Science Says Do This One Thing Before You Go to Bed

By Peter Economy

How we begin our days usually takes center stage in planning. We have to wake up, prepare–both mentally and physically–and get into the groove of things. It’s been ingrained into us that breakfast is the most important meal, that we must make sure to take a couple deep breaths, and even do some visualization exercises before leaving the house. Yet, could it be that how we end our days is just as important as how we start them?

Turns out, that might just be the case. Although there’s great value in getting up on the right side of the bed, there’s also just as much merit in ensuring we take our time before hitting the hay for the night.

So, what’s the one thing every single one of us should be doing before letting our bodies rest for another day?

Writing down what happened.

Although journaling seems tedious–and, at times a bit rudimentary–it can be an incredibly helpful way to compartmentalize our thoughts without realizing it. When we go through the highs and lows of each event encountered during the course of a day, we don’t simply recount the facts–we offer our commentary as well.

What we say about each event–whether we felt frustrated or jealous or exuberant or nervous–ultimately tells us a lot more about ourselves than what we actually did. As easy as it is to forget, we are not what we do. We are, instead, what we make of our actions.

Journaling has been proven to be a very therapeutic exercise. It gives us the chance to sort out our opinions and reflections and to learn from what’s past and look forward to what’s next. Psychologists at the University of Texas in Austin have even gone as far as saying that journaling strengthens T-lymphocytes, which play a crucial role in cellular immune response.

Scientific evidence has also touched upon the roles the different sides of the brain play in writing things down.

brainThe left side of the brain is graced by logic–using your rational and analytical skills to decipher what exactly occurred today. The right side is governed by creativity, instead allowing you to feel and create. When we journal, both sides of our brain are engaged, reaching prime cranial potential right before you nod off for the night.

Before you go to bed tonight, pick up a pen and a piece of paper–and just write. How much better you feel when you wake just might startle you.

 While Peter Economy has spent the better part of two decades of his life slugging it out mano a mano in the management trenches, he is also the best-selling author of Managing for Dummies, The Management Bible, Leading Through Uncertainty, and more than 75 other books, with total sales in excess of two million copies. He has also served as associate editor for Leader to Leader for more than 10 years, where he has worked on projects with the likes of Jim Collins, Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith, and many other top management and leadership thinkers.

Dealing with Difficult People

By Debra J. Oppenheimer

How do we as humans deal with people who yell and scream at us or refuse to be rational? You know the type, adversarial, manipulative, inflexible, unreasonable, and irrational. For most people, the answer is “We don’t”. If given the choice, most of us choose not to work with people like this. We don’t socialize with them, we avoid them at work if possible, and we make our own lives easier by simply ignoring them whenever we can.

difficult pplBut what happens when you do not have a choice? In homeowner associations, we often find there is at least one person who refuses to listen to anything the board has to say. Unfortunately, because associations are also businesses, it is often not possible to simply ignore the person. So how do associations handle these types of situations? How should they handle them? The same way you would at work when you have no choice. You remain professional and you follow the rules.

First, try to empathize with the “opposition”. In other words,try to understand (not agree) with the difficult person’s position. Understanding the basis for their position may lead to a quicker resolution. See the below example:

Situation One
You are working on picking a landscape bi d. You believe 123 Landscapers would do an excellent job, but one homeowner is screaming at the board for the choice. Take a break in the meeting and talk with the owner and see if you can get his reason for being upset. It could be as simple as having incorrect information about the bid. Another possibility is he is confusing the current company for another company that did poor work for the community in the past. If you can get the opposer to calm down and provide his reasoning, it may be something that can assist or be easily addressed by the board.

Some people believe the only way to be heard or listened to is to yell and scream. While it is difficult to deal with, a little time and effort can assist you to work with these types of homeowners. But what about those people whose demands are just irrational? These are the homeowners whose complaints persist long after a decision was reached or the complaints pertain to issues the association has no authority to address or has already addressed. See the below examples:

Situation Two
A homeowner calls the manager to complain about noise.  When asked for specifics, the homeowner advises he can hear water running in the unit above him when the owner takes a bath and he wants it to stop. There is no appropriate response to this request that will satisfy the complainer. Taking a bath is not a creation of unreasonable noise and prodding such a response will not suffice.  In this type of situation, your fallback position must be to explain that you only have authority to enforce the restrictions and requirements set forth in the covenants and the noise of running bathwater is not a violation of the covenants. Therefore, you cannot assist the complainer.

Situation Three
Homeowner does not believe the association should approve a requested addition in his neighbor’s property.  The design review committee looks at the governing documents and approves the application.  Again, the first step is to communicate with the complainer and advise of the decision and the reasons for the decision. You may even wish to obtain a legal opinion indicating it was appropriate. When the complainer shows up for each meeting thereafter for months and attempts to argue the point again and again, remain calm and follow the rules.  Your conduct of meeting policy should state that homeowners may comment on issues prior to a board vote. Once they have commented on an issue, they do not get to do so again. Do not let them run meetings by going over issues not on the agenda or already decided.  Call on the next person to speak or move to the next item on the agenda.

What do you do about the person who screams, yells, and attacks when he is asked to comply with the covenants?  No matter what the violation is, when the covenant violation notice is mailed out, it is sure to be returned with pages of complaints, or excuses, or both along with attacks against everyone, including the manager and board of directors.

Regardless of what the violation is, if the owner supplies addresses of properties also in violation of the covenants, the board addresses these as complaints. Each violation must be reviewed and if the complaint is verified, then a violation letter should be sent out to each verified violator.

The excuses should be reviewed as evidence in any hearing scheduled on a complaint. The attacks should be reviewed and, if verified, addressed. If untrue, they should be ignored. No matter how long the list is, the board needs to investigate the allegations.  Additionally, the investigation needs to remain separate from the enforcement of the covenant violation of the homeowner. The board must follow the association’s covenant enforcement policy and move forward with the covenant violation just like any other violation. No matter how hateful the letter, the issues still must be reviewed. If associations follow their policies on covenant enforcement, then they will have investigated the complaints and taken action on those matters that could be verified thus, ending those attacks.

The urge to ignore people who attack or to try to turn the other cheek will not help associations. While it is difficult, it is the job of the board of directors working with community managers to investigate complaints and to enforce covenants. Associations and their representatives need to follow their own policies each time an issue arises. Difficult people live within our communities and the only way to address the situations that they cause is to remain professional and follow the rules.

Debra J. Oppenheimer is a partner at HindmanSanchez. With over 20 years of legal and business experience, Debra is a seasoned litigator. She is always prepared for whatever is thrown at her even in the courtroom. As a prior Deputy District Attorney, she learned the value of “listening” to people in order to get them to do what your client wants – a skill she uses daily in covenant enforcement.

Can Your Employees Really Speak Freely?

By James R. Detert and Ethan R. Burris

Chances are, your employees are withholding valuable intelligence from you. Maybe it’s about a project that’s gone off track or a manager who’s behaving badly. No matter how open you are as a manager, our research shows, many of your people are more likely to keep mum than to question initiatives or suggest new ideas at work.

This is true even if, like most leaders, you believe you have an open-door policy. (In our years of studying employee “voice” and advising organizations, we’ve never heard anyone say, “I have a closed-door policy.”) Think about it: How often do employees come to you, on your turf, to tell you the unvarnished truth simply because you’ve encouraged them to do so? The reality is, they worry—rightly or not—that you’ll take their comments personally, or that they’ll come across as disrespectful know-it-alls.

Leaders use a variety of tools to get people to speak up, like “climate” surveys and all-staff feedback sessions. Many of these efforts focus on improving communication up and down the hierarchy. But they usually fall short, regardless of good intentions, for two key reasons: a fear of consequences (embarrassment, isolation, low performance ratings, lost promotions, and even firing) and a sense of futility (the belief that saying something won’t make a difference, so why bother?). Here, we’ll look at how leaders’ misguided attempts to promote candor fail to address—and sometimes stir up—those feelings. We’ll also discuss tactics that are much more effective.

In a number of studies, we’ve found that when employees can voice their concerns freely, organizations see increased retention and stronger performance. At several financial services firms, for example, business units whose employees reported speaking up more had significantly better financial and operational results than others.

So getting all this right pays off—not just for the individuals eager to make contributions but for the organizations they want to improve.

The Fear Factor

It doesn’t take a tyrannical boss to inspire fear within an organization. Nor does it matter if an unsettling event like a restructuring or a takeover happened long ago. Once people become afraid to speak their minds, they’ll keep justifying their silence with explanations like “That’s the way our culture is—you don’t disagree with your boss.”

Without realizing it, leaders tend to make the problem worse with the following practices:

Relying on anonymous feedback.

The promise of anonymity is a common way to encourage frank input. Suggestion boxes, ombudspeople, 360-degree assessments, and satisfaction surveys all serve this purpose. Here’s the logic: If no one knows who said what, no repercussions will follow, so people can be forthright about any topic.

This line of reasoning has three flaws.

First, allowing employees to remain unidentified actually underscores the risks of speaking up—and reinforces people’s fears. The subtext is “It’s not safe to share your views openly in this organization. So we’ve created other channels to get the information we need.”

myth1Second, anonymity can set off a witch hunt. That was a theme at one Fortune 500 company we studied. When employees provided negative feedback through hotlines, suggestion boxes, and such, some bosses demanded to know “Who said this?!” People in other organizations had similar experiences. Many told us that they go to libraries and coffee shops and use public computers to complete online employee surveys—because they worry they’ll be tracked through their IP addresses otherwise. One man said he wouldn’t even report a problem to an ombudsperson. When asked why, he countered, “Who pays his salary?”

Third and perhaps most important, it can be difficult to address issues while protecting the identity of the people who raised them. Reporting in a survey that a manager acts abusively, incompetently, or in racist or sexist ways won’t do any good unless HR or an ombudsperson can assess the extent of the problem, explore the causes, and develop recommendations. That means interviews need to be conducted, stories corroborated, and additional data collected—all of which involve talking to the person who has accused the manager of wrongdoing. And if a complaint refers to a specific incident, it’s often quite clear to the manager which person filed it.

Issuing general invitations to come forward.

Open doors and attitudes are simply too passive. People still have to approach you to initiate a conversation, and that’s intimidating.

“But my people come tell me things,” you may be thinking. Fair enough, though there may be other things they aren’t coming to you about—issues that feel less safe. In particular, if you closely identify with an initiative, they’ll probably withhold constructive criticism about it, assuming you’ll take it personally.

A study we’ve run with hundreds of managers and professionals from different countries bears this out. In it, one group of randomly assigned respondents are asked to imagine they’re on a multifunctional team developing a new product. They’re told that the project keeps hitting major technical problems and that they ought to recommend ending it before it becomes a disaster. A second group are told the same thing but get one additional piece of information: Their boss has invested a lot of time in the project. Individuals in this group are significantly less likely to speak up, we’ve found. As one pointed out, frankness might wound or provoke the boss. “The old saying is ‘Don’t kill the messenger,’” he added, “but usually the messenger gets killed.”

Sending signals that you’re in charge.

Whether you realize it or not, you’re probably conveying your power through subtle cues. This can cause employees to clam up.

When someone ventures into your office, do you lean back in your chair with your arms clasped behind your head? You may think you’re setting a relaxed tone, but you’re really displaying dominance. (The posture makes you look bigger, a tactic animals and humans use to warn away others.) Are you sitting behind a big oak desk, in an expensive ergonomic chair, while your employee sits in a much smaller, cheaper, less comfortable one? Despite your good intentions (“Come on in!”), you’re inadvertently telling him to watch his step around you.

We’ve seen the effects of subtle power cues in many organizations. The COO of one large hospital in Texas told us a story about a prominent emergency room physician. For years this doctor had an excellent safety record and was well regarded among colleagues for delivering high-quality care. Yet he routinely received low scores on patient satisfaction. Although his diagnoses were accurate and his treatments effective, patients never felt comfortable with him. When his nurse pointed out this was causing them to withhold diagnostically important information, he finally understood what a problem it was.

With some prodding from the COO, the doctor made one simple change: He sat in a chair when making rounds, so he could talk to patients face-to-face rather than stand over them in their beds. Though his conversations were still brief and his bedside manner virtually nonexistent, sitting down made a world of difference. It seemed to convey that he took more time with people and cared about them, even though his other behavior changed very little. The next month, his patient satisfaction scores soared.

The Futility Factor

In many organizations we’ve studied, the biggest reason for withholding ideas and concerns wasn’t fear but, rather, the belief that managers wouldn’t do anything about them anyway. At one Fortune 100 high-tech company, employees cited futility as a reason for reticence almost twice as often as fear.

This “why bother?” attitude stems from—and persists because of—these leadership behaviors:

Failing to model free expression.

When leaders themselves aren’t vocal, their employees take note. One of us saw this while serving as an external researcher on a task force of senior managers at a large science-driven company. Charged with understanding the causes of employee silence and then proposing solutions, the task force conducted more than 200 interviews. But when it came time to present the findings to the CEO and the division presidents, the task force members failed to report how often they had heard about top management’s candor-inhibiting behavior.

Sure enough, the top team approved a relatively toothless set of recommendations and called it a day. Imagine how that felt to those 200 people who were interviewed (and the thousands more who had filled out the survey that led to the task force). Even speaking up about speaking up had proved futile. As more than one employee had predicted, senior people couldn’t be trusted to talk about the proverbial elephant in the room (in this case, top managers’ negative behavior). So why would others in the organization conclude that voicing concerns was worth their time?

If you don’t share what you hear from below with your higher-ups, without excessive filtering or sugarcoating, your employees will stop wasting their own breath. The same thing is likely to happen if they see you sitting silently in meetings when they know you’ve got a mental list of problems or ideas that you could be raising. Formal power comes with an expectation that you’ll be the voice of your subordinates and take action on their behalf. Failure to do so is a big demotivator.

Being unclear about the input you want.

Leaders are most responsive to ideas that support their own agendas. That’s actually not a bad thing—they need to focus on their priorities to be effective. But they also have a hard time admitting that they’re not interested in an idea, which results in “pseudoparticipation”—going through the motions of listening, with little intention of following up. They compound this problem by sending out vague calls for employee feedback—asking for a “single best idea” on a survey, for instance, or inviting people to speak up in meetings about whatever is on their minds.

If you cast that wide a net, what you reel in might not mesh with what you’re trying to accomplish. We’ve found this discrepancy in service and health care settings: When asked what they’d like to improve, frontline employees tend to focus on customer satisfaction, while their managers are looking to increase efficiency and protect against legal liability (in hospitals). If you don’t specify the kind of input you’re seeking, you may end up discarding most of what people tell you—and send the message that it’s useless for them to contribute ideas. Frustration is inevitable.

When leaders take on new roles or join new organizations, they often, as part of a “listening tour,” conduct surveys or individual interviews to hear from employees about possibilities and problems. This can make a lot of sense if you have time to synthesize the information and then take action. But it can backfire if you don’t. Suppose you’re a new manager brought in to lead an expansion into a new region. You already have your marching orders. Holding a series of open-ended meetings so that people can tell you about all the other things they wish you’d do or fix isn’t going to change your main path. It’s a waste of everyone’s time.

Providing no resources to address issues.

In our consulting work, we’ve seen leaders in higher education, financial services, retail, and other contexts who spent thousands or millions of dollars collecting ideas but then didn’t allocate a single employee to read through the data, much less design a systematic evaluation process. Sometimes we transcribed and analyzed the ideas according to their level of creativity, feasibility, and apparent overall value, only to learn that senior leaders had no intention of holding people accountable for implementing the suggested improvements. Or the company’s leaders simply said they were too strapped to fund any new projects.

Devoting resources to collecting ideas without making commitments, financial and otherwise, to see at least some of them to fruition can only lead to a sense that employee input will change nothing.

Creating a More Vocal Culture

Though leaders clearly struggle to get employees to speak up, it can be done. From our research, we’ve gleaned the following best practices:

Make feedback a regular, casual exchange.

If you ask for input frequently and hold the conversations face-to-face, idea sharing will feel less ominous and more natural. Schedule regular meetings with your employees, and don’t cancel every time you don’t have an agenda. In fact, you might occasionally announce that the top item on the agenda will be employee feedback. Tell people in advance what sort of conversation you’ll be having (a brainstorming meeting, for instance, or a planning session), and explain the kinds of problems or possibilities you want to discuss. That will give a sense of what’s fair game. Also assure people that they needn’t make an ironclad case for every suggestion, so they won’t worry that they’ll look dumb or get in trouble if they don’t have all the answers. When the first brave souls speak up, especially with comments that challenge how things are done, thank them and publicly acknowledge how much you value their input. Then be sure to adopt at least one idea or solve at least one problem that was mentioned, letting everyone know who deserves the credit for bringing it up.

Be transparent.

Transparency about feedback processes can reduce anxiety and increase participation. In one midsize health services company, a VP for quality outlined a six-week plan for gathering and acting on employee ideas for improvements in three mtransparencyajor areas. She laid out three clear phases: two weeks to collect ideas through an online platform; two weeks for task forces to evaluate the impact and feasibility of the ideas; and two weeks to prioritize which ideas would be implemented, create timelines, and announce plans to the rest of the company. Spelling out guidelines and commitments up front made contributing feel less daunting and futile to employees.

Reach out.

If you really want to know what people think about something, go ask them. Otherwise, employees might seek you out only when things are getting really bad for them. However, try not to shut out good suggestions that don’t happen to jibe with your current priorities. A VP of manufacturing in a health products company told us he’d once saved about a million dollars because, during a plant visit, he’d veered from the scheduled “dog and pony show” to walk the floor by himself and talk with frontline employees. One of them mentioned a flaw in the design of some bubble wrap, which the VP jotted down and was able to quickly address.

Soliciting feedback informally can be much more effective than just being open to it when it comes your way.

When you do ask for feedback, go to the people who know something you don’t. The folks in your immediate network probably are similar to you in background, perspective, and knowledge—so branch out. Counteract the all-too-common norm of expecting new people to quietly fit in until they understand “how we do things around here.” New people can tell you how other organizations operate and will have a fresh perspective on your firm’s strengths and weaknesses.

Soften the power cues.

If you really want to get the truth from below, play down your power when interacting with employees. One reason MBWA (management by walking around) is so effective is that it shifts the home field advantage to the staff—the conversation happens on their territory, not yours.

Of course, some conversations will need to happen in your office, but you can take steps to make your guests feel more comfortable. Add a small table with chairs of the same size and quality so that when someone comes to talk, you can sit together. Table shape matters, too. It’s usually easy to guess who has the most power at an oval or a rectangular table, but there’s no “head” at a round table. And consider your attire: Do you really need a tie for meetings with the creative team? You want employees to feel you’re one of them.

Ken Freeman, a successful corporate executive for decades before becoming the dean of Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, is someone who understands power signals. When he arrived at the school, the dean’s office was on a high floor with limited access. It was larger and more luxurious than any corporate office he’d ever had. Hardly anyone came to see him. So he moved to a small office with a clear-glass exterior wall, located on a classroom floor just down the hall from a heavily trafficked coffee shop. And he made another conscious choice to signal who he is and what he cares about: The only awards he put on prominent display were those for ethics and his academic diplomas.

Avoid sending mixed messages.

In one R&D organization, the managers were baffled that the brilliant researchers they’d recruited turned out to be uninspiring. But while the firm boasted that it hired only the best, it made its talent feel dumb. When researchers presented to senior managers, they were routinely beaten up and their ideas shot down. Challenging the status quo felt unsafe there. Even informal “blue-sky” sessions were stifled by reminders to use the company’s standard PowerPoint template and adhere to rules about maximum words per slide, which reinforced the feeling that people needed to stay within certain bounds.

Be the example.

Most employees understand that you don’t have full control over the resources or decisions needed to address their issues. To determine whether it’s worth bringing things to your attention, they calculate how likely you are to represent their interests to the leaders above you. To document this implicit calculus, we asked more than 10,000 restaurant employees to what extent their shift supervisors took their problems and suggestions to the general manager for action. Those whose bosses frequently acted on their behalf had significantly reduced feelings of futility. What’s more, they shared their concerns and ideas with their supervisors 10% more frequently than employees whose bosses didn’t represent them.

Employees feel inspired when they see you advocating for them. That message came through quite clearly when we spoke with people at a real estate firm. A team there had inherited a project that its members quickly realized would lead to a dangerous and illegal situation if allowed to continue. One employee described the group’s leader as “courageous,” explaining that he was “unafraid to speak up and point out the issues involved. He was fearless in challenging the status quo, as the project had already been approved by senior managers, who clearly were not paying attention to the details.”

While it’s great when your subordinates can see you speaking up, in many cases that’s not possible, because they aren’t present when you interact with your own boss. But you can tell them what happened and involve them directly in any follow-up steps. For example, rather than letting subordinates suspect you didn’t fight hard for their project, tell them that senior management was skeptical about some of your numbers and unsure whether it deserved prioritization in light of many other options being considered. And then bring them with you to present additional data that might convince higher-ups. This has a few benefits: First, it shows your people that you were willing to make an effort on their behalf, something they’re likely to appreciate no matter how things turn out. Second, it gives them a broader perspective on the barriers you, and those above you, face. And third, it keeps them informed about your progress so that they aren’t left wondering what’s happened since they spoke with you—which brings us to our final recommendation.

Close the loop.

If you don’t want people to think their ideas went straight to the trash can, make sure you tell them what you did next and what they can expect as a result.

Even the best-intentioned leaders often fall down on follow-up just because they are busy fighting fires. So consider adopting processes that formally include next steps, such as the “strategic fitness process” developed by Mike Beer and his colleagues at the consulting firm TruePoint. It calls for managers to receive input from a task force that gathers employees’ comments and highlights themes. The managers then report to the task force what they will do in response to the feedback. Task force members are responsible for communicating plans to the staff and helping implement the changes. Another effective tactic is simply to adhere to strict, well-publicized timelines for collecting, evaluating, and implementing ideas.

Getting the ideas you want and need from your employees will always be a challenge. Most people care too much about their social and material well-being to routinely speak truth to power—unless you clear some obstacles out of the way. Halfhearted efforts like anonymous reporting systems and vague invitations to submit ideas won’t do the trick. What will make a difference is taking steps to assure people that it’s both safe and worthwhile to contribute, no matter where they sit in the organization.

James R. Detert is a professor of management at Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Ethan R. Burris is an associate professor of management at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin.

 

Pool Rules – A Confusing World

By Jim Slaughter

With warmer weather, we’re getting our usual barrage of pool questions.  Many deal with appropriate pool rules and pool signs.  Without question, pool issues are one of the more confusing areas of our practice in that there are few absolutes.  That’s particularly the case when it comes to dealing with Fair Housing Act issues.

The Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) was originally adopted in 1968 and prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  The FHA was amended in 1988 to add protected classes of disability and familial status.  The short version as to familial status is this: associations should not treat families with children differently than other residents in the community.  Unfortunately, there is no FHA model pool rules list, so associations sometimes find out that wording is bad when a claim is brought against the association.

Based on FHA language and various cases around the country, association attorneys have come up with some standard pool suggestions.  The focus is basically that pool rules must be related to health and safety and not simply discriminate against families with children.  So:

  • “Adults only” pools or swim time are almost certainly violations, in that such rules are based on age and not swimming ability.  If the concern is safety, lap swimming or lap lanes may address such concern without being discriminatory.
  • “Children must” be potty trained to use the pool or use water diapers are almost certainly violations, in that the rule discriminates against an age class without taking into account that adults can also be incontinent.
  • “Children not permitted in the pool unless accompanied by parents” is almost certainly a violation on two fronts—the rule discriminates against children with no regard to swimming ability (children as young as 15 can be certified as Red Cross lifeguards) and it requires parents present for children to swim without regard to other family members or a legal guardian.  In fact, a case from California (Iniestra v. Cliff Warren Investments) found a rule that “Children under the age of 18 are not allowed in the pool or pool area at any time unless accompanied by their parents or legal guardian” was discriminatory on its face.

All of these rupool_0les could be rewritten to be more neutral while still addressing issues of safety, rather than just targeting children or families with children.

As an example of how this can get confusing, let’s take a look at a specific instance.  North Carolina has statutes and state regulations regulating “public swimming pools,” which the NC Department of Health and Human Services says apply to all homeowner and condominium association pools.  15A N.C. Administrative Code 18A .2530 provides that for pools with no lifeguard:

[T]here shall be signs legible from all bather entrances with a minimum letter size of one inch stating: “CHILDREN SHOULD NOT USE THE SWIMMING POOL WITHOUT ADULT SUPERVISION” and “ADULTS SHOULD NOT SWIM ALONE.”

Under the FHA, should a community association pool sign begin with “CHILDREN SHOULD NOT . . .”?  NO.   Does North Carolina seem to require that community association pool signs say “CHILDREN SHOULD NOT. . .”?  YES.

As state regulators work through the FHA and state pool rules, it is likely the mandated pool sign wording will change.  Until then, please understand why wading through pool rules for community associations is not as easy as it seems.

James Slaughter is a partner at the law firm of Rossabi Black Slaughter, PA. His areas of practice are Community Association / Planned Community Law (Homeowner Association and Condominium Association Law); Condominium and Homeowner Association Mediation; Real Estate Litigation; Business Litigation; Parliamentary Law.

It’s Trivia Time at CAI Press!

TRUE or FALSE? National Trivia Day is March 15.  

FALSE. It was Jan. 4, but we’re still celebrating. Join us by taking the CAI Press trivia quiz!

TRUE or FALSE? The Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles combined for one season to become the Steagles.
TRUE. And, if they can come together, so can your residents. Find out how in Volunteers: How Community Associations Thrive.
(Read the Steagle’s story.)

TRUE or FALSE? The U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing sells five-pound bags containing $10,000 worth of U.S. currency for $45.
TRUE, but the currency is shredded. Piecing it back together is almost as challenging as collecting delinquencies. We have an easier way: read Delinquencies: How Communities Collect Assessments. It isn’t shredded.
(Take a look at $10,000.)

TRUE or FALSE? The world over, all McDonald’s golden arches are, well, … gold.
FALSE. A McDonald’s in Sedona, Ariz., erected turquoise arches to comply with the town’s design review standards. They must have read Design Review: How Community Associations Maintain Peace and Harmony.
(Check out the turquoise arches.)

TRUE or FALSE? Vending machines kill four times more people than sharks do.
TRUE. Which means hidden risks lurk everywhere. Learn how to protect against them in Risk Management: How Community Associations Protect Themselves.
(Find out what else is more dangerous than sharks.)

TRUE or FALSE? In the earliest versions of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s dog Toto was replaced by an unnamed donkey and a pet cow named Imogene.
TRUE. And you thought you had pet problems. Dorothy could have used a copy of Pet Policies: How Community Associations Maintain Peace and Harmony.
(See Imogene in this 1930 silent film version of the classic movie.)

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Managing a Major Project in a Condo Association: An Overview

By Better Condo Life

It is inevitable that there will be a major project in your Condo Association.  All major systems will degrade over time and eventually will need to be repaired or replaced.  Examples include roofs, garages, facades, elevators, HVAC systems, fire alarms, etc.  For our purposes, a “major” project will be defined as one that is paid for out of reserves and is around 10% or more of the Association’s annual revenues.  These projects are also characterized by being technical in nature – they likely involve engineers and directly affect the safety and security of the building as a whole.  Of course, these are all baselines – a smaller project could still be complicated and fall into this category.

This miniseries will be dedicated to walking you through the process of a major project in a Condo Association and ensure that you’re positioned for successfully carrying one out.  Today’s article will focus on an overview of the full life cycle, and future articles will provide a deep dive into each individual step.

This series will assume two things.  The first is that you’ve identified a system needs replacement – there are a number of ways this will happen, from the system outright failing (an HVAC system) to testing for deterioration (a concrete garage).  The second is that you have the money for the replacement in your reserves.  I’ll come back to those topics in the future, because both are worth discussing further.

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Step 1: Hire an Engineering Consultant to Serve as the Condo Association’s Representative

Since this is a major project, it is going to exceed your Board and Management’s technical capabilities.  You may not have a structural engineer on your Board, for example, and even if you did, they’re a Board member, not the person doing the work.  Remember, the job of a Board is to set policy and make decisions based upon receiving qualified input – not micromanaging everything.  So let’s get you some qualified help for your project.  If you’ve already got a firm you trust and have worked with in the past, you can skip reading this step.

No matter what the project, you’ll be able to find an engineer who can represent your Association.  Their cost will scale with the size of the project, so even for smaller projects, you can hire an engineer.  There are many things to look into when selecting a qualified engineer, but here’s a quick overview of what you want to do:

  • Get references, and speak to those references – ideally other entities/building owners who worked with them in the past.
  • Evaluate for their technical skills – have they managed similar projects of similar size and scope?
  • Evaluate their ability to communicate.  You’ll be working with them closely, and if they’re aloof or incapable of explaining things to a layperson, they may not be a good fit for a residential Condo project.
  • Clearly lay out what you expect from them.  Will they need to make monthly reports to the Board?  Interact with Owners?  Work off-hours?  If not scoped, these all could end up being billed at an hourly rate.

Finally, I strongly recommend having your lawyer review the contract with your consultant prior to signing.  The consultant is going to have a lot of power and responsibility, so make sure the contract is legally sound and protects the Condo Association.  AIA standard contract documents are generally available (for a fee), and should be used whenever possible.

Step 2:  Design and Bid Phase

Now that you’ve got a consultant, they’ll work with you to design and scope the bids to repair/replace your system.  Depending on the project size and intrusiveness into your Owner’s quality of life, this phase can get quite complicated.  For example, you might phase the work slower to minimize disruption, or faster to save money.  Money will be a big factor in this step – you’ll need to decide what’s important to you and if you’re willing to pay for it.  Also consider indirect costs to the project – you may need to hire temporary workers for your building’s staff or, in rare cases, you may need to relocate Owners to hotels, etc.  A project is often more costly than just what you’re paying the engineering consultant and project performer (i.e., budget for contingency).

Another important thing to consider is having the design that your engineering consultant carries out be peer-reviewed by another firm.  This is a process where another firm ensures the design is sound and meets the Condo Association’s needs.  This may not be needed for smaller projects, but it can be an important step when managing a major project in a Condo Association – it makes sure you’re getting the best value and that you’ll be getting your money’s worth by adding another layer of accountability – another “pair of eyes.”

Once the design is complete, you’ll move into the bid phase:

  • The request for proposal will go out and your consultant will collect and score bids for you from qualified project performers.
  • Review the bids with your consultant and narrow it down to the best 2-3 bids.
  • Interview the top bidders and make a selection.
  • Negotiate the best price possible, have your lawyer review the contract, and sign it.  Make sure a lawyer reviews it!

Now we move on to the fun part: letting your Owners know what’s coming.

Step 3:  Communicate with Owners

Now that you have a consultant and a project performer, it’s time to let your Owners know that a major project is imminent.  Although you’ve probably been talking about this in Board meetings for some time, chances are you have many uninformed Owners.  To ensure a smooth project, you need a communications plan to ensure your Owners are well-informed and to minimize disruptions.  Communication is particularly critical in projects that interrupt Owners’ daily routines – perhaps in your garage project, for example, you need to temporarily relocate parking.  My Communications 101 article has some good general tips, but you’ll also need to:

  • Prepare a packet of information for all Owners that explains the needs of the project.  Focus on outlining why the project is important (i.e., old roof means leaks, which are bad) and quantify the impacts wherever possible.
  • Consider holding a “town hall” style meeting with your engineers and project performer present where you present and describe the work while allowing Owners to ask questions.
  • Make sure your Board and Management are ready for an increased volume of communication with Owners, and have a plan to answer them in a timely manner.

Now it’s time to begin the project itself.

Step 4:  Project Execution

Execution is where the fun REALLY begins.  This could be very straightforward – perhaps it’s only a week’s worth of work so the impacts are comparatively minimal.  But many major rehabilitation efforts can last months or even years, which has a strong impact to quality of life.  Some things to keep in mind:

  • Be ready to monitor the field reports from your project performer and engineering consultant.  Your Management will have lead on this, but you also need to stay informed.
  • Expect the unexpected.  Your project performer may damage things unexpectedly. They may find new problems or unforeseen conditions. Who knows.  Be ready to make important decisions relatively quickly.
  • Owners will likely be upset from any impacts to quality of life.  Some will complain just to complain (be polite and move on), others will demand free stuff like hotel rooms (deny in almost all cases unless legally obligated to do so), etc.  This will not be fun for you as a Board.  Make sure you’ve got a process to triage, prioritize and respond quickly.
  • Factor in the administrative impact of the project to your Management and other staff.  If applicable, include the support details in their duties and annual review.  Consider hiring part-time staff if necessary to support them.
  • Keep tabs on your Management and staff’s morale.  They will be dealing with many more unhappy people than you will.  Consider everything from pizza parties to gift cards to even cash bonuses depending on the scope of the project.

As bad as this all sounds, you will get through it.  Hold the line, be polite and compassionate, but also remember your fiduciary duties to the Association.

Step 5:  Completion and Preventative Maintenance

Ok, you’re done!  Whew!  You’ve survived a major project in a Condo Association!  Congratulations!  Now’s the time to start thinking about a preventative maintenance program.  You may already have one – perhaps that’s how you decided it was time to repair/replace the system – but if not, you should work with your engineering consultant to develop a plan for maintaining your newly rehabilitated system correctly.  This will maximize the useful life of the system and ensure your investment is well-maintained.

Conclusion

Major projects in your Condo Association are no fun, but they are a part of living in a condo.  Proactive management, being thorough, hiring the right vendors, and communicating well will ensure that the projects are minimally disruptive and allow your Condo Association to rapidly return to normal.

Why Every Association Needs a Community Website

By AtHomeNet

The community association website will bring a community together by providing homeowners, board members, committee members and the property manager with a means to communicate and a place where homeowners can find information concerning their community. The association website will be the main resource for homeowners and others interested in moving into your community. An interactive community website will give you the means to get information out to residents quickly by posting announcements on the website or sending email bulletins to all the homeowners at once.

website design.jpgListed below are just a few ways your homeowners can use the website as an information and communication tool.

Document Storage Area
This is where you can store the association’s covenants, by-laws, rules and regulations, newsletters, or any forms the community uses such as maintenance requests and architectural review forms. Now everyone will have access to this vital information at anytime.

Events Calendar
The calendar displays a monthly view of all events. There is no limit to the number of events you can post on the calendar and it can even be exported to a resident’s own personal Outlook calendar. So now homeowners will have an easy way to keep track of when board meetings and other events are being held including the place and time. Homeowners can even RSVP to a particular event.

Message Board
Residents can post a comment, question or problem and other homeowners can post a reply. The message board allows homeowners to share or seek information from their neighbors.

Requests and Questions
Homeowners can post a message or ask a question. This means less phone calls to board members or the property manager but gives the homeowners a means to ask a specific person, such as the board president, a specific question.

Survey
A means for homeowners to voice their opinions and check interest on certain topics. This gives homeowners a voice and a feeling they are being heard.

AtHomeNet provides powerful website services and fanatical support that 
enhance communications in community associations and make managing associations easier.

6 Tips for Recruiting Future HOA Leaders

By Community Association Management

  1.  Start the conversation early.

“The best way to get people involved is to do it right when they move in,” says Debra A. Warren, principal of Cinnabar Consulting in San Rafael, Calif., which provides training and employee development services to community association management firms and training and strategic planning sessions for association board members. “Have a program in which a board member is assigned to go meet new residents and bring basic information about the association.”

“The intention should be to get them to come to board meetings and meet the rest of the board members to have a conversation about their interests,” adds Warren. “From a committee perspective, you should be trying to get a feel for where they might fit in because they have an interest. The idea is to have a member of the board start that conversation.”

  1. Be wary of burdening busy professionals.

 “Look at new owners’ leadership ability, communication ability and so on for potential leadership positions,” advises Warren. “But be careful because I’ve seen problems develop. It’s important for board members not to be coercive to get someone to volunteer for the board who doesn’t have the time to participate.

“Maybe a CPA or financial planner moves in,” Warren explains. “She’s a very busy professional but has expertise the board can use. Board members will get excited to recruit her, and she can certainly be helpful. But maybe she doesn’t have the time available to devote to the board. Maybe the answer isn’t for her to be on the board but to be on a committee or available to provide extra advice to the board when necessary. You don’t have to lead people all the way into the swamp the first time.”

  1. Empower members to get involved.

“I just ran across a huge community with thousands of residents that’s particularly good at this,” says McCormick. “I asked, ‘What’s your secret?’ The response was that it’s a matter of giving volunteers the authority to do things and recognizing them for their accomplishments. You need to have a process that supports them and enables them. If you don’t have that, they’ll fizzle away.”

If there’s a local meeting of association members or professionals that’s open to the public, encourage your residents to go. “The volunteers I saw were at an association industry event, and the association had told them, ‘Yes, please get involved,’” explains McCormick. “The association fosters those residents’ desire to go to industry events, and the residents feel involved, important, and like they’re really accomplishing something. That’s good for them and the community.”

  1. Delegate authority to your residents.

“Another key is giving volunteers the authority to do things,” says McCormick. “You have to pay attention to what residents are saying. A resident may come to a meeting and say, ‘I was out doing this in the community, and I met this person.’ That person sounds like she has a natural tendency to meet people and might be perfect for a welcoming committee for new residents. In that case, you’re giving her the ability to do things she already likes on behalf of the association, and she’s going to have an investment in it. But you have to pay attention. If a resident says he loves gardening, you have to think: ‘Perfect for the landscape committee!’”

  1. Start them out slowly.

“I’ve seen some people want to get involved, but they’re not quite ready yet,” says Robert M. DeNichilo, an attorney at DeNichilo & Lindsley LLP in Irvine, Calif., who specializes in representing community associations. “So they get involved on committees. It’s a platform to graduate from before serving on the board, and it’s a way for them to get a taste of what it’s like to be involved.”recognition

  1. Recognize their efforts.

Residents are more likely to want to continue helping out if you recognize them for their contributions. “Give recognition at the annual meeting, even if it’s simple,” says McCormick. “How much does it cost to create a certificate that you print out?