All Stick and No Carrot

Monday February 26th, 2018

Recently I was speaking to the Committee Chairperson of a large-scale Body Corporate. They were in-between Resident Managers, as their old one had left for a better job and the new one hadn’t yet started. The Chairperson was struggling with an apathetic Committee and Body Corporate Members, and in fact she herself is heading off the Committee in the next few months, as were two others. They are all just burned out. She said “the residents just don’t have a good relationship with their Body Corporate; all they see from us is levy notices and by-law contravention notice.” She went on to say that when the Resident Manager left, her parting comment was this Body Corporate is “all stick and no carrot.”

“All stick and no carrot.” First, I love the allusion and the visual of that statement, but also love it because it sums up in 5 words the experience many residents have in relation to their Body Corporate when the only time they hear from the Committee is when they receive a By-law contravention notice, a levy notice or a finger-wagging newsletter full of “Don'ts.” The Committee is acting within their authority, but without leadership. Here are some thoughts for any Committee you know who may be all – or mostly – stick and just an iddy-biddy carrot.

Why the need for a carrot?

Committees spend a lot of time in their duties: Meetings, phone calls, emails, and more meetings... And many times they simply don’t think they have the time to develop better leadership strategies; i.e., carrot development skills. Fair enough; but I submit to any Committee that if there are long-term plans or projects for the community, be it to take on major renovations, or enter in to defect litigation (just to name a few), these tasks will be vastly easier on the community and the Committee if they lead the community to that place instead of telling them where they are going.

Developing leadership skills as a Committee: Start by focusing on the Big Picture

It’s not uncommon for Committees to fall into just managing and directing micro-tasks and policies because it’s usually uncomplicated, what they know and something over which they can exert control (authority). Committees that exhibit leadership not only look at what needs to be done today but also look to the future, 2, 3 or even 5 or 10 years down the road on behalf of the community. What is going to need to be done to meet sinking fund forecasting or replace the roadways? What policies or directives do we need to adopt to begin the process? These types of questions are asked by Committees that are looking beyond the trees and above the forest.

Hold yearly Strategic Planning sessions after the annual meeting, wherein the Committee can collectively set short- and long-term agendas and the goals and objectives thereof. Establish a plan and set it in motion with accountability safeguards, dates certain for achievement and reporting on achievement progress. Planning sessions require focus, commitment and discipline, especially when it comes to carrying out the accountability portion; however, this process is wholly worth that effort – not only is Strategic Planning a great leap towards developing community leadership, it helps the Committee stay out of the weeds and keep their eyes on the big picture.

Hold “town hall” type meetings with the members. A town hall is an effective way to engage with the members and understand their perspectives especially for larger communities where many residents wouldn’t have the opportunity to talk to Committee members directly (the need for town halls is even more important times of community stress). You see, good leaders spend a lot of time listening and -0- time lecturing. These engagements give the Committee opportunity to create a relationship with the community outside of a Committee meeting; and importantly, they provide a platform for the Committee to influence the attitudes of the community and as a result, its very direction. Engaging in meaningful conversation with those you serve not only develops your leadership skills; it is a hallmark of being a leader.

Can Committees develop good leadership skills? Yes!

Even the most leadership-challenged Committees can make at least some changes that will help, but it will require a deliberate effort on the part of the Committee and the management company. Companies (and managers) should communicate to their Committees the importance of that big picture focus and recommend planning sessions as a regular part of their management duties and give them an outline on how to do it. Also as a part of regular management recommendations should be encouragement and facilitation of well-thought out communications with the members that is less about rules and more about keeping everyone informed about the good things going on. Is it more work for companies and managers? Perhaps initially, but in the long run they will reap the benefits of Committees that have less of a tendency to wander about in the weeds and micromanage the paperclips.

The Wrap

Bodies Corporate, by their nature of being managed and governed by rotating volunteers, have a tendency to look only to the leadership-challenged short-term. The most accurate indicator of that fact is the sad state of sinking funding in many Bodies Corporate. A short-term governance model can change if the Committee is willing to step out of their comfort zone and commit to actually leading the community to a better, more functional present and future. To quote John C. Maxwell: "We cannot become what we need by remaining what we are." The Committee must start by planning for the long-term, setting community goals and openly communicating with residents regularly about issues that have meaning to them. Lastly, Committees need to recognize their role is not just to enforce rules, but to lead the community to a better future. Strata management companies (the experts) should always step forward and help their Committees develop the resolve to begin to develop their leadership skills.

This article was contributed by Julie Adamen, Adamen Inc.