Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Focusing on the Big Picture

When talking about Board leadership, we think of things like creating a 'vision' for the community - which is easier said than done!  Instead, the Board gets bogged down with daily challenges:  A common area sewer line needs replacement; a homeowner is upset about an architectural decision; not enough people can be found to fill spots on committees or even the Board itself.

Daily minutia eats up time that should be spent on long term planning and goals. Even communities relying on professional management often find their Board members focused on managing the manager.  Such 'blue-collar' Boards take on a lot of the day-to-day to save a buck.

This approach isn't sustainable. It ends in burn-out, neglected duties, or a dictatorship. The first step out of this is deciding what you're trying to accomplish, then looking to your governing documents and other resources to help you do it. Too often Boards do the reverse, setting themselves up for failure.

Don't look at your rules as a restriction on what you can do, but as tools to model whatever you're trying to do. For example: If a homeowner is complaining about a barking dog, but the documents clearly permit pets to be left in the backyard, the Board should focus on the overall goal, not a rule that seems to close off this issue.  Perhaps their vision is that no pet should be neglected or left unattended or potentially exposed to harm.  Clearly communicate this thinking in the community Rules & Regulations.

Even if dogs are permitted to roam the yard, the Board makes clear that food bowls are not to be left outside, to avoid attracting rodents and pests. A shelter from weather is required. A reasonable limit on how long and when a dog may bark (before animal control is contacted) is spelled out. Perhaps a periodic doggie play date is set up in the local common area.

When deciding to take on a community challenge, plan for what happens in the event that the effort fails. Another example: In a condominium there is a rise in complaints on second hand smoke. The Board puts forward an amendment to the governing documents, banning smoking completely both inside and outside the home. The Board needs to determine the outcome if the vote fails.

The worst thing to do is declare that nothing happens. Such an outcome only discourages the membership. Better to avoid holding the amendment vote than to fail to plan for alternate outcomes.

When a Board faces a failure, identify the circumstances that led to this.  Don’t place blame on people. Framing the blame on the circumstances permits you to suggest a new course of action and create forward momentum - rather than inserting a wedge between people. A lot of time is wasted when people get defensive. No one wants to be labeled a fool.

Some failures are just perceived failures, not actual ones. For example, a homeowner is upset about a neighbor’s new storage shed and demands quick action. Feeling pressure, the Board cuts corners to force the removal, and in the process creates trouble for the Association. Instead, the Board needs to manage homeowner expectations on how quickly resolution will take, to avoid feeling a false deadline.

Said another way, you need to control pacing. Especially for a newly minted Board, it is easy to come in with a list of twenty action items in the first month and expect immediate resolution on all of them.
Realistically three or five of these will be resolved over the next twelve months, because of factors outside of the Board's control. Vendor response times, required notification times, weather and unplanned absences are just some of the frustrations. Remind yourself that the slowness of the process actually acts as a safeguard, allowing the Board to be more deliberative and avoid costly mistakes. This is one of the harder lessons to learn for new Board members.  Don’t let an election "mandate" translate to haste!

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