The Do’s & Don’ts of Communicating Policy
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Implementing new policies within a community can be challenging. But when a board communicates effectively and gives residents a plan that outlines the necessity, process, and benefits of instituting a new policy or updating an existing one, many issues can be avoided, and acceptance can be more easily secured among residents. Transparent communication from board members lays the foundation for successful policies and happy residents. When the community is kept in the loop, residents are more likely to comply, and the community has an easier time enforcing policies.
Not sure how to communicate about policy with your residents? An experienced property manager can certainly assist you with framing sensitive messages. But the following do’s and don’ts can also guide your policy-making efforts and help your board obtain community buy-in.
DO: Explain Why a Policy is Needed
When the community understands the “why” behind a new policy, as well as what constitutes a violation, they are more likely to get on board and comply. This holds true for most policies, but especially for those that involve controversial topics like pets, decorations or parking. Explaining why a policy was introduced – whether because of a new ordinance in your state, multiple residents’ complaints or preventing liability – is critical because it encourages proactive buy-in from residents instead of resistance.
TIP: If your board is having difficulty understanding the “why” behind a new policy, it should revisit why it was initially created. That’s why it’s important to work with an experienced property management company like FirstService Residential. By working with a seasoned property management partner, you can determine the vision and goals for your community and then develop policies to support them. Communicating those policies to residents will then become much easier because there is a solid foundation of collaboration beneath them.
DON’T: Delay in Communicating Changes
While it is important to deliver clear and concise messaging to residents about policy changes, don’t get so caught up in the process that it causes a delay in communicating. Make sure to review the community’s governing documents and adhere to any outlined timelines. Under certain bylaws, boards can have as little as 30 days to inform the community about policy changes. And when it comes to communicating policies, the sooner you do it, the better.
TIP: Partnering with the right property management company can help ease the burden of drafting timely communication pieces for the community. An experienced property manager will know how to get the right message out via the most effective communication channels.
DO: Let Residents Know the Benefits
When you pass new policies, residents will want to know what is in it for them. Communicating the benefits of a new policy will help residents understand how it will improve the community and their quality of life. Whether a policy helps increase property value or improve resident safety, making it relatable to your residents will also make it more digestible. Boards need to understand that communicating policy means explaining how it can help increase the residents’ overall experience, so the community doesn’t see it as a burden or limitation on their rights.
TIP: Making a new policy relatable means demonstrating how it can enhance the community rather than placing limits on what residents can do. For example, a community might restrict access to a common area, like the pool, during inclement weather. To secure residents’ acceptance, point out a positive outcome, such as there being more parking with the pool closure, and making it available to guests of the residents. It’s also a good idea to point out when policy changes positively impact property values.
DON’T: Introduce a Policy Without Inviting Feedback
Even in cases where a new policy is “non-negotiable,” it is important to encourage residents to ask questions and share their concerns. When members of a community feel like they are being heard – even when decisions don’t go their way – in the end, they are more likely to be accepting of policies and complying with them.
TIP: When a policy change is communicated, consider holding a community meeting to let residents air their concerns. It’s possible that new information may come to light that would warrant a review of the policy which could lead to making adjustments that would address those issues and may even make the policy more effective.
DO: Break it Down, Step by Step
Keeping residents in the know will yield optimal results – it helps to break down the process of adopting a new policy, including how to comply and when it will be enforced. The fastest way to encounter resistance from residents is to keep them in the dark when implementing a new policy. When residents are caught off guard, the chance of conflict increases during the enforcement process. But when they know what to expect, residents are more likely to comply with new rules.
TIP: Consider giving residents an overview of the policy in person, outlining step by step how and why it is being instituted – rather than communicating it solely by mail or email. Sometimes providing a forum where people can see their board members, hear their tone of voice and see body language, helps them understand the reasoning behind policy decisions.
DON’T: Only Rely on One Method of Communication
Technology makes things easier, but sometimes we can rely too heavily on one method of communication and miss opportunities to effectively communicate in other ways. Email addresses change and some people do not always check their email frequently, so try to bolster your communication efforts by employing multiple channels. The best practice is to use two or more methods of outreach to the community and send multiple, timely messages.TIP: Diverse communities require diverse communication channels. Creating a communication strategy that includes multiple channels creates fewer chances for missed messages and miscommunication and a higher propensity for community engagement.
DO: Focus on the Long-Term
When communicating new policies, it is best to frame them as long-term benefits and showcase their enduring value to the community. For example, a landscaping policy that limits what kind of trees a community can plant today might be easier for residents to accept if the board explains the process and expense of tree removal and structural damage caused by falling tree branches after inclement weather. Policies with long-term value are more likely to be followed, especially when the board is constantly reminding the community of those benefits.
TIP: Working with the right professional property management company can help a board stay in constant communication with residents and reinforce the long-term value of a policy via consistent messaging. FirstService Residential can provide your board and manager with best practices for communication and templates for drafting effective messaging.
Don’t: Be Short-Sighted
While it may be tempting to enact a policy as a quick response to a new community issue, acting swiftly can sometimes backfire. For example, imposing a fine on people who neglect to clean up after their pets might seem like a logical solution, but if only one resident is guilty of doing this, it could be viewed by responsible pet owners as unreasonably harsh. It’s best to resist the temptation to create a fast policy fix and instead, do your due diligence and gather as much information as possible.
TIP: When issues arise in your community that might warrant enacting a new policy, consider putting a small task force together to investigate what’s really going on, who is being impacted, and what can be done about it. Oftentimes, introducing a new policy can prove to be unnecessary.
Effective Communication and Implementing Policies Go Hand in Hand
To enact effective policies, your board needs to create effective messaging and engage the community with proven communication strategies. Boards that explain how a policy change can increase property values, enhance residents’ quality of life and safety, and have long-term benefits are more likely to be successful and have fewer compliance issues.
It is common for boards to struggle with communicating policy changes, but with the help of the right management company, your board can bridge that gap and successfully engage the community. FirstService Residential can help your board create and execute a comprehensive communication strategy. For more information about opportunities to develop or revise your communication strategy, contact FirstService Residential today.