While the start of the new year is typically heralded as the best time to change old habits and commit to new ones, the reality for community associations and their board members is that there’s no time like the present. These 10 changes will help you get your board and your community association on the right track for the rest of the year.
- Old habit: You try to address too many community association issues at once.
New habit: Identify yearly priorities for your board.
Each year, your board should prioritize two to four main areas and only undertake projects that support those priorities. “The best boards I’ve seen come together as a group and create a mission statement,” says Gordon Mobley, vice president of FirstService Residential in Jacksonville, Florida. “Then right from day one, they decide the areas they will focus on, and these cascade into a project list.”
- Old habit: Your personal agenda rules your decisions.
New habit: Always put your community first.
“When looking at some of the habits of successful boards it’s really about the desire to help the community,” says Jennifer Clifford, FirstService Residential vice president for western Arizona. That includes accepting the board’s decision, even if you voted differently on an issue. “Be supportive – regardless of your opinion,” continues Clifford, “so you are presenting a united front. Be sure to watch your body language during voting, too. That can be seen by other members and residents in attendance.”
- Old habit: You micromanage your community manager.
New habit: Stick to a higher-level view.
“You have to recognize the value of remaining high level and staying out of the weeds,” explains Clifford. “This includes understanding – and communicating to residents – the role of the board versus the role of the management company.” Mobley agrees. “Rather than micromanaging your management team, set the policy, make the decisions and let the management team execute on your policy.”
- Old habit: You’re too casual in how you run board meetings.
New habit: Conduct your meetings on a professional level.
The best ways to maintain professionalism during board meetings are by being prepared and following procedure. Stick to the business at hand, saving any social time until the meeting has ended. Avoid engaging in negative debates, especially with defensive or argumentative people. “Just try to hear what they are saying,” Clifford suggests. “Be a strong leader, get the meeting back on track or adjourn it if necessary. Just do it in a professional, respectful way.”
- Old habit: Your default is the status quo.
New habit: Be open-minded about making changes.
When is the last time your board reviewed its processes, vendor contracts or utility history? “Be proactive in understanding and reviewing contracts regularly,” says Clifford, “and don’t be afraid to make changes or question past decisions that may no longer work.” For example, an analysis of your energy usage, bank accounts, loans or insurance coverage may reveal areas in which your community association can save a significant amount of money.
- Old habit: You overspend – or underspend.
New habit: Learn to budget and spend sensibly.
Creating a realistic budget is one of your most important duties. Unfortunately, many boards underestimate their financial needs because they’re reluctant to increase fees. “Don’t be afraid to raise assessments when it’s necessary or when it’s in the best interest of the community,” Clifford urges. “If you don’t do what you need to do in the community, like maintenance or road repair, you’ll end up with a bigger problem.” She also encourages boards to adequately fund their reserves and to spend that money according to the association’s reserve study. “Board members need to understand why reserves exist and how spending money on capital improvements can preserve the value and beauty of the community.”
- Old habit: You only consider the perspective of a “squeaky wheel.”
New habit: Consider the needs of diverse homeowners.
It’s often the same handful of residents who bring issues to the board’s attention. “But just because Mr. Smith is thinking about something or finds it to be an issue, doesn’t mean everyone agrees,” says Mobley. “Value their input, but take what they tell you under advisement.” Residents’ views often depend on where in the building or community they live or what type of housing they have, he explains. “It’s like feeling different parts of an elephant. Sometimes they only see a small part.” Mobley suggests discussing the issue with the other board members to get more diverse viewpoints. “That way, you’ll know if it’s a real issue, and your board can then decide whether or not to prioritize it.”
- Old habit: You aren’t transparent enough with residents.
New habit: Communicate openly.
It’s unlikely that you’ll ever hear residents complain about your board communicating too much. They want you to share information such as recent actions the board has taken, planned events and emergency procedures. One of the most important things that Mobley says you should share with residents is your yearly priorities. “Communicate the board’s goals transparently. The more you do this, the better.”
- Old habit: You let your board position rule your life.
New habit: Balance your life by delegating more.
“If being on the board becomes too big a part of your life, you’re probably doing too much,” says Mobley. “Remember that you are just a volunteer.” In addition to leaning on your property management company, let other board members carry their fair share. If there’s still too much to do, form committees and ask for volunteers. A social committee, architectural review committee or landscape committee, for example, can relieve a lot of the pressure you may be feeling and leave you with time to pursue other activities.
- Old habit: You trust your existing knowledge too much.
New habit: Get board training.
Regardless of your current experience, you can always benefit from more training. “Be open to learning,” says Clifford. “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Your community management company should offer board member training, as well as seminars on current issues that may affect your community. Follow the lead of the board at one of FirstService Residential’s managed communities in Arizona, which requires all board members to attend training anytime someone new joins the board.
Unlike changing your fitness habits, changing how you run your community association will have immediate results, and it won’t be very painful. There’s no better time to start than right now!