Thriving business organizations plan for succession. It’s built into their corporate strategy – team members with potential are identified early on, and then groomed for the leadership positions they’ll someday hold.
Just as in any successful business organization, succession is an integral part of a healthy community association board. And while the current board and management cannot groom any one specific homeowner (as every owner/shareholder is eligible to run for a board position), there are always opportunities through which prospective leaders can be identified, and steps you can take to help those with leadership potential become familiar with certain roles on the board. This way, they are knowledgeable on specific responsibilities associated with these board member roles before they choose to submit their candidacy for election.
Andrew Batshaw is an executive director of high-rise at FirstService Residential. He said the most important thing for board succession is a complete, transparent transfer of information from the outgoing board to the incoming one. Batshaw works with a 400 unit luxury high-rise in Jersey City. “No matter what happens, if there are two, three or zero new members, the board has a reorganization meeting every year,” he said. “We review the prior year, what went well and what didn’t. We then look at the upcoming year. Sharing all the information with the new members and bringing them up to speed, including why goals were set and met or not, what new goals are and why, helps create an orderly transfer of information. That helps make outgoing members feel valued and appreciated and new members feel trusted.”

Planning ahead, and planning strategically, provides for a more seamless operation for your board. When individuals are prepared for and knowledgeable about a role, they can hit the ground running immediately after the election. Here are several ways you can help make this happen.

Provide opportunities for hands-on involvement.

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. You can do this through committee charters...these documents outline responsibilities, decision-making guidelines and examples on how to effectively assert authority, as well as the steps the committee members should take when reporting to the board at large. By providing this clear framework, your committee members will be able to devote their time and energy to developing innovative ideas and solutions.
Bob Rogers, an executive director of high-rise at FirstService Residential, had some thoughts on committee membership as it relates to serving on the community board. “When people serve on committees, we ask ourselves some questions as we observe their service: Are they committed or do they miss meetings? Do they follow others’ leads more or take initiative? Are they willing to chair the committee? Do they abide by the committee charter or push a personal agenda? How do they respond to disagreement from the board at large on presenting their findings? Are they willing to sign a confidentiality agreement? All of these can indicate someone’s readiness and appropriateness for a greater board leadership role,” Rogers explained.

Actively recruit engaged volunteers.

You never know who the next great leader might be. So cast a wide net – engage as many homeowners 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, and you can help! Start by seeking input from homeowners, soliciting their opinions, and inviting open participation at meetings. You’ll soon identify the big thinkers and bold achievers in your own community. The individuals actively participating and eagerly contributing could be your future board members and community leaders.
Rogers suggested meeting with new homeowners as they join the community. “Invite them into the office and try to get a sense of their level of interest and if they’d be a good fit,” he said. “Ideally, this provides an opportunity to speak to them before they are exposed to the inevitable political maneuvering and politics that are part of every community.”

Provide the right training and tools.

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 this training to your volunteers, along with all of the documents they’ll need to be familiar with in order to operate effectively. Don’t forget that even veteran committee members and board members can benefit from “refresher” sessions from time to time. Part of this should include fostering a thorough understanding of the governing documents, a clear definition of the volunteer’s role, and a full download on ongoing projects and upcoming challenges and issues. Good community association management companies are adept at providing training services to board members and volunteers, so look to yours for help.
“Another thing we do with our communities is an annual board training session, whether the board is new or old,” Batshaw said. “We review role of board, role of committees, budget, financials and more. It is an annual refresher and includes a review of anything that has changed statutorily, as well as anything new in the property management industry. That may mean new technology or best practices.”
Not all board or committee members will be happy to sit through a training, but it’s important to win them over. “We have gotten pushback, and when we do, we explain the value of the training session,” Batshaw said. “We make sure they understand that we appreciate their time and want to be sensitive to it. I talk about business of the board and how it’s important to take a step back and think about HOW they want to operate, not just what they’re operating on. Training and education get the board to talk to each other and review how they want to communicate (email, Google groups, which days work for meetings, how much time people can commit). That meeting sets the expectations from the beginning so that everyone is clear on how they can and will work together.”

Batshaw said he has seen this training disarm board members who get elected with a disruptive agenda. “A smooth transition, in which they are educated about board operations and how things are done and why, can address those agenda issues and resolve the problem,” he explained. “Maybe they didn’t know that it was confidential information that couldn’t be shared with them. Being part of the board may show them things they didn’t understand and clear up their issue.”

A lack of training can cause tremendous frustration for new board members, Batshaw asserted. “They get asked to make decisions but they aren’t informed on how to make it, or given the right tools to do so. That can cause animosity among board members and then towards the management company.”

Express gratitude appropriately.

Gratitude matters – and it doesn’t take much to make an impact. When they feel appreciated, volunteers are more likely to stick around and stay engaged. Those experienced volunteers can turn into great board members, so it’s important to make them want to remain involved. There are plenty of easy ways to do this:
  • Recognize them by name at meetings
  • Make announcements in the newsletter
  • Create a simple special event to thank them (coffee and dessert is perfect!)
If you have a great community association management company, they’ll be full of interesting ideas on how to keep volunteers feeling rewarded. 
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. You can contact FirstService Residential, New Jersey’s leader in community association management, for more ideas on ensuring succession for your board. 
Thursday June 22, 2017