Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Science of Forgiveness

As much as we try, it is difficult for Board members and managers to ‘let go’ when dealing with a homeowner or vendor that has wronged us or our community.  While no one is suggesting we blissfully ignore misdeeds and idiots, to forgive is critical to healthy community oversight.  Festering anger only clouds judgment and leads to burnout. 
‘Forgive’ has religious connotations for many.  However, whether or not you are a person of faith, over the last decade the physical and social benefits have been confirmed too often to be ignored. 
Getting scientific for a moment: Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) brain scans traced forgiveness to the dorsal prefrontal cortex (for cognitive control), the posterior cingulate (for understanding how others are thinking) and the anterior cingulate cortex (for balancing the perception and suppression of moral pain (such as feeling wronged)).  From this, neurologist Dr. Pietro Pietrini notes that forgiveness is a moral distress painkiller.
Dr. Pietrini states, “The fact that forgiving is a healthy resolution of the problems caused by injuries suggests that this process may have evolved as a favorable response that promotes human survival.”  Forgiveness alleviates suffering.  It is a positive, healthy strategy for overcoming an otherwise stressful situation. 
In trauma burn units, anger interferes with the ability to heal. One doctor counseled a patient, “You can still pursue damages through an attorney. You’re entitled to be angry, but for now I’m asking you to abandon your entitlement and let it go, to direct your energy toward healing, and turn this over to God or nature or whoever you worship. It’s not up to you to get revenge on yourself or someone else.”
Another medical example:  In 2009 the journal Psychology & Health reported that patients with heart disease who underwent forgiveness therapy experienced higher blood flow and were at less risk of pain and sudden death, compared to those who underwent the standard treatment.
According to Professor Fred Luskin of Stanford University, “When you don’t forgive, you release all the chemicals of the stress response.”  Think about a wrong twenty times today, and your body releases stress chemicals each time, limiting both your physical and mental ability to tackle problems.
Reframe that painful memory by considering possible points of view that led the homeowner or vendor to act the way he did. This makes it more difficult to blame and demonize him, reducing the level of resentment you are feeling.
When you blame someone for how you feel instead of holding them to account for their actions, you become stuck in victimhood.  We’ve all experienced the same thing, and to get past it you have to accept that most often the person wasn’t intentionally out to personally hurt you.  How we’ve been dealing with anger hasn’t worked.  Instead, humanize the offender, and hate the wrong without hating the wrongdoer.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

End Goals

We are frequently asked for advice on how Board meetings should be run.  One of the most critical pieces relates to strategy/goals.  Strategic thinking determines what we’re doing and where we’re going. To be successful, Directors must have a clear answer for both.

As a Board member, you must continuously engage in strategic planning - not just once a year.  It must be the central focus of each Board meeting.  It is really hard to create sustained, long-term value for your community when the Board (and homeowners) are blinded by short-term views.

Boards are most effective at developing strategies when partnered with a professional manager, working together based on mutual trust and respect. This means coming together throughout the year to identify important topics, consider strategic risks, and answer hard questions. Management by itself cannot conclusively cover everything in goal planning – but benefits from the collective wisdom of the Board.  

It is critical that all Board members understand the Association’s strategy and can articulate it consistently when responding to homeowners’ pointed questions and pressures.  There should be no surprises with a fully involved Board.

Placing education and discussion on strategy development into each agenda must be your priority.  All too often, the Board allows itself to get bogged down on governance and compliance issues.  Push as many of these items to your committees for processing.  If you don’t have committees, establish resolutions that capture the bulk of the situations dealt with by the Board, so management can proceed on autopilot.  

When it comes to the meetings, all Directors must arrive prepared, with all applicable materials reviewed in advance.  Plan to regularly include third-party experts for additional perspectives at your meetings.  A CPA, attorney, engineer or insurance broker provides an outside voice identifying potential disruptions to your goals.

You need to be talking about risks associated with your strategy and how these can be mitigated.  Effectively managing risks more than just protects value:  It actually helps create value by taking advantage of the unexpected.  You want to maximize opportunities and improve your community’s position compared to competing neighborhoods.

Manage this strategic risk by answering, “What is the amount of risk we’re willing to accept in pursuit of value?  What is the worst possible thing that can happen and still leave us standing?  What milestones do we need to check along the way to our five year goal?” While some things should not be changed (ex: always deposit money with FDIC-insured institutions), decisions on expansions and upgrades to the amenities are valid considerations.

The Board and management should be prepared to regularly readjust key assumptions.  Every goal has variables requiring mid-course changes.  Are you willing to alter the way you evaluate performance whether your plans exceed or fail to meet your initial expectations?

Final thought:  When bad decisions meet a good management team, the bad decisions win every time.  Don’t be quick to pin blame.  When things go wrong, take a deep breath and analyze the situation before making changes.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Quality Management

Our reality TV culture has only increased expectations for immediate responses to all of our demands.  Very few professions can continue to respond at the same pace as they did forty years ago.  Those of us in service-related industries are pushed the hardest.  And while automated attendants have growing capabilities to handle this environment, human interactions are still very necessary.

This demand for instant satisfaction comes at a price many aren't willing to pay, both in salary and in sacrificed private time.   The problem is this:  How do you expect to have a fully competent professional agree to 24/7 access at minimal rate wages?  Obviously, the answer by many industries is to outsource to other countries with lower living standards.  However, for those services requiring frequent personal interaction, such as in the medical or legal fields, you as the consumer can only push so far before the quality of service suffers.

The same holds true in the community association management industry.  While some parts of the United States understand and pay for quality management with salaries in the six-digits, other areas view management as an administrative only function.  In these suppressed regions, managers make half what their counterparts earn elsewhere, and turnover is horrendous.   Many new managers leave the industry within a year, and those that remain behind often are living in financial slavery.  The growing resentment and stress lead to behaviors that result in poor quality service, only reinforcing the cycle of keeping quality management out of the local market.

This must stop.  While very little is new under the sun, here are specific steps to manage our fast-paced world, and retain a growing pool of professionals:

Turn off the email.  The worst thing is walking out the door at the end of the work day stressing over some last-minute message that ruins your evening.  At least an hour prior to departure, turn off your email and work on projects.  Ditto with phone calls.  And don't check your smart phone for messages after work.

After-hours on-call.  Set up a rotating shift to handle evening and weekend demands.  It's better to have a few weeks of year where you have to handle all messages for the firm, if it means peaceful sleep for all those other weeks. 

Everything has a price.  You don't have to say 'no' to your client, but do set a price.  Sure you can stay for a long meeting, for an additional charge.  Sure you can take on a project, for an additional charge. 

Evaluate your clients.  Healthy growth requires pruning.  If a particular client is placing your reputation at risk, or is refusing to heed your advice, terminate the contract.  There is plenty of other business to be had, with those who will respect what you bring to the table.  If a client is soaking up lots of time, increase the rate.  In one instance, a client agreed to doubling the management fee in order to keep a quality manager in place.  It can be done.

Refuse abuse.  The client is NOT always right, and if the staff knows that the firm stands behind it, retention rates will soar.  A manager needs to know that it is okay to escalate a situation to higher management without being penalized.  Don't sacrifice a manager to retain a problematic client.

They are watching.  Support your managers.  Whether it is with a family emergency, education opportunities, or providing the latest technologies, loyalty is something that grows over time, but can be lost in an instant.  Be consistent in both your messages and actions.