Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Why you need to listen to the dissenting voices in your Community

In my home community, a recent vote establishing a reserve for our roads had at least one of my neighbors seeing red.  While the vast majority of owners in my HOA (including me) wanted to fund the reserve to ensure money would be available for future road repairs and maintenance, Susan saw no point in putting that much money away for a rainy day. She asked questions (repeatedly) and tried to convince others to vote down the question. Ultimately, the reserve vote passed despite Susan's many efforts to derail it. While she may have raised the blood pressure of some people, I saw the value in having Susan's voice heard. Many people serving on community association boards these days previously served on corporate boards or in leadership capacities in their professional careers. One of the first things leadership training establishes is that discordant voices in an organization can be extremely beneficial to growth and the ultimate success of that organization.  Think of all the highly successful companies you know and ask if they achieved that success as a result of having a bunch of "yes men and women" around.
If differences of opinion can be healthy in the for-profit corporate environment why are they so shunned in the not-for-profit community association setting? Sometimes boards discount those voices because they don't like the message; other times it is because the messengers are, frankly, not very nice people.  That being said, it remains important that boards try to separate the message from the messengers.  Occasionally, those "dissidents" might be seeing something important that your board is missing.
In the Five Dysfunctions of a Team; A Leadership Fable, author Patrick Lencioni, reveals the five dysfunctions that can derail any team effort as:
  • Absence of trust;
  • Fear of conflict;
  • Lack of commitment;
  • Avoidance of accountability; and
  • Inattention to results.
Isn't a volunteer board of directors really supposed to be a team effort?  If you agree that it is then you must not keep those dissenting voices (whether they are emanating from the owners or from fellow board members) from being heard and you must trust that doing so will not weaken the community or your board in any way.  Your board is required to make tough decisions even in the face of strong opposition.
Far too many community association boards become dysfunctional by not keeping conflict in the proper perspective.  Conflict, if properly managed, can actually make your community stronger and more resilient in the long haul.

7 comments:

  1. If a board will not listen to dissent, it will find that it will be turned out of office in short order. In my community made up of almost 2000 units, the Board refused to listen and they just ignored dissent. This was an eleven person Board that managed elections to get only incumbents and their friends elected for over twenty years. Outsiders had virtually no chance to overcome or penetrate this cabal. Well, during the past three years a group of concerned outsiders formed a "coalition" and through a determined effort lasting that long finally wrested control of the Board from those incumbents during the most recent election cycle.

    The lesson is obvious. If you are a Board member, listen to dissent. If you don't and you ignore it, you may find yourself out of a job before you are ready to retire.

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  2. Good advice.

    I see a reason for the hostile response by many board members, beyond rude and angry behavior of some members, is that HOA directors are not schooled in the requirements to be a representative of the 'people.'

    Unlike a business, governing representatives must be educated to accept the reality that dissent is part of the job and they must be able to respond in a positive manner. That they are to carry member issues and concerns to the entire board for resolution.

    If they cannot, then the jobs is not theirs. If the job is beyond their pay grade, they should also not serve.

    So, why is their a failure to educate what it means to be a representative of the people?

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  3. You make some excellent points! However depending upon the desired outcomes of deliberations, dissent can be used a tool to undermine achieving the goal. Dissent can be used to create delay as well as discord in the community.
    We would hope that all members of a community would find it in their self-interest to maintain the property and prepare themselves for required repairs and replacements. However personal economics and community demographics may bias certain members of the community leaving members of the Board of Directors in the position of doing what's best for the property yet creating issues with large segments of the owners.
    Maintenance fees and reserves are much like governmental taxes. In communities there are people who recognize the need and yet reject the actual tax for personal financial reasons or for reason of economic, political and/or trust factors. The need doesn't just go away because people reject paying for it.

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  4. The foregoing comments are spot on. Boards who don't listen to dissenting voices lose their pulse on community sentiment. Listening to dissenting voices does not mean that a board needs to go against its mandate to do what is in the community's best interests. Serving on a volunteer board of directors should not be a popularity contest and also should not be a dictatorship. There is a delicate balance which must be honored.

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  5. Well said to all. I believe part of the challenge is trying to provide a productive path for the dissent to be heard. We struggle with the undercurrent of dissent and rarely hear it first hand. That makes it hard to get an accurate understanding of the issues and makes it extremely difficult to address.

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  6. Marguerite Batau, CMCAMay 16, 2016 at 2:09 PM

    I've seen it many times that one or two board members do not have the best interests of all the owners at hand. All too many times they are only interested in what will affect them and their individual units. As managers it can be difficult navigating to make sure the board members are listening to all the owners, even those with differing opinions and ideas.

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  7. Today's angry homeowner is tomorrow's chairman of the Board.

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