If you haven’t been there, it’s only because you haven’t been in community association management long enough (or you’ve been very VERY lucky!)
I’m talking about the meeting from hell.
No, not the one where the board members are arguing! The one where the board had to assess a special assessment, or a scandal broke out, or the association was getting sued (or worse, some combination of the three). The one where all those homeowners who don’t even seem to know there IS an association suddenly show up at their first annual meeting in 10 years, and it’s not for the ice cream social!
These people are mad. They are spitting mad. Rightly or wrongly, they’ve been getting themselves worked into a tizzy in the weeks leading up to the meeting, and they have built up enough steam to DO SOMETHING about it!
(In case you haven’t experienced it yourself, here’s what it looks like when it all goes wrong at the annual HOA board meeting.)
As the professional community manager for a homeowners or condo association, you may be called upon by the board president to help facilitate the meeting. So what can you do to defuse the bomb that you know is about to go off? Here are some tips:
Acknowledging the elephant in the room is a good first step to avoiding meeting hell. You know why the homeowners are coming to the meeting. Head them off at the pass by giving them a clear agenda, communicating when their issue will be discussed (it is on the agenda, right?) and laying out the facts as clearly and fairly as possible, in writing.
Yes, you are following Roberts Rules of Order and so have to go through old business before you can get to new business, but the more time you spend on other topics, the more your members will be stewing. So keep committee reports short, and table anything that isn’t absolutely needed to be included for general membership until a future board meeting, and get to the topic at hand as quickly as possible.
It’s very important that everyone feels they are being treated fairly. Enforcing time limits for speakers (on both sides) is vital to create an atmosphere of fairness. This does not mean that members should be cut off, shouted down, or made to feel as if their opinion does not matter. Use active listening techniques to show the speaker that you understand the question or comment that they made.
It goes without saying that neither you nor the board can afford to get upset or argue with upset homeowners.
If you allow your emotions to get the better of you, even if you are right, you, your company, and the board can come out looking poorly to the membership, which is a great way to find yourself looking for a new client.
People want action to be taken on the matter they are passionate about, and often the promises they are looking for are as simple as increased communication or improved process.
Make a motion, and clearly outline a way to take action that will satisfy the membership.
Give your members a next step as well, whether that is a survey to fill out, or a letter/email to write, or something more concrete and related to the issue.
Having an action item makes them feel as if they are part of the solution, and can help channel their anger to a more productive activity.
An old adage says that the best way to teach somethingto someone is to 1) tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em, 2) tell ‘em, 3) Tell ‘em what you just told ‘em.
In this case, close the topic by reminding members what the issue was, what action items (promises) you/the board have agreed on, and what requests for actions you’d like the membership to perform. (It also helps to repeat the tell ‘em step again in writing in the next community newsletter.)
Last, but far from least is to follow through on the promises you made, suggestions/feedback you received, and questions that were raised.
Show the membership that they will be heard, that their opinion is important, and that they can make a difference and they will.
Have you been in the meeting from hell? What steps do you now take to avoid the worst? Tell me in the comments below!
If you're preparing for annual meetings for the communities you manage, grab this community annual business plan template to get started!