We’ve decided to part ways with our condo’s current management company. We know we want to interview three to five suitable candidates, but we have a problem. There are just too many evaluation criteria and too many opinions on our nine-member board. We can’t get past the first step! Is there an orderly process that can help us agree on a short list of criteria we’ll use to help us pick finalists?
— Too Many Choices in Turtle Bay
Dear Too Many:
It’s good to have plenty of management companies to choose from. But unless you want to rely on your gut — bad idea — you need a manageable set of decision criteria. It can be hard to agree on those as a group without getting totally bogged down. Fortunately, there are some simple techniques you can use to move things along.
First, do prep work. Ask board members to think about possible criteria for choosing a management company, and to bring their list to the next meeting. A good starting point is this issue of Habitat, which includes an overview of how management companies compare on price, experience, services, etc. Also consider what you see as shortcomings with your current management company. Is your current managing agent hard to contact? Responsiveness might belong on your list of criteria. Do your owners have needs that you’re not currently meeting? Maybe they’ve been clamoring for a way to pay monthly charges through a portal? Add that to your list.
Second, create a combined list of everyone’s criteria. Put them on a flip chart if you’re meeting in person, or a document you share on a Zoom call. Eliminate duplicate ideas. Assign a letter (A, B, C, etc.) to each one that remains.
Third, identify any “must have” criteria and temporarily remove them from the list. Are there criteria that everyone can easily agree on? For example, you might know you can’t afford to pay more than $X a year. In that case, cost will definitely be a shortlist criteria — no need to vote on it (see below). See if you can come up with at least three evaluation criteria that everyone agrees are critical.
Fourth, use “multi-voting” to narrow down the remaining list. Divide the number of items on the list by three. This is how many votes each board member will get. Have everyone vote for the criteria they believe are most important. So if you had 24 items, each member gets to pick their top eight items (that is, 24 divided by three). Cross off any item that got zero votes. Consider also eliminating those with only one or two votes. The amount of agreement you have on the board will determine whether your list is short enough now (maybe three to five “winners”), or whether you need to conduct another round of multi-voting, following the same procedure. Items with the most votes represent your board’s priorities for how to evaluate management companies.
Fifth, add back in the “must have” criteria. You should now have a manageable and prioritized list of evaluation criteria. You can use these to quickly eliminate companies that don’t meet your “must haves.” Then you can score remaining candidate companies based on the rest of your criteria.
This approach to figuring out criteria will reflect ideas from your entire board, not just one or two people. As a result, you’re likely to get a better eventual decision. And you’ll enjoy broader buy-in from board members — always a plus!
Mary Federico serves on the board of her 240-unit Upper West Side condominium. Through her consultancy, Organizational Behavior Strategies, she helps leaders use behavioral science to improve their organizations.