It is easy to focus attention on the governance and business aspects of operating associations because of their immediacy. However, clear lines of communication and a strong sense of community among residents focuses everyone's attention on the positive benefits of being a part of the community and encourages participation in association activities. As a result, governance and business operations become less problematic.
In the early history of community associations, Business meant austerity, Governance meant compliance, and Community meant conformity. When I first became involved with community associations, the prevalent governance style was "Command and Control." The board's biggest fear was the "Domino Effect"—allow one rule to be violated and lose all control forever.
As the community association movement has matured however, the current thinking is more that Business means prudence, Governance means justice, and Community means harmony. I would like to help you do two things. Recognize the need for continually building community in your association, and move beyond rhetoric to reality in your attempts to foster community in your association.
What's 'Building Community' All About? It's about neighborhoods, not housing developments.
• It's about customers, not unit owners.
• It's about facilitating, not managing.
• It's about serving, not ruling.
• It's about rational flexibility in rules enforcement, not about rigidity.
• It's about conflict prevention and alternative dispute resolution, not litigation.
• It's about consensus building, not just majority rule.
• It's about service, not governance—being our associations' highest priority. In other words, 'building community' is about a more holistic approach to community management.
Community associations exist because they offer the choices, lifestyles, amenities and efficiency that people value. Yet, with all of our inherent advances, community associations face complicated issues, none more common than the challenge of balancing the rights of the individual homeowner with those of the community as a whole. Managing this critical, delicate balance is often the essence of effective community building.
The business of community associations is conducted at meetings. Anyone who has been involved with a community association for any length of time realizes that meetings can be an effective means of communicating, gathering information, planning, decision making and policy setting…or they can be a complete waste of time and effort.
To be successful, meetings must be well planned, well-managed, adhere to a pre-published agenda, allow for homeowner input, be open for all homeowners to observe, start—and end—on time. Avoid an "us-versus-them" approach. If a board consistently fosters a cooperative, unified atmosphere at meetings, the other owners will resent a resident who takes a combative, divisive attitude. Meetings should strive for consensus. Little is achieved from five-to-four votes.
Because many participants are not familiar with the rules of order for the conduct of meetings, meetings can quickly become disorganized, unpleasant and uncomfortable experiences. Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revisedincludes rules for the conduct of small meetings, which can be easily adapted to community association meetings.
No matter what, it should be remembered that the meeting is of neighbors in a community who should have similar objectives. Every effort should be exerted to promote a comfortable amiable atmosphere for the meeting.
A Time for Change, Growth and Discovery
Walt Disney once said: "Never forget...You can design and build the most wonderful place on earth. But it takes people to bring it to life."
Why are so many people talking about change? What's wrong with the status quo in the world of community associations? Today it often seems like community associations and their boards are regarded with all the love and affection afforded to the IRS.
Developers of every kind of community throughout the United States are seeking innovative approaches to creating a sense of community in their developments. In order for this to become a reality, we need to set new community priorities:
• Don't make your association an island. Interface with local organizations and government
• Maintain an authentic, ongoing dialog with all community stakeholders
• Judge the community's success from residents' point of view
• Distinguish yourself by the way you handle conflicts and disputes
• Measure, set goals, and attack problems
• Build genuine support for community rules
• Treat all residents as equal stakeholders in the community
•Nurture a sense of shared responsibility for the future of the community
• Deal with problems on a case-by-case basis
• Remember that the core business of your association is to cultivate and encourage a great community. Do not accept apathy. Above all, keep it fun!
Traits of Community Leaders
Today's board members are servant leaders, who should serve out of a sense of personal mission; they should be inclusive, regard their organizational power as a temporary stewardship, facilitate processes, empower others, understand the power of vision and be agents of change.
The modern manager has the business skills of a corporate executive and the heart of a social worker, is a strategic thinker, is the community's biggest cheerleader, is a superior communicator, is a natural recruiter and motivator and is willing to achieve by inspiring others. The manager's job description is to provide leadership, inspiration, and know-how to help the volunteer board create a successful, thriving community. Community building is a volunteer-led activity. The manager needs to know how to ignite the process and serve as a knowledgeable coach, facilitator, and catalyst. This is a dynamic process! It will always need attention and adjustment, and there may be costs associated with making the process a success.
Remember: not everything works in every community. What works in a neighboring community may not fly in your association. Not everybody buys into every new initiative, and some can be absolutely negative about it. Negatives and positives at any level are powerful—so make addressing each a deliberate, conscious act!
Creating a healthy environment based on service, communication and community will by definition elevate the quality of life in community associations and maintain them as a desired and increasingly valuable form of housing in this country.
This is part 1 of an article that was adapted from a speech made to the Utah Chapter of the CAI by Ronald L. Perl, an attorney with Hill Wallack and the CAI national president.