One of the greatest challenges that Management has is helping the Condo Association Board make decisions and take action. While Management has latitude in many issues, most major decisions rightfully belong with the Board. Boards are, of course, notorious for their inability to move things forward. While a Manager can’t solve all of a Board’s problems, what you can do is present actionable information in a crisp, concise way that will support decision making. Here are some tips on more effectively getting information to the Board so that it gives you the decisions you need to keep the Association running smoothly.
Define the Issue
First – define what the issue is that requires a decision by the Board. This sounds simple, but poor problem descriptions lead to confusion and debate, which wastes time and energy. To avoid this, outline the following key items to the Board in a coherent way:
- What is it exactly that requires the Board to take action? Is a resident requesting the waiving of fees? Is it a personnel issue? Why is it a Board issue?
- What are the impacts to the Association? Quantify where possible – is there a financial cost? Human cost? Policy implication?
- Is there a precedent or policy for the situation? What has the Association done for similar cases in the past? This is a critical item to identify to the Board if applicable.
- Can the Board make the decision on its own? Or does it need to hire an outside consultant (i.e., lawyer, engineer, etc.) to make an informed decision? Don’t be bashful when telling the Board to get help.
- What is the time sensitivity of the issue? Does the decision need to made immediately, or is there time for fact gathering and debate?
- As a Building Manager (particular if you are part of a firm that manages multiple properties), have you seen this problem elsewhere? How did you solve it? Did it work? Show off your expertise and give the Board real life examples.
Your Board needs to understand the full scope of the problem so it doesn’t do two of the dumb things Boards do – run off half cocked and make a dumb decision, and/or dither too long when an issue is urgent (sometimes Boards like to do the second one and then the first). But if you, as Management, don’t explain the issue to the Board thoroughly and completely, you are going to bear some of the responsibility – and impact – of a poor decision.
Offer Proposed Solutions
While the Board has the responsibility for making the decision, you, as Building Manager, need to present options or the basis for possible solutions. This will help guide discussion and debate and provide useful structure. Tips for a good solution set include:
- What are the benefits of the proposed solution? Again, quantify wherever possible. If there is up-front cost for downstream savings, or up-front cost but mitigation of later risk, make the Board understand this.
- What are the downsides of the proposed solution? Again, quantify, but don’t be shy about thinking long term. Is the Board going to set a costly precedent if it waives a fee, for example? Make sure the Board is thinking long term.
- If you’ve hired a consultant, make sure to present their analysis on its own (without editorial) as a reference to the Board, but also incorporate it into your proposed action. Don’t just slap their report down and say “here’s what the lawyer said.” Add some context where possible – for example, “The lawyer said to do X, we’ve done similar at another property, and it worked out well there.” Further, hold the consultants to the same standards I’m presenting to you here – make sure they’re presenting actionable information that solves a problem, not just useless jargon. Lawyers can be the worst offenders here – their favorite answer is “it depends”- and you have to nail them down on giving advice.
- Include at least two reasonable solutions. Make sure that you don’t fall into the trap of spending a lot of time fleshing out your desired solution and neglecting other options – do a fair accounting of all of the options available to help the Board understand the tradeoffs.
- Include a recommendation of your preferred solution and a justification as to why.
If you build a strong solution set, it gives the Board a starting point for debate. Even if they don’t use one of the proposed ideas, the foundations of having fleshed out answers will speed up and structure debate.
What if the Board can’t reach a decision?
Often, for whatever reason, a Board can’t make a decision. It happens – it’s OK. What you need to do, however, is keep the conversation going. Ask the Board what information they feel they are lacking or what they need to make a decision – force them to articulate their stumbling blocks. If there is time sensitivity that’s been identified, remind the Board of that and make sure they are clear on what the cost will be of delaying action. Meanwhile, gather the requested information, and recap the issue to the Board next time (be it in a meeting or via email, however you do business). Make it clear you completed their tasking and again push them to a decision.
If they still can’t make a decision and appear to be stuck, push them to make a “no decision decision” – i.e., a conscious choice to not make a decision. This brings some level of closure and may ultimately break the impasse through a combination of shaming them, as well as having to go “on the record” with no decision. In many cases, this will have a consequence, such as an unhappy Owner, who may choose to escalate. While that might not make the Board happy, it will keep things moving one way or another.
These steps are not a “one size fits all” approach – the level of research and framing will depend on the issue – the bigger the issue, the more the work. Boards are fickle and slow to act, but as a Manager, you’re in the position to provide the tools to help your condo Association board make decisions, as opposed to allowing them to wallow in their indecision. I recognize as Management you need to walk the line between keeping the Board happy (since they can fire you) and dealing with often tense situations, but ultimately, bringing the information a Board needs as opposed to what the Board wants will serve to build better relationships and better customers.