How Should You Enable Board Member Succession?

Posted on Friday June 23, 2017

Every successful business organization plans for succession: who comes next as far as leadership? Succession needs to be an integral part of corporate strategy, and great leaders know that. They look for team members who have the potential to lead and encourage and mentor them toward those leadership positions.

This is just as important for your community association board as it is for a Fortune 500 company. As business and leadership expert John C. Maxwell said, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” The successful board is the key to a successful community.

Sherman Britton, vice president of lifestyle operations at FirstService Residential, reinforced this notion: “It is important for board members to be leaders and to be able to identify future leaders,” he said.

While current board members and management cannot groom any one specific homeowner for the board – every owner is eligible to run for a position – there are ways to identify prospective and potential leaders, and things you can do to help those potential leaders become familiar with board roles. Knowledge is power! That education can help potential board members zero in on which roles they want to run for and help them make a stronger case to those voting for board members.

When you can plan ahead, strategically, you can help your board transition leadership seamlessly and smoothly. Those assuming new leadership positions can hit the ground running and be more effective in their roles, from the beginning.

Ask for new opinions and voices. 
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. That question of “how?” is something you can take care of and answer for them.

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.

On a related note, Britton counseled that term limits may be a way to ensure a regular influx of fresh voices on your association board. “While not everyone agrees, it is my opinion that board members and committee members should have term limits, typically two or three years,” he suggested. “Those terms can be can re-upped after one year off for a limited number of times, again two to three times.”

Get interested people involved in a hands-on way. 
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. Be clear with expectations and carefully define their roles and responsibilities. Lack of clarity in these areas is a path of disaster! You can do this through committee charters. These 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.

Britton offered one caveat to this: “Committee membership is a great entry point to serve on the board. However, not every committee member makes a great board member,” he asserted. “In fact, committee members, by design, should be ‘worker bees.’ Board members should be delegators.” Use your committees to get people interested in involvement with the association, but don’t operate under the assumption that every committee member is going to rise to leadership.

Be grateful for volunteer efforts. 
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!)
Ask your community association management company for additional easy ideas to properly recognize and thank those who contribute so much to the association.

Board members should respect the time that other volunteers put into serving the association. Make an effort to reduce meeting lengths and frequencies by being more efficient during meetings. Don’t brag about the amount of time that you commit to the board. “Community members see or hear that serving on the board requires an exorbitant amount of time, and subsequently fear that serving on the board will take away their ‘fun’ time, or even interfere with work or family,” Britton said. 

Offer assistance and expect a learning curve. 
Knowing the role of a committee member or board member, or how to be part of a committee, isn’t exactly innate. It takes some time to learn through observation and training. A great community association management company will offer board member education that can be helpful with that process.

Make sure that new board members and committee members have all of the documents they need to be able to fulfill their duties 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 making sure that everyone understands the governing documents and has a clear definition of the volunteer’s role. This is the time to review the schedule of both current and upcoming projects, as well as each person.

If all else fails, Britton asserted that having an empty board seat is better than bringing in the wrong people, if it is permitted by your association’s governing documents.

Good community association management companies are adept at providing training services to board members and volunteers, so look to yours for help.

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, North America's leader in community association management, for more ideas on ensuring proper succession for your board.

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