How to Communicate: What Your Board Should Know and Do
Why is effective communication so important to your association and your board? You want to avoid confusion in your association. We all know that rumor is no way to manage any entity, and we also know that nature abhors a vacuum. When your residents aren’t hearing directly from your board on a consistent basis, they will fill in the blanks on their own and that may mean that misleading, incomplete or just plain wrong information will circulate. Transparent communication is the solution.
Remember that old elementary school game of telephone and how the message changed from person to person? You want to avoid that at all costs, especially when it comes to important matters like your association budget! Clear messaging directly from the board avoids these issues.
Luckily, it’s easy to create a communication plan that will work for your association. Follow these suggestions and set your association on the path to clear, effective communication today.
1. Start with a good plan."Measure twice; cut once.” Take the time to create an overall communication plan and then carefully plan each communication from the board. Review all elements and make sure it says what you want it to say to avoid problems down the road, including accidentally sending misinformation.
“Never speculate,” warns Timothy Snowden, executive director at FirstService Residential. “Just lay out the facts.” Don’t use absolutes like “never” or “always.” Your association management team should have the expertise to help you create a communication plan that works for your association.
2. Use the right channels.People like to get information in different ways. While some may still want a printed notice in the mail or on their door, others prefer to get all info by email or even text. When residents move in, get all their contact information and make note of how they prefer to be contacted. Whenever possible, use that method.
Use that intake opportunity to educate new residents on what kind of communications they can expect to see from you and how they will be delivered. It may be a legal requirement that certain communications, like annual reports, must be sent as hard copies through the mail, for example.
3. Keep contact information updated.This is especially important in emergencies, when you need to reach everyone in a hurry, but it should be a regular process too. When residents contact the office for any reason, take a minute to make sure their contact info is current. “The best communication in the world doesn’t matter if no one can reach their residents,” says Michael Bodner, director of national property operations at FirstService Residential.
4. Choose the right tone.“It’s important to keep communications positive and rooted in the values of the community,” says Bill Worrall, vice president at FirstService Residential. “Tone matters more than we realize. Any communication you send ultimately deals with people’s homes, so empathy and a personal touch are important.”
Worrall says that even difficult communications can be easier for residents to handle if the message is tied to a value of the community or a community survey: “To keep our property values high….,” or “90% of residents said they want to….,” for example.
5. Let technology work for you.Do you have access to a mass communication system that lets you communicate to everyone at once? Social media, mass communication tools and your community website are invaluable tools for fast, clear communication.
The most important thing you need to do around technology is define, in writing, who is allowed to use it and what kind of messages can be sent through it. A meeting reminder is perfect for social media; an extended discussion of new policy is not. A quality association management company will have the experience to help your board navigate the latest communication technology.
6. Include your renters.One common mistake that boards make is to ignore renters in their communication plan. Communicating to renters directly makes them feel like they are part of the community, and that means they are going to have a greater investment in it. Today’s renter may be tomorrow’s homeowner.
Overlooked tenants won’t pay attention to—or even necessarily know about—policies on loud music, trash cans or exterior decorations. “The renter is responsible for following guidelines, but that’s tough to enforce if you aren’t able to easily communicate with them or they don’t feel that you have a right to enforcement because they never hear from you otherwise,” says Marc Kaplan, managing director at FirstService Residential.
Keeping tenants informed can be vital to the safety of the community, both the people and property. For example, if your neighbors aren’t receiving communication about storm-proofing or snow removal policies because they are renters, their unintentional negligence can damage property or cause injuries. Of course, that leads to a negative impact on your community’s property values and resident satisfaction.
7. Make communication a two-way street.Residents need the opportunity to voice their concerns and share their opinions. Reserve time for open discussions at board meetings and send out surveys to find out what’s important to them. You may even want to set up casual get-togethers where residents can express their views to board members.
Make it clear that the board can only take action during board meetings and only on items that are on the agenda. “It’s common for residents to approach board members individually to get what they want,” says Jaime Sikorski, general manager at FirstService Residential. “Anytime someone does that, you should direct them to the community manager.”
8. Ensure that your management team is on the same page.You know what you want your community to be. Does your management company or team know that? Understanding your board’s vision for your community is key to your management team communicating to your residents on your behalf. Your vision will drive the priority of communication, for example. If your vision includes the community being always lushly, perfectly landscaped, then landscaping communications may take priority over others.
Communication is an important part of making your community the best it can be. And it doesn’t have to be as complex or difficult as you might think. Building a good communication plan, keeping your communications clear and on message and always being transparent with your residents are the first steps.