Written by Richard Thompson
There is an expression, “If you ever truly want to understand something, just try to change it.” When a new board takes charge, pumped full of ideas and enthusiasm, it’s often met with resistance. Do these sound familiar?
Pay higher fees? Are you nuts? We should lower them!
Take down my 40 foot flagpole? I’m entitled to Free Speech!
What do you mean “change the paint color”? If it was good enough in 1985, it’s good enough today!
Tow my wrecked ’68 Ford Pinto out of the Fire Lane will you? I’m calling my lawyer!
I ain’t payin’ my dues until I get my bush trimmed!
At the core of the backlash is a fundamental human resistance to change even when the change is for the better. Lives are made of pieces and principles woven into a fabric familiar to the user. Changing any part of the weave disturbs the whole cloth. As a board seeking better results for the HOA, understanding the “we fear change” mentality helps get goals accomplished. Here’s how.
Slow Down. A board with an urgent agenda runs roughshod over member opinion. It’s extremely important when proposing change to allow the members to ponder and speak. When given the chance, most won’t take advantage of it. But not given the chance brings out the rebel in some. So, take your time and poll the members when something new is proposed. There are few issues that must be decided immediately.
Gain Trust. When proposing changes, trust trumps facts. In other words, too many studies and facts actually complicate the process by raising questions. A statement like “The board has thoroughly investigated this issue and consulted with knowledgeable experts. The findings indicate there is a strong need to make this change to properly care for our assets” actually reassures most members.
Negotiate. As an elected director, you are, in essence, a politician. Successful politicians understand the value of give and take while hardliners go down with the ship. Negotiation and compromise is a great trust gainer because it shows respect for others. Often giving in to little things accomplishes the bigger vision thing.
Sell the Sizzle. Every worthy change has what salesmen call “sizzle”. Like trust, sizzle can be sized for consumption. For example, “While the board is asking for a special assessment of $10,000 each toward this renovation project, real estate agents advise that the units will increase $25,000 in value. So this is a great investment and will substantially increase the livability and pride of ownership. Let’s not forget that this same work for a single family homeowner would cost three times as much. We’re getting a heckuva deal here!”
Calm the Waters. Having a long range vision is critical to lasting change. Put your firefighter suits away and map out a plan that includes a reserve study, funding to pay for reserve projects plus an annual schedule. Having a plan speaks volumes to members who have entrusted the board with their single largest asset. A real plan says, “This ship is on course and the board has a firm hand on the wheel.”
Lighten Up. While the board will sometimes deal with serious issues, keeping things in perspective will help see it through. Remember, few of these issues are life or death and the world won’t stop turning if you fail. Keeping a sense of humor will actually encourage cooperation from nay sayers who realize they are taking things too seriously. Keep smiling.
Selling change to an HOA stuck in a rut is a good thing but it takes a thoughtful approach. Deal with it thoughtfully and you will accomplish lasting change. As the note on the restaurant tip jar says, “Fear change? Leave it here.”