Is HOA Alignment a Unicorn? 3 Boards Share What It Takes

Board-Alignment_thumbnail-1.jpg“The challenge of alignment is that you’re not going to keep everyone happy. Instead, you want to act in the best interest of your community – that’s the key."

—Gary Turner, Board President of Trilogy La Quinta Maintenance Association

It’s not maintenance. It’s not events or committees. Budget is important, but it’s not that either. 

In fact, one of the biggest challenges that all HOA board members face is alignment with one another. Without board alignment, important association projects will fall by the wayside, policy decisions will stagnate and your ability to improve the community and the resident experience will be at risk. In addition, a board struggling with alignment puts its reputation with residents in jeopardy, which can lead to hostility and even recalls.  

But how do you tackle alignment as a group of diverse individuals with unique values? Read below to find out what real board members from successful homeowners associations are doing differently to be effective and align on important decisions. 

But first, what is board alignment? 

We can start with what it’s not. Alignment is not agreeing on every single decision and having the same collective perspective and opinions. In fact, this is one of the most common myths when it comes to effective board decision making (learn more in our article on 5 HOA decision-making myths.)

Real board alignment is being united on what is best for your community and agreeing on the end result. That’s it. You don’t need to have the same personality, life goals or motivation to make this happen. So how do you obtain this kind of alignment? 

Tip #1: Start with the right “why.”

Not everyone comes to an HOA board with the right intentions or motivation. But it’s not your job to worry about fellow board members. Instead, start by evaluating your own purpose and intention. When you have the right motivation for being on the board, you can contribute more effectively, because your choices always come back to what’s best for the community.

Trilogy La Quinta Maintenance Association is a prominent 1,238-home active adult community in La Quinta. The board has accomplished major projects over the past several years because of a strong focus on strategic planning and thoughtful capital improvements. In fact, they accomplished 4 major construction projects in 4 years, including a major renovation of 60 acres of the nearby golf course perimeter landscape. How did they do it? By putting the community first.

Gigi Martin, treasurer at Trilogy La Quinta Maintenance Association, said that true alignment starts with your “why.” She said, “If you go into the process understanding that you’re a board member because you want to serve the community and you have the community at the very heart of what you do, then it makes it [decision making] easier. If you go into the process of being a board member as something that you want to do for yourself, that doesn’t work.” 

The right motivation can go a long way in aligning with fellow board members and accomplishing positive change in your community. Gigi said, “As long as you’re community-centric and you look at the community as the most important thing that you’re doing, then you don’t have a problem aligning as a board.”

Tip #2: Hear each other out (even when you disagree).

Seems simple, right? Yet, when you have a room full of different personalities, respecting one another and hearing each other out isn’t always easy. When you truly adopt this quality, it makes a world of difference. What does this look like in a successful association?

The Mark is a 95-unit high-rise association located in Scottsdale, Arizona. The building features large, thoughtfully designed units and a prominent location in the heart of the city, near boutique hotels and popular dining and shopping attractions. Because of the building’s high caliber and reputation, the board is singularly focused on maintaining their reputation and property values. Recently, they successfully navigated a difficult arbitration case, with the help of former attorneys on the board and a commitment to work through the challenges together. By respecting and listening to one another, they were able to win a critical case.

Michael Nagle serves as board president of The Mark, and he spoke to the importance of being respectful and listening to others’ opinions. He said, “We don’t agree on everything all the time because there are 5 different people here. That’s a good thing, because then we talk about things and someone can very easily bring up something that I’ve never thought of and change my mind.”

As Michael explained, alignment is not agreeing on everything all the time. A successful board shares differing opinions, keeping the community’s best interest at heart for every decision.

Tip #3: Stick to your association’s mission and strategy.

How can you keep your community’s best interest at heart (as individuals with different motivations and desires)? It starts with a mission and strategic plan. These two elements are key to your board’s (and the entire association’s) success and overall alignment.  

Having a mission and strategy can facilitate better board decisions, because you have a concrete plan on where you need to be in the years ahead. Ask, “Does this decision align with our mission? Does it reflect our strategic plan?” If the answer is no, it may not be right for your community.

The most successful boards have implemented a strategic plan to mitigate changes in board members and keep the board singularly focused on their community. As Gary Turner from Trilogy La Quinta put it, “It’s a planning tool for us for the next 5 years. Without that, the community would not progress in a logical manner. The community’s priorities could change from one board to the next. This plan gives the entire community a roadmap to where we’ll be in future years.”

Tip #4: Leave your ego at the door.

If you don’t remember anything else, remember this: There’s absolutely no room for ego if you want to have an effective and high-performing homeowners association. When you’re on a board, the motivation should shift to the community rather than your own personal agenda or initiatives. What does that look like?
 
EastLake II is a 2,357-unit single-family home association located in Chula Vista, California. The community has placed a tremendous focus on community involvement, amenities and events, including an annual barbecue where the board personally serves the residents. The board is proactive and hands-on, with well-funded reserves and carefully thought-out maintenance projects. Why have they experienced so much success over the past couple of years? Because of a shared commitment to put their egos aside and focus on the community.

Debora Stacker, treasurer at EastLake II, said, “We’ve been successful as a board because we leave our egos at the door.” She said, “You have to recognize that what you’re doing as a board needs to be based on what’s best for the community, not based on your personal opinion and preferences.” 

Why board alignment matters

There are many qualities of a successful board, but alignment is one of the most critical characteristics boards need in order to accomplish positive change in their community. On the other hand, a lack of alignment can lead to a dysfunctional board, stagnant decision making and a poor reputation with your community. 

To learn more about aligning on board decisions, read 5 Myths About HOA Board Decision Making.