A Matter of Style Different HOAs Require Different Management Skills

A Matter of Style

When visiting different doctors, have you noticed that they all have different personalities? One doctor is friendly and talkative, but another is the polar opposite—he forgoes the chit-chat, completes a thorough examination, and says goodbye, matter-of-factly reminding you to make an appointment for your next visit. One doctor is timid and reserved while the other one is aggressive and loud. And they all have their own ways of getting the job done.

Property managers are no different. You’ll find property managers with different management styles and personalities that are used with the staff, tenants, vendors and contractors. These personality and management styles help them to handle problems that they encounter along the way. Winston Churchill once said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Pairing the right personality and management style to the right building can make the difference in having a successful management relationship.

Finding the Best Fit

Jaime Soderland, senior manager at Management & Associates in Oldsmar says that when the company is pairing managers with their properties—which range in size from 18 to 750 units—they look at education, demographics and experience.

“We do that because we have a manager well versed in condos, we’d give them a portfolio of condos versus homeowner associations,” says Soderland.

When it comes to more specialized properties, such as active adult or assisted living communities, Soderland says that she needs a manager with more patience and understanding. “We understand we have to be more patient with those individuals on an older board. A younger board doesn’t need as much pampering.”

At Castle Group property management in Plantation, James Donnelly, president and CEO explains that their property managers are subjected to comprehensive personality testing during the interview. “We use that information when we are trying to match the manager to the property. In Florida, we have a lot of different properties—high rise, urban, and adult communities that require different personalities.”

Other management companies don’t consider personality as much when first assigning a manager to a building. “We look at the dynamics of the building and how much time and energy each building takes, and make sure we don’t assign all the tough buildings to one person,” says Beth Swaggerty, assistant executive director for Illinois-based Oak Park Residential Corporation.

Donnelly also explains that he matches managers based on where they live. “A big factor for us is we want our managers to live close to their building,” he says. “Their lifestyle is going to spending an hour or two in their car every day, so you want them to be in a small circle where they can manage.”

An Array of Skills

However they are paired with their property portfolio, once they are on the job, managers must still use a variety of management styles to get the job done. Some business management experts classify management styles using zoological metaphors. For example, a shark is more forceful or aggressive, while a turtle takes his time solving a problem or sits back and allows others to work it out on their own? A dolphin is more cooperative, while a lion is more competitive. However colorful the description, these styles have their downsides too. For example, a turtle might take too long to solve a problem and miss out on things because he is too slow. There can also be a combination of styles.

Management style may depend on the size of the staff and the building. For example, a larger staff comes with a higher chance for conflicts. A smaller building lets the manager know more about the personal lives of the staff and residents, but knowing each other's business can lead to potential conflicts. Even in a building where the manager flies solo, he still needs a style since at some point the manager will work with vendors, contractors and residents.

For example, if Mrs. Jones is a quiet, reserved elderly woman, a manager wouldn’t aggressively interrogate her about a conflict she’s having with a neighbor. A good manager will tailor his or her approach to issues, residents, and staff members to illicit the best possible outcome—not to impose his or her personality onto the situation.

Personality conflicts may occasionally arise between boards, residents and managers. For example, a younger manager managing a senior community for the age 55 and over crowd may find it difficult. “We have 800 employees, so we ask ourselves if we’re hiring to find someone to find a tree, do we find a squirrel or a horse? If the person doesn’t work out for the first task they are on, we try to find another task where a horse would be good.”

If a complaint comes in about one of his managers, Donnelly says he looks into it. “If it’s one person complaining on the board, I don’t worry overmuch about it, but I do check with the other people,” he says. “I’m not sure you can teach compassion, but what you can do is give the manager as many tools as you can to help them interact with residents and board members.”

When Problems Arise

If a board member doesn’t like a particular manager, however, Donnelly says that his customers have veto power over all personnel. “If any of our clients want someone off the property, we have a discussion. Maybe there is a misunderstanding or remedy but if in the end they want the person out, we do that. They would get redeployed for a second chance, probably not a third.”

When problems arise, the manager should have a place to turn for help. Start right inside your own company. “There’s no way it can be a one man show and that’s something we bring up in our bi-monthly management meeting,” says Soderland. “With everybody having different ideas, someone will come up with something that will work.”

Property managers have also turned to internet advice columnists with readers who write in asking specific questions. Tenant resource websites can help you to find information on various subjects related to your tenants. Some sites offer free explanations of tenant legal issues such as leases, evictions, deposits, multiple tenants, environmental issues, rent increase and control, repairs and discrimination and may give you the answers you are looking for. Organizations such as the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also have information on public housing topics.

If you are a member of any trade organizations, such as the Community Associations Institute (CAI), which has many chapters nationwide including seven in Florida, or the Chicago-based Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM), these organizations have resources, including back issues of their publication articles, which are available to members on their website. Perhaps there is a particular problem that someone in the organization has either experienced or can help you with.

To help managers cope with various on-the-job situations, companies keep up on training. “We have a program where the managers learn that how you treat your team is how you want them to treat the customer,” says Donnelly. “It’s not personality training but training on how to deal with people.”

If there is a personality conflict, Soderland says that she tries to resolve the problem. “We give our managers another chance, but sometimes if there is a personality conflict the board wants a change, although we don’t change too often,” she says. “We always try to find a resolution to move forward to what they want to do.”

If there’s a problem, it’s addressed, but if at any time the management wants to change the property manager, it’s done. “Sometimes associations don’t realize that they don’t need to change the management company, they just need to change the manager and when they ask that, there’s no ifs, ands or buts. We don’t try to fit a round peg into a square hole. If a board is not happy with the manager, we make the change.”

You don’t need to be psychologist to figure out someone’s personality—simply listen and watch. Management styles change depending on tenants, employees, and what’s working. Remember that good communication with your employees and tenants is key, regardless of your personality and management style.

Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The South Florida Cooperator.

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