New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



The Right Way to Bear Bad News

Dear Mary:
We’re in the throes of a construction project involving our condominium’s roof—a project for which we’ve levied a two-year assessment. Unit-owners know this project is a must-do, but their patience is wearing thin. Between rain, air-quality alerts, repeated Department of Buildings inspections and delayed permits, our contractors are behind schedule. Owners are tired of hearing about missed milestones and living with noise and disruption. And wait until they learn that we might need a bigger assessment! Our annual meeting is coming up. What can we do now to assuage owner concerns and prevent an uprising?—Late in Lincoln Square

Dear Late: You don’t say what you told the owners at the start of the project. But let’s assume the current delay is an unpleasant surprise. Here are three tips for dealing with owner concerns.
1. Craft your explanation.  Owners very likely recognize that it’s not unusual for big projects to go over schedule and budget. But they probably don’t know or fully appreciate the complexities and challenges of this particular project. Without that knowledge, they may conclude that you’re mismanaging the project, so you must provide a clear explanation. If the scope increased, why? Is the city demanding more? Did the contractors uncover a previously unknowable problem? Or—be honest—did you just miss something? Clarify the effect of problems that you cannot control, and describe how you’re addressing those that you can. Be sure to empathize with owners about the disruption and cost, and remind them that these affect you, too. Reiterate the need for the project, the positive outcomes they can expect, and the fact that you’re all in this together.
2. Don’t wait to communicate.
Signs of delay are clear to owners, so it’s not as if you can (or should) keep things secret. Maybe you think you don’t have enough solid information yet. The contractor will be giving you a new schedule next month, and you want to hold off until then. Don’t. Owners aren’t waiting for you to tell them what’s happening. Instead, they’re talking to each other and creating their own narrative. They’re drawing conclusions about your capabilities, intentions and credibility. And they’re doing this without the participation of the only people who actually know what’s going on: the board. Tell them what you know now, what you don’t know yet and when you think you’ll know it. Commit to updates as you learn more.
3. Manage expectations. Assuaging owner concerns during a project is a lot easier if you set realistic expectations at the start. A 12-month project might seem unbearably long if owners expected it to take six months—but not if they thought it would take 18. Even if you haven’t done this, you can commit to it from this point forward. Do not make the mistake of delivering overly optimistic predictions. All it does is delay the inevitable, and it erodes your credibility. Be honest about the likely and worst-case timing. And start preparing them now for possible additional costs, rather than waiting until the last minute.  
You can take these steps immediately. Create a coherent and believable explanation, and communicate it repeatedly. And be sure to manage expectations by being realistic. None of this will get the project back on schedule and budget; that’s an entirely different issue. But it will help get owners on your side and reduce the chances of an uprising.

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