If you’ve run a business, you know that you must plan for the future while operating in the present. Without a solid succession plan in place, your business isn’t prepared for a change in leadership, regardless of the reason. It’s important to identify people who have leadership potential and train them for the eventuality of being in charge. This is part of corporate strategy for all successful institutions, including your community association.

What happens without a good succession plan in place? The next group of board members may not be as knowledgeable about what is required of them as the current board. They may not have the ability to keep your association on sound financial footing or maintain your community the way it should be. What about continuity in your community? If your association is involved in a large capital improvement project, for example, what will happen if new board members with no understanding of its history take over the leadership of the community? These are all reasons to approach future generations of leadership strategically, and to ensure that future board members have the necessary tools to be effective in their new roles.

A good way to approach succession planning is by first identifying potential leaders and offering them the opportunity to see how they can contribute as part of the board. Homeowners and unit owners who are knowledgeable about the workings of the board and how each member fits into it are more likely to be willing to run for office – and to be successful if elected.

Ivy Montero is a vice president for FirstService Residential. In her 20+ years in property management, she has worked with hundreds of association boards. “People are sometimes scared of what they don’t know. It’s the board’s responsibility to provide the information homeowners need to have about how things work within the board, so that they are more willing to get involved,” she explains. “Once owners have the chance to gain insight about how the board works and see the opportunities that exist for them, as well as the resources FirstService Residential provides to assist them, the selection process takes care of itself.”

Another way to find potential board leaders is to start with your committees. “You really have to recruit, and strong committees are a great help with that,” explains James Thomas. Thomas is president of Toscana South and vice president of the Toscana HOA in Highland Beach, Florida and has served in those roles for more than 10 years. “You know who’s right for the board through their committee performance; if they don’t willingly participate in a committee, why would you want them on a board? We are willing to look beyond them, but when recruiting board members, committees are where we start.”

Planning strategically for the future provides a seamless transition for your board. Read on to learn 5 practical steps for succession planning.

  1. Provide the right tools for the job.

    Nobody is born knowing how to be a part of a committee or an association, or even what the role of a committee member or board member is. It’s something that must be learned through observation and training. Make sure you provide this training to your volunteers, along with all of the documents they’ll need to know in order to operate effectively. And don’t forget, even veteran committee members and board members can benefit from “refresher” sessions from time to time. Part of this training should include a thorough understanding of the governing documents, a clear definition of the volunteer’s role, and a full update on current projects and future challenges and issues. Good property management companies are adept at providing training services to board members and volunteers, so look to yours for help.

    “There are a lot of resources for people who want to become board members. Anyone interested is encouraged to take a board certification class. We established a how-to workshop for interested residents to learn about what is involved with serving on the board,” Montero said. “The workshop includes an educational handbook of do’s and don’ts for board members. It includes explanations of board responsibilities, what operational processes look like (including a violation letter, delinquency notice, work order) and how different roles work together.”

    “The knowledge in the handbook empowers owners to get involved on a greater scale, to be the leaders of their buildings and communities,” she explained. “The people who are educated and empowered are the ones who step up to be president, treasurer, and secretary. If you’re on the fence and don’t know about the different roles, the handbook will explain everything.”

  2. Invite participation in meetings, events, and committees.

    A variety of backgrounds and viewpoints make a great board. That’s why it’s critical to engage as many homeowners as you can. A lot of people want to help, want to contribute to the success of their communities – they just don’t know how to get started. Ask owners for their opinions, invite open participation at meetings, and before long, you’ll recognize the achievers and big thinkers in your community. The individuals actively participating and eagerly contributing could be your future board members and community leaders.

    “We always encourage sitting directors to reach out to new residents, because they could be the directors of the future. Welcome them!” Montero said. “We have developed a simple welcome letter for new owners, and it includes a schedule of board meetings. Simply posting dates by the mailboxes isn’t enough – new residents need to understand that they are welcome and invited to come to meetings. Encouraging that early participation will help generate a larger involvement and commitment down the road.”

    Event participation and committee involvement are great ways to gauge interest from future board members. “Community events keep residents engaged and interested in becoming part of something more,” explains Samantha Gonzalez, regional director at FirstService Residential. “The board can also promote creation of committees, members of which may later become board members.”  Committees are your best pool of future board members, and it’s important to encourage people to step up and participate in the right ones when they are passionate about a topic.

  3. Be clear with expectations and responsibilities.

    It’s hard to lead if you’ve never been given the chance. Once you’ve identified volunteers with great potential, delegate important tasks to them by getting them involved in committees. Just be sure that you make your expectations clear, and that their roles and responsibilities are explicitly defined. You can do this through committee charters. These documents outline responsibilities, decision-making guidelines and examples on how to effectively assert authority, as well as the steps the committee members should take when reporting to the board at large. By providing this clear framework, your committee members will be able to devote their time and energy to developing innovative ideas and solutions.

  4. Set a path for board leadership.

    No one should be expected to jump from volunteer to board president. It’s important to give interested residents a path to take to move from volunteer to board member and offer educational opportunities and training to help them on the journey. A quality property management company will have the resources and experience to help. The journey from volunteer to community leader might look like this:

    • Volunteer:  The first step on the road to leadership is becoming a volunteer. Serving on committees and at events allows potential board members to get to know the community and its residents. That knowledge is critical to future board success. 

    • Volunteer Leader: Volunteer leadership grows naturally out of service. People who want to lead will step up when the time is right, and they are needed. Volunteer leaders need to be approachable, relatable, and willing to prioritize leadership training to become effective. Ultimately, they should be results-driven leaders who can run a committee.

    • Leader:  At the end of the day, a leader will achieve results. Partner with your professional management team to help you achieve larger tasks. This will help leaders gain confidence through contributions to the community and gain alignment from other residents. By this time, volunteers may be at large board members. 

    • Community Leader:  Of course, the end of the journey is to become a community leader. At large board members who want to become community leaders will invest in the training and knowledge to serve on the executive committee.

  5. Express appreciation for volunteers.

    A little gratitude can go a long way. Volunteers who feel appreciated are more likely to stay engaged, and an experienced volunteer will one day make a great board member. There are many ways you can let your volunteers know how much of a difference they’re making, from formally recognizing them during meetings to making announcements in your newsletter to even putting on special events where volunteers are recognized.

Successful succession planning starts here

It’s not enough to have a successful and effective board in the present. Without a succession plan in place, your board will suffer from a lack of continuity in leadership and can be gridlocked by new members who don’t have any institutional or historic knowledge of the workings of your community. A lack of action by the board will eventually impact resident lifestyles and satisfaction when none of their concerns are addressed. This can be avoided! Start laying the groundwork for a successful future today. Establishing succession is a great way to accomplish this, and it’s essential to the health of your entire community.

Wednesday April 12, 2023