How Can We Establish Board Member Succession in Our Community?

Board-Succession_Thumb.jpgA critical part of a successful corporate strategy is to plan for the future and think about succession: Who will lead down the road? Who has the ability and willingness to step up when the time comes? To make sure a solid plan for succession is established, team members who have the potential to lead are identified and then groomed for future, higher-level positions.

The need for a succession plan extends to your community association too! A healthy association board is always looking to the future, planning three to five years in advance. Because any owner or shareholder in a community is eligible to run for any open board position, the process isn’t as straightforward or certain as in the corporate world. Still, there are opportunities to identify prospective leaders and steps that can be taken to help those people become more involved with and learn about roles on the board. The goal is to provide future leaders with knowledge on specific responsibilities of various roles before they decide to run for election.

What can happen if your board doesn’t think about “what’s next” in terms of leadership? You could end up with board members who aren’t aligned with the vision for the community, board members who don’t know precisely what their roles are or even board members who may try to undo strides the previous board has made. They may not understand their fiduciary responsibility to their fellow homeowners or unit owners, and potentially jeopardize the financial well-being of the association.

Planning strategically and thinking long term provides the opportunity for your board to seamlessly transition from one leadership to another. Doing so will better enable your board to continue to enhance the property values in your community and improve the lifestyles of your residents. Here are some ways to help make that happen.

1. Solicit volunteer involvement.

You never know who the next great leader might be. So, cast a wide net and engage as many owners as you can. You’ll find that many individuals want to be heard, want to make a difference, and want to be part of the process. The challenge is that most of them don’t know how. Answer that question for them!

Ivy Montero is a regional director for FirstService Residential. In her 22 years in property management, she has worked with hundreds of association boards. “People are sometimes scared of what they don’t know. It’s the board’s responsibility to provide the information homeowners need to have about how things work within the board, so that they are more willing to get involved,” she explains. ”Once owners have the chance to gain insight about how the board works and see the opportunities that exist for them, as well as the resources FirstService Residential provides to assist them, the selection process takes care of itself.”

Seek input from owners, solicit their opinions and invite open participation at meetings. “We always encourage sitting directors to reach out to new residents, because they could be the directors of the future. Welcome them!” Montero says. Simply posting dates by the mailboxes isn’t enough – new residents need to understand that they are welcome and invited to come to meetings. Encouraging that early participation will help generate a larger involvement and commitment down the road.

2. Provide the right guidance.

It’s hard to lead if you’ve never been given the chance. Once you’ve identified volunteers with great potential, delegate important tasks to them by getting them involved in committees. Just be sure that you make your expectations clear, and that their role and responsibilities are explicitly defined. By providing this clear framework, your committee members will be able to devote their time and energy to developing innovative ideas and solutions.Sometimes, even dedicated committees with a clear mission can lose sight of their objectives Then the chair of the committee has the responsibility of getting the committee back on track. 

3. Express gratitude.

Saying “thank you” can go a long way. When you show your appreciation, volunteers are more likely to stay engaged, and an experienced volunteer will one day make a great board member. There are many ways you can let your volunteers know how much of a difference they’re making, from formally recognizing them during meetings to making announcements in your newsletter to even putting on special events where volunteers are recognized. If you have a great community association management company, they’ll be full of interesting ideas on how to keep volunteers feeling rewarded.

4. Provide the right education and information.

Nobody is born knowing how to be a part of a committee, or even what the role of a committee member or board member is. It’s something that must be learned through observation and training. Make sure you provide training opportunities to your volunteers, along with all of the documents they’ll need to be familiar with in order to operate effectively. And don’t forget, even veteran committee members and board members can benefit from “refresher” sessions from time to time. Part of this should include ensuring a thorough understanding of the governing documents, a clear definition of the volunteer’s role and a complete briefing on ongoing projects and upcoming challenges and issues.

“Knowledge empowers owners to get involved on a greater scale, to be the leaders of their buildings and communities,” Montero explains. “The people who are educated and empowered are the ones who step up to be president, treasurer, and secretary.”

5. Set a path.

No one should be expected to jump from volunteer to board president. It’s important to give interested residents a path to take to move from volunteer to board member and offer educational opportunities and training to help them on the journey. A quality property management company will have the resources and experience to help. The journey from volunteer to community leader might look like this:
  • Volunteer:  The first step on the road to leadership is becoming a volunteer. Serving on committees and at events allows potential board members to get to know the community and its residents. That knowledge is critical to future board success. 
  • Volunteer Leader:  Volunteer leadership grows naturally out of service. People who want to lead will step up when the time is right, and they are needed. Volunteer leaders need to be approachable and relatable, willing to prioritize leadership training to become effective, results-driven leaders who can run a committee.
  • Leader:  At the end of the day, a leader will ultimately achieve results. Partner with your professional management team to achieve larger tasks. This will help leaders gain confidence through contributions to the community and gain alignment from other residents. By this time, volunteers may be at large board members. 
  • Community Leader:  Of course, the end of the journey is to become a community leader. At large board members who want to become community leaders will invest in the training and knowledge to serve on the executive committee.
Remember, it’s not enough to have a successful and effective board in the present. It is necessary and wise to lay the groundwork for the future, too. Establishing succession is a great way to accomplish this, and it’s essential to the health of your entire community. Cultivate volunteers and committee members, provide the guidance they need, make sure you express gratitude whenever possible and provide them the tools to do their jobs. Doing these simple things will keep them involved in your association and help provide a bench of strong board candidates for years to come.