Mastering Management Maximizing Cooperation and Partnership

Mastering Management

“Individual commitment to a group effort; that's what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

Legendary Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi left condo boards and managers off his short list, but his wisdom certainly applies in that context as well, says David Cohen, the vice president of service excellence for AKAM on-site, a property management firm in Dania Beach. “The best relationships are those in which the board and management share mutual respect, trust, and communication,”

Expectations & Responsibilities

This board/manager mutuality starts with knowing who is responsible for what—and those particulars are typically written into the management contract. In short, the responsibility of the property manager is to provide the board with the information they need to carry out their goals regarding the building, staff, financial issues, and so on. The board’s job is to use this information to make the best decisions possible on behalf of the building or HOA.

One of the biggest obstacles in creating a successful working environment between board and manager is that these lines can often be blurred. For example, a unit owner may go to a board member with an issue or complaint instead of to the manager, or vice versa. The responsibilities should be outlined at the very beginning of the relationship.

Any productive relationship includes meeting expectations, having good communication, and being open and honest. “When the board clearly articulates their vision for the property, as well as their expectations of the manager’s role, and then allows management to do their job, with both sides respecting the other’s position and responsibilities, you have a recipe for success,” says Cohen.

“In an ideal board/management partnership, managers are the professionals,” says Barbara Proctor, a senior property manager at Konover South: a Simon Konover Company in Deerfield Beach providing development, leasing and management services, “and to be successful, they need to be trained and have the necessary leadership skills to provide the level of service required for each community association. Managers should also have the skills to prepare a well-planned agenda, assist the presiding officer in conducting a meeting, to assist board members in preparing motions to accomplish what they want, to help committees prepare reports, and train the secretary in how they prepare minutes. Successful boards typically have well-organized meetings that allow for full participation.”

Meeting Expectations

For managers, working with their boards requires a team mentality; condo and HOA boards expect management to be accessible, to talk to them about building concerns, and to handle those concerns in such as way that the board knows management takes them seriously.

“The more a manager knows, the better equipped they will be to handle various situations,” adds Proctor. “Networking is an important way to share ideas with peers who know what you are up against, and helps you discover how other managers have been successful. It is difficult when budgets are cut and your inbox or voicemail is full of complaints.”

Remember, however, that there is no ‘I’ in team. You are not working alone. In every building, you are working with board members of different ages and personalities. There are board members like the fictitious Mr. G, a sweet 61-year-old man who has been a resident and member of the association for 20 years. He knows the neighborhood and has been through many board changes. He has held several positions and is currently serving as treasurer. He's easy to reach, and a pleasure to work with. But in another building you are working with someone like Mr. K, a hard-driving businessman who is always late for meetings, maintains a gruff, somewhat unfriendly demeanor, and who just isn't an easy guy to deal with.

Managing buildings or associations that are home to residents from varied backgrounds, language groups and cultural perspectives means working with board members that can sometimes pose distinct challenges too. A manager in an urban area might find him or herself talking with a Japanese couple who just opened a new restaurant in the condo building's commercial storefront, or board members in a predominately Hispanic community where Spanish is the language of choice.

Regardless of who is on the board or in the building, their personalities or their languages, managers must report to these and other multiple bosses, who will analyze and comment on their work and performance and who will make decisions and prioritize certain tasks. “Respect, trust, and communication are universal, no matter the building or HOA. The details may vary, but the principles remain the same,” says Cohen.

On the other hand, manager/board relationships are not one-sided. Board members have to work with management too. Randolph Bell, owner of BeacCorp Property Management in West Palm Beach is a little blunter about his expectations in this relationship. “We have to be responsive and accountable—so be confident and let me do my job,” he says. “If I don’t have the answer, I’ll get the answer.”

That being said, boards need to understand that finding those answers may not come at 11:30 at night when the manager has just settled down after a long day at work. Calling a manager at that time, even just to ask a quick question, is neither respectful nor productive. If the board needs to contact the manager off-hours, it should be by email and only by phone in case of emergency.

Communication is Key

The bottom line is that in every successful relationship, communication is key. Again and again, the pros agree that a truly functional, productive management/board relationship goes back to communicating well and outlining the roles and boundaries of the relationship. To be effective, board members must be able and willing to communicate with each other and with their manager.

“Some boards do this better than others,” says Proctor. “It helps to have open meetings so everyone can help to identify problems, find solutions, and communicate. Individual boards have specific problems, but the process is universal. Successful boards have a tendency to be more respectful and responsive in understanding individual needs.”

Good communication starts with listening. It helps if the board is able to stay focused and to be able to present a clear direction and/or instructions for their manager. Communication also means keeping everyone in the loop about what is going on in the building. “Experience tells us that boards are most satisfied when management takes a proactive approach to accountability and transparency,” says Cohen. “This means keeping the board advised on an ongoing basis regarding management’s activities on behalf of the association without having to be asked.”

Proctor also advises the board to adopt motions for certain things they want done. “This gives clear direction to the manager,” she says. “The manager should give a written report at the board meetings. If special situations arise, special meetings may be scheduled to handle specific items.”

Managers also want board members to understand that they are there to make recommendations and to advise them. “The board’s role is to make decisions on policy and procedure and Management’s role is to execute and implement those decisions,” says Cohen.

Relationship Rifts

Unfortunately, there are rifts in some relationships. Like friends and spouses, boards and managers can bicker over many things. For example, most managers are not happy when board members contact them about nonessential items during off hours, or perpetually pester them with minor concerns that could wait until the next day, or the next meeting. In addition, board officers can change each year, making it difficult for managers to adjust to a rotating roster of styles and personalities. Some managers have had to deal with really interesting characters, including board members who are simply on the board to push their own agendas, or those who feel that the association's rules are meant for everyone but them.

“As a property manager, I wear different hats when I’m dealing with different people, but it’s certainly possible to deal effectively with different board members at different buildings,” says Bell, adding that the average age of his board members is 81. “Not everyone is up on the technology I use, such as Dropbox and file sharing or bar graphs, so I have to present things to people in a way that they can understand,” he says. “You might want to have a one-size-fits-all cookie-cutter management model for each building, but you can’t have that. You have to be adaptable to each situation.”

If the relationship is starting to show cracks in the foundation, it is time to repair the damage. “Do things differently,” says Proctor. “As a professional registered parliamentarian, I believe in the importance of having a more formal meeting where the maximum amount of business can be soldiered in the shortest period of time, and where individual members are treated fairly. This setting naturally fosters better communication between board members and managers.”

Whether you’re trying to win the Super Bowl, have a happy marriage or run a successful building, working together is vital to your success. Have a plan of action of action, communicate well and fix problems before they become unmanageable and celebrate your success.

“Managers want to be successful, they want to help, they want to share their accomplishments and successes,” says Proctor.    

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

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