ethical business conduct

Working effectively with a condo manager

Boards can build positive professional relationships with their PMs in three simple steps
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
By Brian Bosscher

Whether newly elected or seasoned veterans, all board members can benefit from putting effort into developing effective working relationships with their condo manager. Building trust is critical. If all parties trust each other, they are more able to work well together and with less friction.

What are the best ways to build that trust? There are three simple steps that boards can take to strike, strengthen or maintain effective working relationships with their property managers. They start with setting a clear and positive direction for the board and management as they work together to fulfill the requirements of their respective roles.

1. Define roles

It’s important for those who are new to condo boards to understand the distinction between the roles of the board and management. The board is responsible for setting the corporation’s vision and direction, makes key decisions, and generally provides leadership. Management is responsible for executing that vision and carrying out day-to-day activities.

When joining a board for the first time, or starting work with a new manager, board members should arrange a time to discuss roles and responsibilities in detail. This discussion also presents a good opportunity to clear up any misconceptions and clarify areas of overlap. Experienced board members will not likely have this issue, but new board members (or directors coming from a non-professional background) may need clarification on what constitutes a normal level of involvement on their part.

In some of the largest corporations, management may operate like a business, presenting comprehensive plans to the board for review and approval. In some of the smaller corporations, management may take an interactive or team approach, giving board members the opportunity to be much more hands-on.

Overlap can be an issue if a board member is particularly “hands-on,” or to use a less flattering term, is a “micromanager.” If a board member is particularly detail-oriented, or wants to be involved in the day-to-day details of managing the condo corporation, having an open and frank discussion is all the more important to ensure everyone’s ideas are aligned.

2. Set clear expectations

Unstated or unclear expectations are a recipe for disappointment and frustration for both the board and property manager, so the board should clearly state its expectations upfront. All board members and condo managers draw on their own experiences and uses their own methods of working. Most are able to adjust to others’ needs, so long as they’re made aware of those needs.

Here are some topics that are worth clarifying when a new board member or property manager joins the team:

  • How often does the board expect updates from management?
  • Will business be conducted primarily in meetings, or will there be a steady flow of email and phone communication between meetings?
  • When urgent issues must be addressed between meetings, how will a decision be made while still complying with Condominium Act requirements?
  • How quickly do board members expect a response to their communications from management?
  • Conversely, how quickly are board members typically able to respond to emails? Some board members have jobs that demand much of their time during the day, while others have more flexible schedules and will be able to respond more quickly.
  • What types of problems should the board be notified about? For example, does the board want to be notified about a break-in as soon as it happens, or is it acceptable to just put it on the manager’s report and review it at the next board meeting?
  • What tools will be used, and how will they be used? Whether communicating through email or a more advanced online management system, be sure that everyone knows what is expected of him or her.

It’s also a good idea to set clear expectations at the start of any new project. Whether the condominium corporation is undertaking a hallway refurbishment, boiler replacement or even something smaller, such as an annual landscaping update, spend the time to make sure everyone is on the same page. This can be particularly helpful when a new team member is involved. Whether it’s an engineer, consultant or project manager, the new team member will appreciate knowing what the client expects.

3. Communicate

Defined roles and expectations set the foundation for a productive working relationship. Clear, ongoing communication is critical to its continued success. Here are four tips to help keep the relationship running smoothly:

Establish a board/management liaison role: Whether the board has three, five or even seven members, it can be difficult for the property manager to take direction from everyone at once. And if messages are conflicting, it can be all the more frustrating. Appointing a particular board member as the liaison makes communication channels clearer and communications more efficient.

Have regular check-in meetings, face-to-face if possible: This may seem like a simple step, but many people overlook it: spending some time face-to-face gives both parties the opportunity to bring up any issues that may be either difficult or uncomfortable to bring up by phone or email. Having ample opportunity to address difficult issues is important to creating an environment of open and honest communication.

Give feedback immediately: If the board feels that there is a problem, it’s not particularly useful for the property manager to hear about it months after the fact, during an annual performance review. That said, be sure to deliver any critical or constructive criticism in a private setting, rather than in front of owners or residents. And don’t forget to share positive feedback, too! Reinforcing and encouraging the right behaviours is just as important as addressing problem areas.

Conduct annual performance reviews: While performance reviews may be about as popular as a trip to the dentist, they are absolutely critical to the success of any condo. At a minimum, the board should take the time to gather feedback and have a performance conversation with the manager on an annual basis. If there are particular difficulties and challenges, then the board would be well advised to provide feedback more frequently. A common approach is to gather feedback and have one board member present it, which makes the meeting less intimidating.

Whether a board is just starting out, or trying to strengthen or repair an existing relationship, it’s important for it to take time to set clear expectations and discuss everybody’s roles and responsibilities. Once this foundation is laid, regular, ongoing communication is key to keeping operations running smoothly. And when problems inevitably occur, the continuing dialogue will encourage both board members and property managers to address minor issues before they become serious issues.

It takes time and effort for board members and their property manager to build a positive working relationship, but by completing these three steps, they have a much greater chance of success.

Brian Bosscher is the president and founder of Condo Control Central, a leading Toronto-based company that provides web-based communication and management software for condominiums of all sizes. He can be reached by phone at 647-557-8479, or by email at [email protected].