Whether you're an executive of a multinational corporation or a cashier at the local supermarket, you probably receive a performance evaluation that assesses how well you're doing your job. Many property management companies may also do regular assessments of their employees’ performance. But when it comes to a board’s assessment of its manager, forget about annual performance reviews, it’s game on every month.
“The best boards are the ones that trust the expertise of their chosen property manager,” says Christopher R. Berg, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, president of Independent Association Managers Inc., in Naperville. Every month when that manager shows up at a board meeting, something of a mini performance review happens on the spot. If a manager isn’t doing his or her job, the board will know it pretty quickly.
Say that at a regular monthly meeting, your board gives 'Tony,' your building's property manager, a list of things that needs to get done by the next meeting. This list includes several repairs, financial reports to be written and submitted, and three estimates to be solicited for a capital improvement project that the board is contemplating. One month later, Tony sits down at the meeting with precious few of those items crossed off his list. He still hasn't addressed the necessary repairs, including one minor plumbing leak that, due to his neglect, has gotten worse and caused additional property damage.
Of course, your board isn't happy—and now there are even more items to add to Tony’s ever-growing list. In this case, the board doesn’t need to wait a year to assess Tony’s performance. It’s clear that he’s not accomplishing his workload and is chronically behind. Your board may even decide that it's time to make a change, either to the manager themselves, or the entire management company.
But is chucking the whole relationship and starting over from scratch always the best move to make? Constructive criticism of a manager’s performance can actually be a learning experience for all involved. Even Winston Churchill touted the benefits of criticism and performance by saying, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
“Boards have to be real and come to the manager and the person who runs the management company and tell us what they’re not happy with,” says Josh Koppel, president of a New York-based management company. “Criticism is welcome—it makes you better. Managers also have to be open minded. You can learn from the porter and the doorman and pretty much anyone. Any way it comes to you, look at it and digest it and turn it into a learning experience.”
A Cooperative Effort
When a performance review is completed (whether it be a formal, annual review or an informal, on-the-spot monthly check-in) and there are potential red flags or sub-par performance, the board and manager should make every effort to address any issues and allow time for correction before any final management changes are made.
“If I have a board who is not happy with an manager, I find out what the board’s issues are, and I speak to my agent to correct them,” says Koppel. “Let’s try to work it out as a team and, if that fails, we will then replace the agent. If we can’t sit down and work it out, maybe there’s a personal issue. But until you sit down and work it out and see issues, you don’t know. The only thing you can do is communicate.”
And the pros agree that communication about job performance should begin long before any problems arise, and not at a performance evaluation. By making certain that their manager has a very clear apprehension of the board’s expectations when he or she begins the job, boards make it much easier for that manager to do the job he or she was hired for.
“Life begins right after training. That's when expectations should be set,” says Katia Ettus, PCAM with FirstService Residential Florida, which has several offices in the Chicagoland area. “Also, the real work of the property manager is to take that property and develop it. It's not just about building a relationship with the board, but also building a relationship with the staff, the residents, and the guests. I have been with my current property for nine years, and I did that by taking the frustrations I had as an unhappy unit owner at a condo that was not properly managed, and channeling those frustrations into good energy to become the manager that I wanted my manager where I had lived to be.”
Ettus files extensive weekly and monthly reports on her property, noting vacancies, new residents' arrivals, market values, and potential maintenance issues arising in the building, and she also forms a business plan at the start of each year outlining areas that need attention and pricing out repairs for those areas. “A good property manager should flood the board with information,” she says. “It's time consuming, but it's important to have transparency and a constant flow of information between the property manager and the board.”
At the same time, it’s important for the board to articulate their needs too, so the manager can meet those needs and perform well. Performance can also be directly related to a personality clash. “Because the management works under the direction of the board, and at the same time provides guidance, sometimes the fact that the board members are also homeowners can be a problem,” cautions Berg. “For the managers, it’s a professional situation; for the board, it’s a personal one. All too often, it is the personal emotions and challenges that get in the way of the professional management of the association. Communication is of utmost importance. Since managers work for the board, and not the other way around, it is ultimately important that the board and the manager be in communication because, while the board makes the decisions, the managers are usually the ones acting them out. So without a trusting relationship and good communication, the process cannot succeed.”
“Personality is a big part of communication and performance,” Koppel agrees. “If you can’t speak to a board member, where’s the relationship? There’s no teamwork if you can’t communicate and then everything will fall apart.”
In an ideal world, managers should be just like Koppel and give all of their efforts to performing at maximum peak at all times. However, some management companies may dangle a carrot in front of their employees in order to get the best performance out of them. For example, some management companies offer pay bonuses to their employees, whether quarterly, project-based, or annually, to encourage managers to meet specific performance requirements.
Some non-financial incentives may include time off, such as additional paid vacation or days off, or such items as education reimbursement or assistance on books, supplies, or tuition.
In addition to incentives, there are other methods and resources that managers can use to perform better on the job and improve their skills. “It's sad to me that in our industry it isn't more commonplace for managers to expose themselves to knowledge,” says Ettus.
Managers in Illinois are required to be licensed and take 20 hours of pre-licensure training to become accredited.
For example, Ettus earned her Professional Community Association Manager (PCAM) License through the Community Associations Institute (CAI), whose educational program provides continuing education, articles, conferences, monthly meetings, seminars and more to help property managers improve job performance. The Chicagoland Cooperator provides informational articles and a database of previous issues that cover everything property managers need to know to do their job well.
There are also trade organizations such as the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM), which has a Chicago chapter, and schools that offer continuing education classes and conferences. These resources help managers to learn new skills, improve old skills and ultimately improve performance on the job. Then, no matter when the manager is under the scrutiny of a performance review, the manager will be ready.
Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Chicagoland Cooperator. Staff writer Jennifer Welch contributed to this article.