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

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Dynamics of an Association Board Leadership-Team Behavior

How Board of Director (BoD) members interact says a lot about the state of a condo or homeowner’s association

Leadership is the ability to make things happen by encouraging and channeling the contributions of others, taking a stand on and addressing important issues, and acting as a catalyst for change and continuous improvement.

Yesterday’s leaders in for-profit businesses could demand performance. Today they are faced with a more educated and democratically oriented workforce. In a volunteer organization such as a condo or homeowner’s association BoD, the problems and opportunities can even more complex and challenging. As a result, today’s BoD must encourage and apply the contributions of all of its members, both individually and as a group.

Shown below are some ways that effective and ineffective BoD teams act.

Ineffective teams: People shield those in power from unpleasant facts, fearful of penalties and criticism for shining light on the rough realities

Effective teams: People bring forth grim facts—"Come here and look -- this is ugly"—to be discussed; leaders never criticize those who bring forth harsh realities

Ineffective teams: People assert strong opinions without providing data, evidence, or a solid argument

Effective teams: People bring data, evidence, logic, and solid arguments to the discussion

Ineffective teams: The BoD president has a very low questions-to-statements ratio, avoiding critical input and/or allowing sloppy reasoning and unsupported opinions

Effective teams: The BoD president employs a Socratic style, using a high questions-to-statements ratio, challenging people, and pushing for penetrating insights

Ineffective teams: Team members acquiesce to a decision but don't unify to make the decision successful—or worse, undermine it after the fact

Effective teams: Team members unify behind a decision once made, and then work to make the decision succeed, even if they vigorously disagreed with it

Ineffective teams: Team members seek as much credit as possible for themselves, yet do not enjoy the confidence and admiration of their peers

Effective teams: Each team member credits other people for success, yet enjoys the confidence and admiration of his or her peers

Ineffective teams: Team members argue to look smart or to further their own interests rather than argue to find the best answers to support the overall cause

Effective teams: Team members argue and debate, not to improve their personal position but to find the best answers to support the overall cause

Ineffective teams: The team conducts "autopsies with blame," seeking culprits rather than wisdom

Effective teams: The team conducts "autopsies without blame," mining wisdom from painful experiences

Ineffective teams: Team members often fail to deliver exceptional results and blame other people or outside factors for setbacks, mistakes, and failures

Effective teams: Each team member delivers exceptional results, yet in the event of a setback each accepts full responsibility and learns from mistakes

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Drive Your Association’s Management Company to a Higher Level of Performance

Are you a condo or homeowner association Board that just gets what you get from your Management Company (MC) … not what you want? Is your MC directing their efforts in the wrong direction or their advancing their own agenda? Are they moving too quick or too slow? Are they meeting expectations from key stakeholders and managing ones that are unrealistic? Is your association becoming better each year or is it staying the same, or worse, decreasing in performance? If you are experiencing these problems, it is time to take charge and do something about it. This article discusses a methodology that allows you to take a proactive position with your MC and “drive for results”.

Professional property management is a service industry, and some service providers perform better than others. To evaluate how your property's management measures up, it's necessary to assess both how the company functions as a whole and also how your individual managing agent is performing. To do that, it's important first to understand what a really good professional management is supposed to do and then assess whether or not your MC is providing you that level of service. If it is not, then you have identified an improvement opportunity that should be discussed with your MC and addressed.

In most associations, BoD’s think about reasons they hire a MC in terms of what they expect them to do, not in relation to the underlying role they're expecting them to play. In reality, both are equally important. Shown below are typical examples of each type of job responsibilities that may be involved:

Basic Services. These are the services provided that is typically spelled out in an MC contract. They generally contain a further detailed description of what is to be done and the frequency.

  • Architectural and environmental standards
  • The maintenance of common properties
  • The provision of common services
  • Internal communications
  • Financial management
  • General administration
  • The procurement of insurance
  • The preparation of tax returns and other reports
  • Assistance to the Board of Directors on policy matters.

Role of the MC. These example responsibilities are more subtle, but none the less important. They describe expected role and demeanor of the MC. They are often the things that make or break a good MC.

  • They are up-to-date on all association issues; delinquencies, foreclosures (pending and otherwise), violations, contracts, etc.
  • They report everything to the BoD at our regular board meeting and notify us immediately if something requires immediate attention or of a situation that might become difficult to handle if not dealt with delicately.
  • They prepare accurate and timely management reports for our board meetings and alert us to anything that requires attention.
  • They always acts in good faith and acts in best interests of the members of the association, while exercising due care and diligence.
  • They minimize costs at every opportunity and come up with creative ways for our associations to combat rising costs.
  • They treat everyone with dignity and respect in carrying out their duties.

These above services can be considered as the basic “blocking and tackling” that must be performed in the normal course of duty. But, how do “stretch” your MC to above and beyond the call of duty? This can be accomplished with the use of mutually agreed upon objectives that plan for results and not just do the work. Identifying 3-5 objectives each year can provide outstanding benefits and progress over the long term.

MC objectives

Every association will have its unique needs which will drive the establishment of objectives. Some may want to focus on landscaping and some may want to focus on a new association website. Shown below are some typical examples.

  • Reduce the operating cost for the association by 10% over the next year.
  • Create a new association website in the next six months not to exceed $5,000 in development cost.
  • Convert the landscaping irrigation system from well water to lake water by the end of the year.
  • Increase co-owner awareness of standards and guideline requirements to improve compliance with condo covenants.
  • Contact a tax specialist who operates on a contingency basis and request a quote for appealing this year’s association property taxes.

Using the above three categories of performance, you now have foundation for a performance management and feedback system to be used with your MC. Periodic reviews of their performance should be done to assess how they’re doing and identify both their strengths and areas where they could use improvement. But, before any of this can be used, the Board must fully understand and accept that the MC works for them 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. If the MC is unwilling to work with the BoD on a method of assessing and improving their performance, then it is time for the Board to look for a MC that will!

There are many different techniques to evaluating management performance. Some do formal annual performance reviews. Some do it twice a year. Others use a 360 degree feedback system where in input of peers/subordinates are built into the reviews. Many of these techniques require considerable time and effort for both parties to provide the necessary documentation. Shown below is a simple process that I would recommend for use. It has received many favorable reviews in my business world experiences. It is by no means the perfect assessment tool or the only one. But, it is effect and it does get the job done in a minimum amount of time. Here how it works.

Recommended Performance Management & Feedback Process

  • Using the following templates, create three sheets – one each for Basic Services, Role of the MC, and MC objectives. For each sheet you should list the key responsibilities in the leftmost column.

Basic Service

Do More Of

Do Same Of

Do Less Of

Role of MC

Do More Of

Do Same Of

Do Less Of




  • Review the sheets with the MC and/or Managing Agent and gain agreement on the accuracy of their responsibilities and the assessment technique to be used.
  • Conduct two performance reviews during the year. One at the mid-term time frame and one at the end of the year. The performance review should be more of a discussion rather that a boss rating the subordinate exercise. This is an opportunity to take time out of one’s busy schedule to examine how things are going. It is not necessary to write anything down for these two reviews. You simply use each responsibility as an opportunity to say to your MC, “thing are going great on this item” or “this is an area where we need some additional emphasis.” With this system, there is no actual rating scale. The format reduces the stress level for everyone concerned and allows for a meaningful discussion on things that are going well and not so well. It is also a time for each party to work together and help each other be successful. Of course, the mid-year and end-of-the-year reviews are not the only reviews that should occur. The most effective feedback is when it occurs immediately after the action occurs. So, if the MC does something well, pat them on the back. If they don’t do something well, let them know that as well.

A complete description of this Management Performance and Feedback system and example templates are in available for purchase in electronic form at under the downloads section.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lead Courageously

Leading courageously is a very important trait of any successful association BoD. Today’s environment demands that BoD members make decisions that involve risk, and take their stand in the face of ambiguity or adversity. BoD members who lead courageously confront problems directly and take action based on what they believe is right. They win the respect and commitment of others by standing up for what they believe; making tough decisions despite ambiguity; by supporting others who make difficult decisions; and by following issues through to completion in spite of adversity. The following are valuable tips to help you lead courageously:

Clarify what is important to you. Identify your most, deeply held convictions. What is most important to me? What do I value the most? What is worth “fighting” or standing up for? On which of my values will I never compromise? Then use those convictions to guide your leadership.

Take a stand to resolve important issues. Pushing to resolve important issues requires clear communication, a strong emphasis on paying attention to and working with others, persistence, and the courage of your convictions. When asserting your position, be wary of using tentative language like, “I might be persuaded to …”, or “I’m not sure that it’s the best way …”. Instead, use firm, assertive language to state your position.

Demonstrate leadership courage. BoD leaders are often faced with situations in which taking the most appropriate course of action carries with it a backlash of complaints, problems, and negative reactions. It requires courage to take action in these situations. If others perceive you as lacking courage, try the following; Support others when they make tough choices; confront tough issues head on; Say “no” when necessary; When you are reluctant to make a change, ask yourself what is behind your resistance?

Drive hard on the right issues. Remember the old adage “choose your battles carefully” when you are deciding how best to spend your energies. You can’t possibly do everything, but it is especially critical for you to address the issues that get in the way of, or further the development of, your mission.

Confront problems promptly. When important individual or team issues come to your attention, it is critical to respond quickly. Addressing problems keeps them from growing and conveys the message to your team that you are willing to tackle tough issues.

Be decisive. Indecisiveness may result in the perception that you cannot make tough choices or take a stand on issues. Consider indecisive behaviors that apply to you and then try to remedy them on such things as; difficulty in determining which of several alternatives is best, immediately turning to others before you formulated your own options, procrastinating on deadlines, second-guessing yourself, using tentative language when describing your ideas, loosing touch with what is important to you, concern for taking a stand that will cause others to dislike you.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pay Attention to Your Management Company Transition

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, when a condo or homeowner association Board of Directors (BoD) decides that its Management Company is not doing the job to its satisfaction and that it should be replaced, it instills a range of uncertainties, hopes, and fears. Even managers who have previously been superior managers may not be the right manager for that association today. Lots of things can contribute to this situation: Board personalities change, the needs of the community change, expectations change, skill requirements change, ---- and for whatever reason and nobody's fault, the manager may simply not be a good "fit". The decision to change is sometimes initiated by the Management Company itself due to internal staffing issues such as; resignation or reassignment of the manager, inability of the Management Company to make a profit, disputes with the Board or association members, etc.

Once the decision has been finalized on who to hire as the new Management Company and the contract has been signed, you enter a very important transition period. Most condo or homeowner association BoD’s woefully underestimated the importance of the transition period, or may not have given it any thought at all. The same is true for Management Companies. Even if either party does pay attention to this transition, it almost always focuses on the technical side of the business (by-laws, past BoD meeting minutes, financial information, delinquency and violation logs, business processes, etc.). It seldom focuses on the people side of the equation (the culture, unwritten rules, key membership influencers, informal communication channels, things to avoid, etc.). Any successful transition is maximized by jointly addressing both areas, simultaneously.

No matter how skilled or competent the new Management Company manager may be, s/he will go through a normal transition period to learn the organization and to get up to speed. These first months on the job are critical to building the foundation for delivery on promises and many believe that a new manager’s success or failure is determined within 90 days on the job.

Although everyone is counting on the new manager to be successful, it won’t just automatically happen. Ensuring a successful transition not only lies with the new Management Company, but also with the association BoD. If the association BoD expects to receive a return on its investment of time, energy, and money in selecting a new Management Company, then it should be actively involved in transition the new manager and invest the necessary time. This is not the time to be supportive from a distance.

Everyone loses when a new Management Company manager fails. Goals aren't met. Members are disenfranchised. Opportunities are missed, and often lost forever. How much does it really cost? The "soft" costs of derailment can be incalculable. The "hard" costs aren't. With so much at stake, you should do whatever you can you do to get the highest possible rate of return on your new Management Company investment? More importantly, why would you leave it to chance?
An important first step is for the BoD to understand how they want to use a Management Company. Then, here are some important steps for the new Management Company manager.

  • Prepare for the job – before you start the job
  • Learn as much as you can about the association
  • Hold a “supervisor” orientation meeting
  • Conduct an “administrative” orientation
  • Hold preliminary (one-om-one) discussions with each BoD member
  • Be visible and talk to association members
  • Make contact with professional service providers
  • Conduct a Leadership Transition Meeting with key association members
  • Finalize your plans with your supervisor and/or BoD
  • Secure some early wins