Criteria For Hiring A Community Manager

The 3 Frequent Criteria Boards Use for Hiring a Manager And the 6 Good Criteria Boards SHOULD be using!

By Julie Adamen

A long standing lament for Boards of Directors: “We just can’t seem to find (or keep) the ‘right’ manager.” Granted, finding and retaining good staff is always going to be a challenge in this business – the job is inherently difficult to do with a relatively low pay scale for the relatively high skill set required to perform the job well. Equally important is to recognize that Boards often bring this situation on themselves as they often inadvertently base their evaluation of current or potential management staff on three misguided criteria:

1.    How often the manager will be on, or “walk,” the property,

2. How much the manager knows about (insert one or more here) tree pruning, roofing materials, elevator systems, lawn fertilizer or what have you – in other words, how much detail the manager knows about the various trades which service the community, and

3.    How close the manager lives to the property so s/he can be there in an emergency.

Although each of these items may seem important on the surface, basing the hiring of a manager/company or the evaluation of a current manager on the answers to these types of questions is a common yet critical error, because these criteria are based on sentiment, not logic. To many Boards, it “feels good” to know the manager lives a mile away “just in case.” But the job of a community manager is to manage the day-to-day business affairs of the corporation, and the best interests of that corporation are served by a dedicated administrator (read: manager, a woefully inadequate term used in our industry) handling the community’s issues and emergencies, communicating with vendors and owners from their desk, phone and PC.

So, what criteria should Boards look for when hiring a new manager or to effectively evaluate their current manager? They need to look for someone who has the ability to effectively execute the agenda of the Board of Directors. They should be looking for, or evaluating their current, (a) professional administrator. There are six basic elements that make up an effective administrator.

Communication

Managing community associations means that your manager, or administrator, is in constant communication with the owners, the Board members, the vendors, their co-workers or your employees. That’s a very large group of people in whose eyes the manager must have enough standing, or credibility, to convince, cajole, assign, direct, instruct, give or deny permission or give information in hopes of accomplishing some task or assignment, and to put forth the agenda of the Board of Directors. And this means the manager must communicate well in person, in writing, via email, on the phone, one-on one or in a group – sometimes a big group. Being an effective communicator makes the manager more likely to accomplish the directives of the Board.

Whether interviewing or evaluating, Boards should review letters, Board packets (if applicable) or some other original written material by the interviewee. In addition, be aware of the candidate’s non-verbal communication and how you, as the interviewing body, feel when asking the candidate interview questions: Does s/he look me in the eye; Does this person make me feel as if I am understood; Does s/he make me feel as if s/he is competent, does s/he inspire my confidence in them, and if I were a homeowner, how would this person reflect on the Board?

Presentation

The clothes we wear make a giant difference in how we are perceived by others. This doesn’t mean your manager/administrator must always wear a suit, but it does mean s/he must dress appropriately for the occasion as well as his/her professional status. How your manager looks, dresses and generally “presents” his/herself physically has a lot to do with gaining and maintaining a certain presence and credibility in front of the owners as well as the Board.

Ours is a fairly conservative business. Boards should expect a certain professional appearance from their management staff. Piercings, flip-flops, jeans, tattoos and an “unkempt” look though fashionable is some circles, is not appropriate. The appearance of your manager reflects in either a positive or negative way on the Board. A manager who presents poorly can make the membership think the Board has set very low standards for the community.

Current within the industry

When evaluating your current or a potential manager, the Board should always look for the level of involvement the candidate has in the industry. Do they have any designations? Do they attend seminars? Are they involved with a local managers group, or with CAI? I say this not as a commercial for any one organization, but involvement within the industry shows dedication to the industry. Savvy Boards know that industry involvement also gives the manager many resources, from new and improved products and services to management strategies being used by their peers. These resources are potentially invaluable to the association(s) s/he managers. Forward-thinking Boards make this a requirement of their managers, and of themselves.

Organized

Organized in thought and organized physically, your manager or manager candidate must have information and resources at his/her fingertips. S/he must be able to develop a logical system that works for him/her and the community(ies) managed. How organized your current manager is easily quantifiable by the Board for whom s/he works. Evaluating a potential manager may be a bit more difficult – but still can be evaluated. For example, you may want to ask the candidate how s/he organizes an average work day, how s/he keeps track of events and deadlines (look for organizational tools, like a PDA), and what is his/her level of computer literacy and does s/he use an annual calendar for each association? Another hint:

Organized people usually look organized, show up on time or even a little early for appointments – like an interview – and always have communication devices with them.

Hates procrastination

Managing associations is not a job for procrastinators. If you are evaluating your current manager, ask yourself this: Does the manager start the hardest tasks first by simply digging in? Are everyday tasks completed in a timely manner? Does the Board receive regular complaints from owners (referring to the average owners, not the squeaky wheels) that their calls are not being returned? Are simple tasks not being completed between meetings? Or, are the tasks assigned being competed right before a deadline looms with jaws agape? And does your manager have an “explanation” for every issue every time? Remember, where procrastinators go, excuses follow. Antennae up! These events are major red flags. Your administrator should always be pro-active, keeping you, the Board, on track and not the other way around.

If you are evaluating a manager candidate, s/he may be a great communicator, and present well, but may also be a procrastinator. If s/he is a procrastinator they most likely will be somewhat disorganized and have little if any industry involvement (too much commitment), and probably have no professional designations, always meaning to “get around to it.” They may also have been unemployed for periods of time in their careers for no discern able reason. Be sure to check his/her professional references, and try to ask specifically if projects were completed in a timely manner. Habitual procrastinators have a tendency to sabotage every work situation they have been in, especially in the relatively “unsupervised” world of community management.

Developer of office infrastructure

Information and requests for service are constantly bombarding the manager and the manager’s office. How well the manager develops the needed infrastructure to deal with this information is critical to the success of the manager and the implementation of the Board’s agenda. If the manager cannot develop and manage a system for his/her office to take calls on roof or landscape repairs, architectural review requests, off hour emergencies, or supervise ongoing maintenance programs, then that manager will inevitably be found out in the field trying to manage each situation as it arises. It may sound good in the short-term, but no manager can keep up with all that goes on even in a relatively small community: Pretty soon that manager is being chased downhill by a rapidly growing snowball. Not to mention it’s a huge waste of resources.

Another good measuring stick for existing staff is: Does the Board feel the need to micromanage the manager? This could be a sign that the manager cannot develop the needed infrastructure to handle the many tasks at hand. When looking for a new manager some of your questions should be directed as to how the manager handles his/her staff and staff development, how they manage incoming communications form owners and vendors, requests that must be routed to committees and how the manager handles follow up (thus providing customer satisfaction).

Boards: Tired of turnover? Tired of performance that doesn’t meet your expectations? Then all Boards need to look to themselves and ask: Are we asking the right questions of our current or our potential manager, or are we basing our hiring or evaluation criteria on outdated thinking? When Boards are looking to hire a manager, or evaluate their current manager, they need to remember: You are hiring a professional administrator. Whether that person has good walking abilities, a short residential commute, or good handy-man attributes is, for the most part, irrelevant in today’s management environment.

Boards rely on the manager and his/her ability to get your agenda across to the owners in a professional, competent manner. This means first and foremost you need an excellent administrator, one who communicates well with the owners, vendors and Board members. S/he must present well, instilling confidence in the owners and on behalf of the Board. To best serve any community s/he manages, the manager should, and the Board should encourage, participation in local events having to do with the industry, and indeed business in general. Equally important, the manager must be organized and not procrastinate – they must tackle the hard stuff willingly and with commitment. Lastly, the ability to develop office infrastructure is key to managing the entire process of community administration, ensuring that the Board not only looks good, but is effective as well.

This article was originally written by Julie Adamen for New England Condominium Magazine in 2006.

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