Avoid Mistakes and Find Solutions: How to be an effective board member for your HOA or condo community
Even the best board members aren’t immune from mistakes.
Learn the 5 most common board blunders and how to avoid them.
Volunteers who serve on boards for their HOA or condominium associations play a critical role in their community’s success. They’re often dedicated leaders driven by love for their community and focused on the happiness of their residents. But even the most passionate board member can make a mistake, especially since they need to make a myriad of important decisions every day. Knowing about some of the most common pitfalls can help board members avoid them.
To get to the bottom of the most common board member blunders – and solutions! – we spoke to several FirstService Residential subject matter experts for their advice on how to be an effective board member. Those experts included a team of vice presidents: Kim Brasfield, Maureen Connolly, Edwin Lugo and Keith Sensabaugh.
Read on for some of the most common mistakes that board members make and how these issues can be addressed when they do happen. Avoiding or quickly correcting these mistakes will help your board operate effectively and efficiently, allowing you to fulfill your responsibility to protect, maintain and enhance your community and the lifestyles of your residents. Ignoring them can cause your board to become ineffective or even gridlocked, prohibiting you from addressing resident concerns. Over time, this will lead to a decrease in their satisfaction, which can ultimately affect everything from the community’s harmony to your property values.
Mistake 1: Not understanding their roles
The most well-intentioned volunteers can’t be effective if they don’t have the information they need. Whether it’s the history of the community, what it means to be a board member, how the board and management company work together, or how polices are enforced, it’s critical that new board members have the chance to learn what’s expected of them and how to best meet those expectations.
Sensabaugh said that the biggest problem he sees is board members who look at the association at a surface level without digging into governing documents, operations and the realities they need to understand to be successful.
Sensabaugh advised, “It’s important to have a clear understanding of how the community works on a business level and know what has succeeded and remained, or what did not succeed. New board members are so sincerely eager to make a difference – and the first step to determine a sustainable future of decision making must be to gain a clear vision of the community’s history.”
He further explained, “People running for boards are neighbors serving neighbors in an often-thankless job. In our experience, their desire to make a specific impact can become an all-consuming focus or platform.”
While it’s always a plus to be passionate about your role and community, it’s prudent and practical to gather all information before making changes.
“Sometimes new board members want to immediately criticize the outgoing board,” Lugo said, “and that is usually born out of a lack of understanding of why things were done the way they were.”
Solution: Education and information
When a new board is elected, it’s extremely helpful if outgoing and incoming board members connect, communicate and learn from each other, resulting in a smooth transition of information. Passing along lessons learned, valuable details and historical information about the association can start the incoming team off on a good note.
“A comprehensive orientation will help bring board members up to speed,” Lugo said.
He also encourages communities to conduct onsite certification courses; the state requires board members to be certified within 90 days of being elected and having the courses in the first month makes board members most effective.
New board members should also get a “behind-the-scenes” tour that lets them see all the operations they may not be familiar with. Another way to get educated is to attend other communities’ board meetings, to gain more understanding of how meetings are run and business is handled.
“I’ve seen education change the viewpoint of contentious board members. Once they know the history, gain some perspective and inside information, they often become more understanding,” Lugo explained. “Once they understand the scope of available resources and the challenges they are facing, they may realize that their concerns aren’t the priorities compared to other issues the association is facing.”
“Board members need to understand the governing documents, most recent financial statements and recent management reports before undertaking any decisions,” Connolly explained.
She recommends that new board members be introduced to the association attorney, CPA, insurance agent and professional engineer so that they understand the depth of resources available to them to assist them in making the best decisions.
Mistake 2: Micromanagement
In certain associations, particularly active adult communities, some board members tend to be more hands-on and involved with daily operations. That’s completely understandable! Board members are so deeply invested in doing what’s best for their community. But not all board members have the time – or the know-how – to devote to the day-to-day management of their communities.
Hiring the right property management company can lighten the load for board members who might have felt the need to micromanage staff in the past. Micromanagement can have a negative impact on employee retention, morale and productivity because it often stems from mistrust.
All of our experts agreed that a property management company is typically hired for their breadth of knowledge, laser-focused expertise and experience in the industry. Once your community has an adept team in place, board members can loosen the reins and enjoy the lifestyle that a smoothly run association will give them.
Solution: Build trust between management and board
“Education about roles of the board and management can help build trust and a good working relationship,” said Brasfield.
It helps establish confidence and an understanding of everyone’s role. Building trust between new board members and the management team is an important first step. Communication is a key component of that, and once again, an orientation with outgoing and incoming board members can help build a solid foundation.
Mistake 3: Making it personal
Strong emotions can easily come into play as a board member since the community where you live is one of the most personal and significant investments one can make. But high levels of emotion can impact decision making.
“Sometimes people who join a board make it personal,” said Brasfield. “It’s critical to remember that an association is a business. If the issues that you’re dealing with become personal or emotional, they tend to snowball and can get out of control.”
Sensabaugh agreed and said, “It’s a mistake to let your emotions come into play, which can be challenging because this is your home, your community. But it’s not wise to run a business by approaching it from an emotional point of view.”
Solution: Peer-led intervention and organization
Board members can work together to become more professional and efficient. When a board member sees a colleague becoming emotional about an issue, that board member should feel comfortable in asking for a break to let things cool off. It’s important to respect everyone’s right to contribute and have an opinion about an issue, but board members must also be empowered to keep discussions in check. Having good board member qualities doesn't mean being overly submissive.
Connolly suggested that boards with a plan are most effective and able to maintain the professionalism necessary to act.
“A board operating without a cohesive plan, approved and discussed, will be operating in the dark,” she explained. “This will help your board be more effective and will also assist future boards on where the community came from, progress made and rationale behind certain decisions.”
Knowing this information can help keep emotions at bay and progress on track.
Serving as a board member is a big responsibility and implementing good board member qualities is essential. It’s also an opportunity to help your community become its best. Although some pitfalls are common, they aren’t unavoidable and can be corrected when they occur. Experienced board members can assist new members in avoiding mistakes by educating them about their roles on the board, helping them build trust with association management and always maintaining professionalism. These simple steps will help your board avoid unproductive gridlock that will keep you from being able to work effectively in your community’s best interest.
Please reach out to FirstService Residential, so we can assist you with any of your property needs.