Is Your Community Staffed Adequately?

Posted on Thursday August 10, 2017



Staffing your community association is both an art and a science. Your community’s culture and lifestyle are supported by the staff you choose, and it’s important to make sure that you’ve got the right people in the right positions, and enough of them. Properly staffing your community goes far beyond having people to answer the phone and handle packages or keep the pool clean and tidy.

Staffing is one of the biggest impacts on your budget, and Mark Walker, executive director for lifestyle and large scale communities at FirstService Residential, said that he recommends a staffing assessment as part of the budgeting process. “I would generally open discussion between myself and board during budgeting process – we’d look at what the developer was bringing online in the next year, the level of service we were providing, and who we needed working in the community to be able to maintain that level of service,” Walker said. “Don’t wait until mid-year to decide that you need additional front desk staff, for example, because then your budget won’t permit it and you won’t be able to provide the community with the excellent service that members deserve and expect.”

So how can you know that you have the right people in the right positions? A little time and analysis will help! Read on for information about making sure your association is staffed the right way.

1. Assess your needs and plan ahead.
No community is stagnant. As times change, so do the demographics and lifestyles of your residents. Currently, your needs might be pretty clear-cut -- concierge, security, seasonal staff, landscapers, etc. But what if part of the vision of your community is to become more lifestyle-oriented? What if your aging population means there’s a transition to an active-adult community in your future? Then you may need more specialized staff, such as a lifestyle director, who can manage and oversee those changes. It’s also important that board members understand that a growing community cannot be serviced at the same levels without increasing staff.
 
“As a community changes, your staffing needs change. This can also include when your community goes through transition from developer control,” said Colette Montanaro, vice president of talent and relationship management at FirstService Residential. “Because we manage so many different kinds of communities, we can benchmark any community for size, age, community changes, clubhouse size or stage of development. That allows us to better assess what your community needs now.”
 
Walker recently managed a large active adult community that includes 1,350 homes, 325 of which are condos. He came on board there when the development was about halfway completed. At that time, the staff was small: a manager, lifestyle director who was employed by the developer and a concierge. Over the next six to eight years, the staff grew to include a manager, assistant manager, full-time front desk staff, full-time administrative assistant, lifestyle director, full-time maintenance tech, part-time maintenance tech and a full-time violation enforcement inspector. That last position came from analysis done after the community transitioned from developer control to association control. “When the developer was here, we were very reactive to violations,” Walker said. “As the community transitioned, the board decided they wanted a proactive enforcement process, rather than reactive. So that’s how the position came to be.”

2. Make sure you’ve got access to the right resources. 
“I always involve the human resources department,” Walker said. “They provide job descriptions we can tailor to the needs of the community and they find us people who are qualified for the jobs. For an assistant manager position I needed to fill, HR was able to provide initial screening and interviews. I was involved with interviewing and meeting people. The board was involved -- they helped us narrow down the description and even the job title to best serve their community.”

Sometimes communities need to take a closer look at the resources already in place. “What I do that’s a little different from most management companies is conduct an actual operational staffing audit, looking operationally at the job descriptions and functions,” Montanaro said. In that audit, she asks:
  • Are the right people in the right functions?
  • Is your staff working at full capacity?
  • Can we make changes to increase or improve their efficiency rather than just spending money to add people?
  • Can we predict future needs based on upcoming initiatives and board projects?
“As the community grows and changes, sometimes staff end up taking on roles that may not be right for them. It’s so important to look at that and make sure that the right people are there,” Montanaro explained.

3. Consider the costs of understaffing vs. overstaffing. 
The challenge here is money – and both understaffing and overstaffing come with their own costs. If your staff is on the thin side, then you won’t have the ability to accommodate residents’ needs. That means unhappy residents, which ultimately translates to fewer residents (and lower revenue from assessments). If you overstaff, you’re paying for professionals you don’t need, which costs you money, too. A staffing expert can help you strike just the right balance, which will enable you to stay true to your fiduciary responsibilities.
 
“We evaluated the cost of using outside vendors for maintenance, versus paying for someone full time and investing in some equipment, and it was clear there was a cost savings in many ways,” Walker said. “We also evaluated the time involved – with a full time person on staff, we could get issues addressed more quickly than waiting on an outside handyman to work us in.”
 
“We understand that boards don’t want to add staff unless they really have to. We don’t want to do that either,” Montanaro said. “But we are able to highlight when there is a need that the board may not see. Our ultimate goal is to help them maintain the levels of exceptional service that their residents want.”

4. Consider your culture first.  
“Any community is going to need someone who will fit into both the community’s culture and the FirstService Residential culture,” Walker explained. “That means understanding the needs of the community: what are they looking for this person to do? How are they going to operate within the team? If you don’t nail that down, you’ve got a real potential to hire the wrong person. Every community has its own unique personality. Small, medium, large – I’ve worked with them all and they have their own needs. Understanding those yourself will help you pick the right people.”
 
“We are business partners with the board,” Montanaro said. “We discuss the needs of the community with the board and make sure that I am fully aware of their needs. What’s the culture of the community? The associate has to be someone who fits their culture. So I talk them through the needs, through the profile, the salary requirements and what similar communities are doing. Then we conduct a national search, as well as an internal search. It’s collaboration. We bring the people in and connect them to the boards, and the boards share responsibility in the selection, which makes the opportunity to find the right fit much greater.”

5. Hiring is just the beginning. 
So you’ve just been connected with a great new team member. Job’s done, right? Wrong. A great community association management company will put employee retention programs in place so you can keep your best people for the long-term.
 
“We have formalized, written retention programs. We provide training in customer service with national companies, team building exercises and other educational opportunities and sharing of best practices. We offer our associates training and resources that we have throughout the company, not just locally,” Montanaro said. “We want them to have the skills to adapt to changing needs and roles when possible. No one person can be all things, but excellent training helps people become adaptable.”
 
As you can see, a lot goes into adequate staffing. That’s what makes a great community association management company with the resources to help you with this aspect of operations so essential. For more information on staffing and other important issues, contact FirstService Residential, Delaware's leading community association management company.

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