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.” - Vince Lombardi, Green Bay Packers Coach

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,” he says.

Expectations & Responsibilities

This board/manager mutuality starts with an understanding of responsibilities, which are typically specified in management contracts: the property manager must provide the board with information necessary to accomplish goals for the building, while the board must use the information to make the best decisions possible on behalf of the building or HOA.

In creating a successful working environment between board and manager, lines can often blur. For example, a unit owner may approach a board member with an issue or complaint instead of a manager, or vice versa. To avoid such confusion, responsibilities should be outlined at the very beginning of the relationship.

Any productive relationship includes establishing expectations, communication, and honesty. “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.”

“The most important skill, on both sides, is listening to facilitate open and straightforward communications,” adds Charles P. Kass, a board member in Madeira Beach. “The manager needs to help the board establish priorities and focus on issues that benefit and enhance the value of the community.”

Meeting Expectations

For managers, working with 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 a 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. No one is working alone. In every building, there are board members of different ages and personalities, like the fictitious Mr. G., a kind 61-year-old, resident and member of the association for 20 years. He knows the neighborhood and has witnessed 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. There are also members like Mr. K., a hard-driving businessman, always late for meetings, maintaining a gruff, somewhat unfriendly demeanor.

Managing buildings or associations that are home to residents from varied backgrounds, language groups, and cultural perspectives means working with board members that sometimes pose distinct challenges, too. A manager in an urban area might find him 0r 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 the board members’ personalities or languages, managers must report to these and other bosses, who will analyze and comment on their work and performance, and make decisions and prioritize 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 those answers aren’t likely found at 11:30 at night when the manager has settled down after a long day. Calling a manager at that time, even 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 an emergency.

Communication is Key

In every successful relationship, communication is fundamental. Again and again, experts agree that a functional, productive management/board relationship values communication and understands the roles and boundaries of the relationship; board members must 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. The board should be focused and present clear direction and instruction for the manager. “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 boards 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 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. For example, most managers are not happy when board members contact them about nonessential items during late hours, or perpetually pester them with minor concerns that could wait until the next day…or even 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 deal with particularly interesting characters, including members who are on the board to push personal agendas, or those who feel that association 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 member 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 showing cracks in the foundation, repairs are necessary. “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 trying to win the Super Bowl, to have a happy marriage, or to run a successful building, team work is vital to success. Have a plan of action of action, communicate well, and fix problems before they become unmanageable…then celebrate 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 Western & Central Florida Cooperator. Staff writer Christy Smith-Sloman contributed to this article.