in the details
o There was a clear set of choices
o We knew about the difficult trade-offs to be made
o Implementation went smoothly
o Etc...

These are all important considerations among a long list of others. Generally, they can be summarized into six categories:
1. Is the right question being answered?
2. Have we generated a small set of creative yet feasible alternatives (or choices)?
3. Do we have meaningful and reliable information, particularly about risk?
4. Have we identified clear preferences and trade-offs?
5. Did we exercise sound reasoning, and clear communication about complex issues?
6. Do we have a commitment to action?

• Timeliness of the decision. The second component of good decision making is its timeliness. Nothing slows down an organization more than paralysis by analysis – the inability to make even smallest decisions quickly. Unnecessarily delaying a decision or making no decision is just the same as making a decision. You have simply chosen the option of taking no action. It means you are defaulting to the status quo.

When you don't make a timely decision, there are a lot of other bad things can happen, even though the decision itself may be a sound one. It can cause delays in decision implementation which in turn, can result in a missed opportunity or make a bad situation worse. It can put the association into a "downtime" condition that brings it to a temporary standstill on the issue being examined. It allows the grapevine and rumor mill to churn, which now brings further complications that have to be addressed. But, probably one of the biggest problems that it brings is a loss of confidence in the BoD leaders. Hesitation or a reluctance to make a decision is often the sign of ineffective leadership and is a surefire way for a BoD to lose support of its members and thus its ability to lead.

When it comes to decision making, successful BoD leaders have learned that action is vital. They live with the reality of consequences and know there will always be uncertainty in their decisions. No one can see all possible ramifications; no one can predict every contingency; no one can absolutely prevent failure. Strong leaders know that failure is not final, it is a learning opportunity. The real danger surrounding decision making is not "will I make the wrong decision" but "did I make the best decision possible given the facts and circumstances in a timely manner". Good leaders will always recover from poor decisions - they learn and become wiser. But weak leaders will mess around and miss opportunities. And once they finally make a decision, chances are their decision will have no momentum, no passion and no urgency and probably too late.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Tighten The Financial Belt Of Your Management Company

If and how you use a Management Company to help manage your association duties, will be an important area to examine for cost reduction opportunity. This category of expense can run upwards of 30% of an association’s annual budget -- money that you may be able to spend more wisely. Depending on the nature and severity of your financial situation, you may be forced to take on more of those duties even though it may not be your first choice. Elimination of some or all of the services, rebidding/renegotiation of the Management Company contract, innovative use of private contractors or specialty service providers, holding Management Companies more accountable for cost reduction, and/or “partnering” to jointly attack cost reduction, are all within the realm of possibilities.

The reasons for an association using a Management Company can range from “convenience” for some to a “necessity” for others. But, if an association’s BoD is facing a severe financial condition, it may have to take on more of these direct management duties than it would prefer. Since the use of a Management Company can represent a major expense to an association, it is an area of cost reduction opportunity that cannot be ignored.

There are several things that should be highlighted regarding the use a Management Company.

  • While management companies can simplify things for a condo or homeowner association BoD, they do not replace the BoD. A Management Company reports to and receives its direction from the BoD and not the other way around. The BoD has hiring/firing authority and can eliminate, replace, revise, or renegotiate a contract with a Management Company.
  • Inexperienced BoD’s must guard against a Management Company “dependency” where the Management Company is calling all the shots and the BoD is merely a rubber stamp. A good Management Company can be a real benefit to your company. They do bring experience, an extra set of hands, and usually ideas tried and proven in a condo or homeowner association environment.
  • A BoD has a fiduciary responsibility to the association for which it serves. This fiduciary relationship requires the members of the BoD to act in good faith and in the best interests of the members of the association and that they exercise due care and diligence. A fiduciary obligation represents the highest level of responsibility under the law. Unlike a Contractor, a Management Company acts as an agent of the association and is also held to the same fiduciary responsibility as the BoD. Likewise, it has a duty to manage association’s costs in the most effective way possible.
  • A Management Company, like any company, is only as good as its people. They may not have the necessary skill sets to attack cost reductions and may have “blind spots” that prevent them from examining new ways to attack cost creep that will eventually come into play. Like the BoD, they too can also fall into the complacency trap of simply meeting cost increases by raising association fees. Today's Management Company must do more than review monthly budget reports, handle violation notices, or perform the daily maintenance activities. They must minimize costs at every opportunity and come up with creative ways for condo and homeowner associations to combat rising costs or economic downturns.
  • The relationship between an association BoD and its Management Company is usually a deep one, and one that can last for a long time. The longer a working relationship lasts, the better the two parties understand one another and work together. But, it also may be more difficult for an association BoD to change suppliers or to address a lackadaisical cost reduction performance. A responsible BoD must take any action that is necessary and to set the expectation with its Management Company that cost reduction is one of its primary responsibilities. It is also their job to replace them if they are unable to deliver.
  • If an association BoD chooses to use a particular Management Company, it should expect a relentless effort to help them reduce their costs. This is a new concept for many, as they are much more comfortable with just delivering the services outlined in the contract. Take a look at your existing contract or a proposal from a potential Management Company. Do you see a statement that says they will deliver cost savings to the association? Or better yet, do you see a statement that says they will deliver (X) % of cost savings to the association? A Management Company like any other supplier does not like to be pinned down. It often easier to just deliver the service and pass alone any cost increases to association members in the form of increased fees or special assessments. Management Companies should be held accountable for cost performance and a provision should be incorporated into their contract to reinforce that responsibility.

Shown below are some ways to cut your Management Company cost:

  • Determine the level of self-management that you will use and that you can afford (Take apart the Management Company contract line-item-by-line item and explore alternative ways to eliminate, revise it, or have the service performed by someone else at a lower cost. Separate the association “needs” from its “wants”. Have the Management Company provide quotes for each line item in the contract. This will allow for an apples-to-apples comparison with self management or other suppliers. Use this eliminated or reduced service level as a basis to renegotiate a lower priced contract.
  • Use consultants, freelances or part-time employees, instead of full-time employees.
  • Often, one of the largest expenses is bookkeeping. If you have an active volunteer group that is willing to take over some management tasks, you can realize significant savings by hiring an accountant to handle the books and to process payments/receipts.
  • Competitively source your small service projects. For small service needs, it is not necessary to have a Management Company or professional contractor perform small maintenance tasks or to fix every little problem. (Handyman Services. For condo or homeowner associations that can't afford a full time maintenance person, contract with a licensed, bonded and insured handyman who can perform a monthly "laundry list" of small repairs. Combine tasks to provide a full day's work. Moonlighters. In most buildings, the building staff moonlights as painters and general repair persons. Talk to your staff and see if they would like to make extra money by doing some of the work that normally a professional would do. The best example of this approach is touch-up painting in halls and stairwells. Develop a closer alliance with subcontractors to perform work in the neighborhood to get small projects done quickly and cost effectively. Volunteers. You may have members who have special skills/hobbies (engineers, contractors, woodworkers, gardeners, skilled trades, etc.) who may be willing to perform small maintenance duties or projects. Do no be afraid to ask for their help. The use of volunteers is an excellent way to help keep your costs down.)
  • Jointly explore with the Management Company any changes that the association cold make to reduce the Management Company cost that in turn could be passed along to the association. (Eliminate or reduce the amount of time that a Management Company is required at BoD meetings. Shorten the length of BoD meetings. Hold quarterly meetings versus monthly meetings. Hold daytime meetings during normal business hours to avoid overtime. Move the Board meeting to the management office to save manager time and avoid mileage charges. With an approved budget, proper policies in place and a management planning calendar, the Management Company should be able to handle most issues with only occasional input from the president.)
  • Reconfigure how a Management Company handles administration of insurance claims and damage reconstruction. Insurance matters can take many hours of a Management Company’s time. If the contract agreement specifically states that insurance claim work is an extra cost to the association, the Management Company can bill the insurance claim for the time it takes to administrate a claim and renovation work. A similar principle involves time spent on collections or legal action against an owner. This management time should be billed to the delinquent owner.
  • Rather than having the association bear the cost for preparing sale disclosure statements to owners who are selling their homes and buyers' lenders, have the Management Company bill owners and buyers separately for this service.
  • Scale back on the frequency of services that are offered.
  • Limited office hours or lengthened response time
  • Offer part-time services for security, gate/door attendance
  • Send out association dues on a quarterly basis versus a monthly basis. Allow members to pay dues on a semi-annual or annual basis, if desired.
  • Hold minor repair items until enough are accumulated to allow for a more efficient utilization of maintenance contractor’s time
  • Conduct less frequent inspections for CC&R violations and batch process related notices.
  • Use electronic communications to members and record keeping to eliminate paper, filing, stamps, mail handling, etc. Allow for electronic payment of association fees.
  • Eliminate all overtime and transportation expenses for Management Company employees
  • Include in the Management Company contract a specific reference to the expected level of cost savings efforts required of the Management Company. This could be in the form of a specific amount or a percentage of operating costs. Then, conduct a performance review with the Management Company on the progress being/not being made. It is not uncommon for companies to demand a 10-15% annual cost savings from their internal departments or outside suppliers.
  • Go out and get competitive bids and bring them back to your current Management Company so they have the opportunity to lower their price for you. Large service contracts like a Management Company should be competitively bid every year or two. Even if you are totally satisfied with the service received and have no intention of changing providers, it will demonstrate to the membership that the BoD is practicing due diligence and good stewardship. Also, if a particular Management Company is maneuvering for a contract increase, a competitive proposal will work to the association’s advantage in negotiating or verifying that the current Management Company is entirely justified in the increase. If it is to the advantage of the association, negotiate a long-term contract with the Management Company that states in exchange for a competitive price, the association will not seek competing competitive bids for a certain period of time.
  • Confront your Management Company if it announces a price increase and re-bid the order where appropriate.
  • Request that your Management Company prepare recommendations on ways for the association to reduce association waste, increase efficiency, or save money.
  • Develop a scorecard for keeping track of Management Company service, quality, delivery and pricing. Implement a monitoring program (metrics, customer complaint system) to better understand the service / issues.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Condo or HOA Communication Skills #101

Effective communication skills form the foundation for successful management of a condo or homeowner association. They are so fundamental that we sometimes forget their significance or assume we are skillful. Communication skills enable you as a Board member to lead others. You cannot lead without being able to communicate your ideas well. People will not go with you unless you have established with them your ability to lead. That requires trust which is a by-product of effective two-way communication.

Show me an association that is rift with problems (including, member in-fighting and discontent, distrust and a very active rumor mill, etc.) and I will show you either incompetent Board members or ineffective communications, or both!

The intent of this article is twofold. The first describes how you can improve your personal communication skills and the second describes a high return communication technique that can be used with your association.

Effective personal communication includes; speaking and listening, informing others, and fostering open communication. When you master these skills, you harness a great deal of power – the power to get things done through others.

Effective personal communication involves:

  • Knowing who needs what information and communicating that information in a concise and timely way
  • Choosing and effectively using the most appropriate communication medium – oral or written – for those who will receive the information and how it will be used
  • Knowing how to listen effectively

Shown below are some important personal communication skills to master.

  • Speak effectively. You should make an effort to get your point across when talking and avoid rambling. Outline in your mind what you are trying to say and then stick to it. Try to eliminate speech habits that may annoy others, such as talking too slowly, too rapidly, or too hesitatingly. Become more animated in your style by using appropriate gestures and body language to “punctuate” you discussion. Also, work at varying your volume, pitch, and pace to emphasize your major points in discussions.
  • Foster open communication. To build trust and solid working relationships with association members, it’s important to be seen as someone who is committed to sharing information with others and who goes beyond communicating only what is necessary. Developing a climate in which you and your members are open with information is critical in order to function effectively. You should find out what members want to know. Most are interested in things that impact them personally. Use the informal grapevine communication network as a way of keeping others informed. Wander around, have coffee with people, ask them questions, and so on. A proven communication strategy is to “over-communicate” rather than “under-communicate”, even if it means that you may have to retract something in the future. Just preface those types of communications with the statement, “this is what we know at this time, but it could change in the future -- so don’t hold me to it.” In other words, don’t wait to communicate something important until everything is finalized. Provide on-going updates as they occur and if you don’t want to communicate something at a point in time, let everyone know when they can expect to hear something.
  • Listen to others. Listening involves hearing the speaker’s words, understanding the message and its importance to the speaker, and communicating that understanding to the speaker. It is key to developing and maintaining relationships, making decisions, and solving problems. When listening always follow this order: 1) hear, 2) understand, 3) interpret, and 4) respond; don’t jump from “hear” to “respond” without making sure you understand.

Communications with association members should not be left to chance – it should be carefully planned and managed. A useful technique for a Board to consider is the development a “staged communication plan” that provides a regular flow of information that addresses the things on their member’s minds along with the things that the BoD wants to communicate to them. This plan identifies what information will be communicated (new information, progress to date, anticipated problems, decisions made), how it will be communicated (personal contact, letter or email, group meeting), by whom will it be communicated (President, Secretary, all BoD), and when will it be communicated (date, frequency). Below is a sample plan.

As required or immediate

BoD decisions, meeting minutes, CC&R reminders, rumor control, emergency situations, breaking news, status report on key issues, notice of special assessments (anticipated or assessed), volunteer recognition, informational items (impending legislation, changes in the property tax assessment, sightings of unique wildlife, special events, new bike riding trails, fall color tours in the area, increases in water/sewer/trash collection, etc), highlight real people enjoying the facilities (special gatherings, normal day-to-day use, etc), feature articles of members, their families, hobbies, special achievements etc., changes in operations, such as major repair work on the pool, etc.


Financial performance (budget vs. actuals), President letter (status report on key issues, breaking news, informational items)


Encourage & recognize volunteers (look for examples and reasons to thank someone), feature article on a committee activity or a particular aspect of condo or homeowner association life, any special accomplishments,


Year end letter (accomplishments, future outlook, holiday wishes), annual budget and maintenance fees, annual meeting notice and minutes, event calendar, contacts and procedures for requesting vendor services