How Can Our Association Board Avoid Common Mistakes?
Gary Hulion is a community manager for FirstService Residential in Georgia. He’s been managing complex communities for 17 years and is currently at Cresswind at Lake Lanier in Gainesville. He shared some insights into what he’s seen go less than perfectly with association boards.
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 these issues can cause your board to become gridlocked or simply ineffective and unable to provide residents with the things they need. Over time, this will lead to a decrease in their satisfaction, which can ultimately affect everything from their sense of community to everyone’s property values.
Mistake: Not understanding their rolesThe 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.
Hulion said that the biggest problem he sees is board members who see their association at a surface level without understanding governing documents, operations and the realities of association finances. “If they have never served on a board, they may not be able to see the big picture, and how their decisions affect the association as a whole,” Hulion explained. “In communities with several phases or sub-associations, members may be so committed to advocating for their piece of the association that they don’t realize how what they want will affect the rest of it.”
Board education can change the viewpoint of uninformed or contentious board members. Once they know the history of the community and gain some perspective and inside information about why decisions were made, they often become more understanding.
Solution: Education and information
Hulion said that he encourages board members to go to CAI board training seminars and to participate in any available live or online training that CAI offers.
Board members need to thoroughly review the governing documents, most current financial statements and recent management reports before making any decisions. If possible, hold an event that lets all new board members meet 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: Making it personalMany people who run for their association board do so with an agenda in mind. Making decisions based on that agenda alone can negatively impact the entire community. Your association is a business, first and foremost, and you cannot run a business if you’re approaching everything from an emotional, personal point of view.
Hulion recounted a story of a community in which the board catered to the people who were most likely to keep them in office. The board funded their requested initiatives, even though those didn’t represent the majority of the association’s residents. “It creates a lack of trust. The members who are slighted may stir up trouble, leading to rumors and unrest,” he said.
Solution: Peer-led intervention and organizationBoard 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.
“I recommend that my boards follow Robert’s Rules of Order, the most widely used manual of parliamentary procedure in the United States,” Hulion said. “Following those simple rules helps keep meetings on track and maintains a sense of formality and professionalism that can keep emotions at bay.”
Boards that operate from a cohesive plan are most effective and able to maintain the professionalism necessary to act efficiently and appropriately, in the best interests of the community.
Mistake: MicromanagementThat’s completely understandable! Board members are invested in doing what’s best for their community, and it’s natural that they have questions and concerns about operations. If they become a little too hands-on, it is usually born out of their desires to be helpful and productive.
Solution: Build trust between management and boardMicromanagement is often a pitfall for new board members. Once they learn that they can trust the management team, the need to oversee everything will diminish. Strong leadership from more experienced board members goes a long way toward building that trust. When new board members see that the more seasoned board members have faith in the management team, things will begin to go more smoothly.
Education about the roles of management and the board and how they work together also helps build trust and a good working relationship. A “behind-the-scenes” tour that allows board members to meet staff and get a first-hand look at what they do will also be helpful in building that trust.
Serving as a board member is a big responsibility. 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.