Crystal Vision: Why Communication Between a Board and Management Company MattersAs a board member, you want your community to grow and thrive. Having a vision for your community—the aesthetics of it, its reputation, the kinds of programming it offers and amenities it provides—is critical to its long-term well-being. A well-crafted vision will transcend board and resident turnover and keep your community on track.

How can you create a vision?

Start by communicating with your residents. Surveys, focus groups and simple conversations can help you understand what the members of your community want. What matters to them? What are their priorities? What are their values?

Stephanie Parker, vice president, strategy and operations in the South region at FirstService Residential, noted the vision will drive a community’s budget decisions because it reflects the priorities of the residents and board. “When we talk about vision, we’re talking about a longer-term outlook. Boards change, and a vision gives them a common thread, something consistent to work toward and use as a guideline for decision-making,” Ms. Parker stated.
Once you have information collected, you can use it to help clarify the direction you want for your neighborhood or building. It can also be helpful to check out neighboring properties to see what you like and dislike about them. Network with board members from other associations. If possible, take advantage of trade events to do so. Additionally, your property management company may offer educational events open to board members from neighboring communities, which may be a great opportunity to gather input. Inspiration might be just down the street!
If there are no similar communities close by, expand your research. Talk to your property management company. A large, quality management company will have data about communities similar to yours and ideas to help get your association on the right path. 
Once you have a vision crafted, make sure it is communicated to everyone in the community. Residents need to be engaged with your vision and understand how it affects them as well, how your vision will help enhance their property values and improve their lifestyles. Get their buy-in. It is important to convey this information to all new members of the community as well.  

How can you achieve your vision?

The first step in achieving your vision is communicating it to your property management company. No matter how good it is, a property management company cannot deploy its resources and staff to help you achieve your goals if you don’t make it clear what they are.
Steven Parker, president of FirstService Residential in Nevada, stated the importance of sharing your vision with management is being able to guide the actions that work toward achieving it. “Otherwise,” Mr. Parker said, “you may get an outcome you’re not going to want. It’s better to control it than to just let it happen.”
For example, if your vision includes an event calendar that is heavy on programming, your property management company may have programming professionals available to guide you on the best ways to manage your calendar and what types of events you should offer your residents. But they won’t know to tap into those resources if you aren’t clear about your desires and goals for your association.
The biggest fallout of not communicating your vision to your management company is simply not accomplishing it. Your association will not be able to deliver the exceptional service your residents deserve, and it will eventually affect their lifestyles and property values.
Ms. Parker agreed. “Managing a property requires a high-level strategic view, as well as the ability to deliver on tactical needs,” she explained. “Everyday decisions may seem to make sense in the moment, but may still be wrong for the long-term vision.”

How should you measure progress toward your vision?

You need to check in every so often to make sure your community continues to be aligned on its long-term vision. Is your management company on the same page as your board? Are your goals being reached?
Your property management company, management staff and board should conduct separate evaluations of how your association is achieving its long-term vision. Then, you should compare the results, reconcile them and create a plan to move forward.

What should you be measuring?

Mr. Parker said the goals will vary based on what’s important to your community, what your values are. “If your vision is to maintain an aesthetically balanced community, then monitor your violations and see how many are being given out related to aesthetics. Are the violations being rectified? If your vision is to communicate accurately, look at calls or emails directed to your management team,” he explained. “Are your residents calling to ask about things that should have been communicated and weren’t, or are they asking standard questions like ‘Did you get you my payment?’ If residents make a lot of calls asking about the pool, for example, you need to increase communication as it relates to use of the pool.”
Board engagement with residents in the form of increased meeting and event attendance, operational improvements and efficiencies, engagement between the management team and board and properly functioning infrastructure are examples of other metrics that can be assessed during an evaluation.
Ms. Parker emphasized the open, collaborative nature of the process. “It’s important for the management team to be honest about areas needing improvement. For example, if our management team doesn’t feel the budget has been optimized as much as it can be, we will take note and offer access to our Value Engineering services, which will evaluate the community’s vendor relationships and look for areas to save money or get more for the money being spent. Reviewing how we are performing at a property should open a channel to discuss how we, the management team, can do better as well.”

How often should you measure your goals?

Ms. Parker recommends associations and management evaluate the team’s performance at properties twice a year, with the understanding that the process and its frequency need to work for the community’s schedule and needs. Mr. Parker said, in Nevada, there are communities that want an assessment quarterly, some that prefer semi-annually and some that only want one per year. Whatever the frequency, the most important thing is that a review does happen.
You and your fellow board members want the best for your community. Creating a detailed vision, sharing it with all stakeholders and your management company, and measuring your progress will enhance your property values and improve resident lifestyles. A quality property management company will have the resources to help you get input from your residents about their needs and values, create and communicate your vision, and evaluate its execution.
To learn more about how working with a professional property management company can help your community craft a vision that will improve your residents’ lifestyles and enhance property values, contact FirstService Residential, North America’s leader in residential property management.

Thursday April 27, 2017