The 5 Most Important Lessons for New Managers

Many community association management firms are reaching outside the traditional pool of candidates and bringing on managers with no experience in the industry. This approach can work — but only with proper support.

“Letting people new to the industry just hit the ground running is where we’re seeing companies have trouble,” says Katie Anderson, CEO of Aperion Management Group, LLC, which manages around 65 associations in Central Oregon.

You can help set your new team members on the path to success by proving them with some critical lessons upfront.

1. Communication is key

“Often there’s a lack of communication with the board, owners, vendors,” says Aaron Goodlock, a partner with the full-service community association law firm Orten Cavanagh Holmes & Hunt, LLC, in Denver, Colo.

“Many issues could be avoided if there were better communication. A lot of the time, managers are very overwhelmed, and they either don’t respond, or don’t respond in a timely manner, and it leads to disputes.”

Effective communication skills are among the topics addressed at the “university” Paul Grucza, director of education and client development at the Seattle-based management company CWD Group, Inc., holds for new managers. He’s found that it’s not enough to emphasize the importance of communication — some managers need to learn the nuts and bolts of just how to communicate in various mediums.

“Some of these folks coming in can sit and talk with you, but if you ask them to compose an email or letter of response, they can’t do that. I do a specific ‘how to write emails’ class.”

Grucza has also found listening skills to be lacking, in new and veteran managers alike. He remedies this by having managers sit in on calls and meetings.

“They listen to me with an owner on the phone or a board member at a meeting, and I have them listen for cues, key words and phases, and intonation. We’ll do role-playing, as well.”

2. Emotions can — and will — run high

“We really try to talk about the worst sides of the industry on the front side,” Anderson says. “We want new managers to understand they’re going to get yelled at.”

Even with explicit warnings, some managers might not truly understand the extent of the anger and emotions until they experience it first-hand.

“Historically, we’d tell new managers that some of the people they deal with are very angry, and they’d say they were used to that from their previous jobs,” says Ken Bertolucci, president of NS Management in Skokie, Ill. “Then they’d come back a few months later kind of surprised at the level of it. They have to understand that we’re dealing with people’s homes, so it’s personal.”

But it shouldn’t be for the managers. “I see managers taking things personally, and that’s a mistake,” says Jeffrey Beaumont, a partner with Beaumont Tashjian in Woodland Hills, Calif.

3. Bone up on the law but know your limits

New managers likely have no idea of the web of compliance issues they’re entering.

“Where managers can get tripped up, especially if they’re coming from a different industry, is all of the intricacies in association requirements, which vary a lot by state,” Goodlock says. “In states like Colorado, it’s highly regulated, and managers need a basic understanding of the regulations and statutes within which associations must operate.”

That said, new managers must resist the temptation to overstep their qualifications when it comes to legal matters. “Don’t try to be a lawyer,” Bertolucci says. “Know when to refer boards to an attorney.”

4. Build — and use — a team of experts

Attorneys, Beaumont says, are just one of the kinds of experts who new managers should connect with.

“Something I see them overlook is surrounding themselves with experts they can trust and establishing a relationship so they can reach out and ask questions before making critical decisions. CPAs, insurance agents, water damage and restoration contractors — people like that.

“Then you can reach out and say ‘hey, I have this issue that just came up, and I don’t need you to come out, but what’s your input?’”

5. Be flexible but set boundaries

“You have to be flexible and have the ability to pivot,” Grucza says. “No two days are going to be alike, no two situations are going to be alike. You have to understand the different dynamics involved.”

The flipside is that managers shouldn’t twist themselves in knots trying to satisfy impossibly high expectations.

“The most common mistake is trying to meet everyone’s demands, not having the proper boundaries, and then getting burned out,” Bertolucci says. “These managers really want to do a good job, and the board senses that and puts a lot of unreasonable demands on them.”

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