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Successful Staff Management Sharpening Those People Skills

Successful Staff Management

 Property managers handle a wide array of tasks, from the physical to the  administrative. While many of these jobs are outlined in black and white (send  out monthly bills, attend meetings, file paperwork), one important component is  not as easy to pin down: the actual management of people—boards, building/HOA staff, and residents alike.  

 The job is a lot, even in a community with a functional, cooperative board and  harmonious residents—it becomes a herculean task when a board has jumped the tracks, residents are up  in arms, and staff members are antagonistic. There are obviously methods of  human resource management and conflict resolution for managers dealing with  dysfunctional, apathetic, or chaotic boards and association communities.  

 Running a Community

 Much like any other company, condos and co-ops have a sort of “human resource” shoulder in a management company and managing those human interactions is  necessary for a smooth functioning operation.  

 “The whole reason buildings get management companies is for them to take care of  stuff,” says Keith Hales of Chicago-based Hales Property Management.  

 Gina Rossi of Vanguard Community Management in Schaumburg agrees.  

 “Human resources, is described as individuals who make up the workforce of an  organization,” she says. “It is also the name of the function within an organization charged with the  overall responsibility for implementing strategies and policies relating to the  management of staff. Simply put human resources provides a strategic approach  to workplace management to gain competitive advantage and utilize employees  based on their abilities as well as reduce financial risk while maximizing  return on investment.”  

 According to Hales, one of the factors important to running things smoothly is a  clear agenda for board meetings so that you can roll out how the meeting will  go from the get-go.  

 “Boards should establish rules at the beginning of the meeting, such as asking  that all questions get held off until the end,” he says.  

 Then, he suggests making a priority list of all projects.  

 “The management company should get together with the board and figure out what  needs to get done in what order, based on money, for example,” he says.  

 He advises that management companies exercise being a neutral party in all  disagreements so that they can properly convey to boards how to run a board  efficiently.  

 “It’s best to never engage under emotion,” he says. “It doesn’t help.”  

 He says the best thing to do is to refrain from giving any immediate answers or  solutions, empathize with the individuals having a problem and then move on to  the next topic.  

 However, one of the most important things to remember is to at least respond to  a problem when it arises so that the buildings have a level of comfort.  

 “We respond within a matter of hours if not sooner,” he says. “Not doing anything will cause all sorts of problems.”  

 A Dysfunctional Community

 Unfortunately, even with a management company to handle the requirements of  everyday operations, problems arise and things can become dysfunctional. Hales  says one catalyst is a younger board full of first-time homebuyers.  

 “They let their emotions take over,” he cites, saying that they often come in with a hidden agenda. “They have no idea how a condo association works.”  

 Other signs could include someone that is moving out or looking to rent, he  says.  

 Becoming experienced means becoming familiar with all the rules of an  association. Rossi says that if a board member is not aware of all the  policies, it leads to problems.  

 “One common mistake is not being familiar with the governing documents,” she says. “Each community has its own set of governing documents that dictate the functions  of the community. The documents will clearly define the boundaries within the  community. Lack of understanding of the same will increase liability to staff  and homeowners.”  

 Once the policies have been learned, Rossi says enforcement is the next step.  

 “Rules are written to maintain order within communities,” she says. “They should help the board selectively enforce rules. Otherwise, a liability has  been created and thereby puts the association at risk.”  

 Patrick Kennelly of Phoenix Rising Management Group, Ltd. in Chicago agrees, but  he says that even with experienced board members issues can still arise.  

 “There are a number of warning signs that a board or association is at risk of  becoming dysfunctional, such as financial stress, a dominant and divisive board  member, loss of trust or confidence in management, or a major event like a  significant capital repair project or lawsuit,” he says. “Any of these factors, or combination of them, can quickly spin out of control  and cause a community to become dysfunctional.”  

 Rossi cites poor self-serving board members, lack of checks and balances and  neglectful or greedy board members as some other signs of dysfunction. But, one  of the biggest clues, she says, is a lack of communication and unity, citing  low turnout at association meetings as the number one factor.  

 “If the majority is unwilling to participate in the community because they are  too busy or ‘don’t want to get involved,’ the democracy of the community falls to the minority,” she says. Additionally, “without checks and balances in place, it is difficult to ascertain the goals of  non-challenged members.”  

 But, sometimes there can be a thing as too much communication, says Hales.  

 He cites an instance where one of his boards was meeting every other week to  discuss water infiltration due to problems with the roofing, masonry and  windows.  

 “There wasn’t a strong management and there was a bunch of conflict,” he says, citing a lack of building and construction experts and bid violations  as top problems. “Their findings weren’t accurate because they didn’t have experience in a variety of different areas.”  

 He says after his company came in and provided the guidance they needed, the  board started to meet every couple of months and the conflict subsided.  

 Cleaning Up a Mess

 Sometimes a management company is brought in after the damage has already been  done and a community is left with nothing but chaos and bitterness towards one  another.  

 Rossi says having dedicated and committed managers and employees is among one of  the most important steps of making things right again. “Take advantage of the outstanding opportunities either through your employer or  the Community Associations Institute and commit to giving 110% everyday,” she says. And remember, communication is key.  

 “Listen to your clients’ needs, fulfill the terms of your contract and go the extra mile to provide the  quality of life that your clients deserve. Being alert, focused and staying up  to date on laws that affect the [common interest development] industry while  communicating clearly is a great start,” Rossi explains.  

 “By sending community-related information on a regular basis to homeowners and  board members, you are increasing community awareness and building trust. Begin, working with the association attorney to interpret the declaration,  bylaws and rules and regulations to board members as well as owners, followed  by fair enforcement of the same. Create new and exciting programs for owner  participation. Encourage participation in elections and committees.”  

 Kennelly agrees with Rossi, suggesting that communities conduct an electronic  survey of the ownership. He says the key is to keep a finger on the pulse of  the board or association and recognize when the circumstances are becoming  strained so that quick action can be taken.  

 “A good course of action in those situations is to increase communications and  meetings, solicit feedback, listen, ensure you have properly identified the  issue(s) and then develop and implement a plan to address the problem,” he says.  

 “Ask the members of the community what is important to them, what are they happy  with and what are they not happy with,” Kennelly continues. “Allow the ownership to rate the service providers from management to janitorial  to door personnel.”  

 He says the responses should be reviewed for any systemic issues to get  identified and then compile the information into an easy-to-read report for the  board and ownership.  

 After that, Kennelly suggests the most critical part of the process is to  arrange for a Town Hall meeting to review the results of the survey and explain  to the ownership what changes they can expect to see based on their feedback.  

 “If you simply survey the ownership and don’t act on the responses you solicited it will likely further divide the  community,” he says.  

 Learning How to Manage

 There are several ways management companies try to teach their boards and  employees how to handle situations.  

 “A well organized and dedicated community management company will make education  of self and staff a top priority, as housing educated employees increases  benefit to the employer as well as provides increased service to clients,” Rossi says.  

 For example, according to Rossi, both CAI national and CAI-IL, the Illinois  chapter of CAI, based in Roselle offer continuing education programs, which  provide the ability to gain up-to-date experience directly related to the  service provided. Outside of the coursework, CAI also offers regular  educational seminars to refresh or supplement your current knowledge.  

 Kennelly and Rossi suggest reading literature such as magazines and CAI books  that includes information on how to conduct business. “These reference materials may outline specific telltale signs and how to develop  a formal plan to address the issues,” Kennelly says.  

 Another avenue is to attend industry trade shows. This publication, The  Chicagoland Cooperator, will hold its first Condo, HOA & Co-op Expo at the Navy Pier Convention Center on Wednesday, November 16, 2011,  from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free for a day of networking, learning and  fun. Go to www.chicagocondoexpo.com to register and for more information.  

 While there are many resources available to board members and management  companies on how to run things effectively and what to do in case something  goes awry, Hales thinks such skills aren’t necessarily found in a classroom. “Personally, I think your education comes from experience,” he says.  

 Kennelly agrees saying that internal resources are a good start. “An experienced management company will have a seasoned staff that will have  dealt with these types of situations over the course of their career,” he says. “No one knows better what to look for and what to do than someone who has been  through the situation first-hand.”   

 Bernadette Marciniak is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The  Chicagoland Cooperator.

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