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Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Four Steps to a Healthy Management Marriage

Dear Mary: 

You’ve previously addressed a question about boards creating a healthy partnership with their managing agents. You mentioned — but didn’t elaborate on — the importance of developing mutual trust. That’s an area where we need help. Some of our board members have a trusting relationship with our agent; others do not. As a result, we have a lot of micromanaging behavior going on, even though our agent is very capable and conscientious. How do we get all board members on the same page?

— Untrusting in Union Square


Dear Untrusting:

It’s essential to have shared goals, clear roles and agreed-upon procedures with your managing agent. That said, mutual trust is also key to a productive relationship. One of my recent columns described ways for boards to build trust with owners, and the same underlying principles apply here. But the techniques differ because of the unique nature of the board-agent relationship. 


Keep in mind that building trust is a two-way street. All parties have to be both trusting and trustworthy. This might feel risky for boards, so stay focused on creating a working relationship that helps your building run smoothly and makes everyone’s life easier. Try these four steps:


Focus on shared values and high-level goals. You should have plenty to work with here. Board members and agents want the building to be a great place to live, work and visit. Everyone wants safety, security and increases in the value of the apartments. As you work with your agent, reiterate the importance of these goals. Link requests, decisions and projects to them. Make sure residents recognize the board’s and the agent’s joint commitment. This approach can help get board members and agents on the same page. 


Get to know the managing agent personally. It’s obvious, but getting to know a person outside of work leads to more liking and trust. That’s partly because — for better or worse — we tend to trust people based on their similarity to us. Spending time with others gives us a chance to find similarities we wouldn’t otherwise know about. This is particularly helpful when board members and the agent come from different backgrounds or cultures. 


Give your agent the opportunity to do it right. It’s hard to trust someone if you think they can’t (or won’t) do their job. But accurately assessing this isn’t so straightforward. If you micromanage your agent, you’ll never find out. So you have to trust first. For some people, that’s a truly frightening idea. What if something goes wrong? But unless you selected your agent randomly, you should have some degree of confidence in his or her ability. We’re back to the advice on shared goals, roles and procedures. Establishing these can increase your comfort level with your agent — and give the agent a chance to further earn your trust by performing well.


Commit to communicating. Uncertainty breeds distrust, so don’t let that happen. Be sure to have regular, detailed and transparent communication with your agent. Explain your decisions and have the agent do the same. Make it easy for the agent to give you bad news. 


Time invested in building trust with your managing agent will pay off for everyone in the building. Just do it!


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.

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