Our condo board disagrees on how to manage building staff. Some members like to give staff feedback and direction. They want to be heavily involved in hiring and firing decisions. Others advocate for a hands-off approach. They want to leave staff management to the resident manager. Is there a sweet spot here? I think we’re confusing both the staff and our resident manager.
—Clashing in Chelsea
You’re almost certainly confusing the staff. And you’re probably also alienating the resident manager.
Of course board members care about staff performance. Unit-owners elected you to run the building. You have a responsibility to them, renters, visitors, etc. Mediocre staff can diminish even a luxury building. Great staff can make a middling building feel like a palace. No question which kind you want. But how best to reach that goal?
Your board members recognize the importance of staff performance. So you have a shared goal, which is a critical first step. When you bring this up for discussion with the board, emphasize your common ground: We’re on the same page about how important it is to get the best from our staff. But we have different ideas for how to do that.
Then it’s time for some perspective shifting. You want members to imagine themselves as both a staff member and a resident manager. This could be challenging. Many board members run their own businesses, work independently or are retired. That’s no surprise: people with that kind of flexibility are more likely to have the time for board work. But when you don’t have a boss — or you are the boss — it can be difficult to put yourself in the shoes of those who work for you. And yet that’s exactly what’s called for here.
Ask your colleagues to imagine themselves having multiple bosses — not just an official one, but also unofficial but powerful others. Imagine the unofficial bosses giving you direction on what to do, how to do it, when, etc. And imagine that those directions and priorities don’t always align with the ones from your official boss. Who would like this type of arrangement? Who thinks it’s conducive to high performance? You know the answer to that: no one.
Imagine you’re responsible for managing a team, but your own boss keeps intervening. He or she reaches around you to select team members, direct them, set their priorities. This is the situation for a resident manager when board members become too involved in managing staff. Who wants to work like that? Who wants accountability with no authority? Again, no one. Continue to disempower your resident manager and you may find yourself looking for a new one. Or you could end up with one who barely manages the staff because the board seems to want that role. Not a recipe for success.
So what role should the board take here? Shifting perspectives is the hardest part. If you do that, the board’s appropriate role becomes clearer. Focus on getting an experienced resident manager and developing a trusting relationship. Jointly decide on expectations for staff performance and priorities. Let the resident manager do his job. If you have concerns, communicate with the resident manager, not directly with staff members. If you need to hire or fire, let the resident manager and your managing agent take the lead. And make sure your resident manager knows and follows all relevant union rules.
Take this approach and you’ll reduce confusion, empower your resident manager and pave the way to getting the best from your building staff.