By Jessica Cox, CMCA, AMS / Published November 2023
Throughout my tenure in the community association management industry, I have had a unique journey, ascending through various aspects of the field. My foray began unwittingly when I attended a board of directors meeting in the community where I had recently purchased my first home at the age of 19. These meetings, typically sparsely attended, consisted primarily of the community association manager and the board of directors. They delved into various topics, including the need for volunteers for upcoming projects. Over subsequent meetings, the discussion remained consistent: a plea for committee volunteers. Then, during the third meeting I attended, a new item appeared on the agenda—a board vacancy. The board asked me to serve as the association secretary, given my consistent attendance at three meetings, though I knew very little about the role. This marked the start of my journey, in the second quarter of 2007 just before the last great recession. This exposure piqued my interest, leading to further education and ultimately a career as a licensed community association manager, beginning in 2012.
In my early years in the industry, I, like many in the field, learned through a baptism by fire. Now, having spent a decade professionally managing a diverse portfolio of community associations both small and large, I’ve transitioned to a role overseeing staff responsible for community management. Throughout this journey I’ve identified key factors that have been instrumental in my success and progression from community association manager to vice president.
These factors have been pivotal, albeit in different ways, throughout my journey. Regardless of the specific role, three pillars have remained critically important: communication, expectations, and consistency.
While the importance of communication is widely acknowledged, it tends to be overlooked when things get hectic. As a board member, it’s crucial to engage with residents, conveying community updates, upcoming projects, and general knowledge about the association’s operations. Additionally, educating residents about rules and protocols is essential. In the role of community manager, we often facilitate the board’s external communication, address their internal inquiries, and manage resident and vendor communications. In nearly all cases, what we communicate ultimately boils down to expectations. We must convey expectations to owners regarding procedures, protocols, rules, and project status. We must also communicate the board’s expectations regarding timelines, costs, and legal considerations. When dealing with vendors, it’s crucial to set expectations for the scope of work, work quality, and project timelines. Effective communication should embody seven key principles: clarity, correctness, completeness, concreteness, conciseness, consideration, and courtesy. As Robert Frost aptly put it, “Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.”
Expectations are intriguing because they often vary among individuals. Everyone has their own idea of what they anticipate occurring and the ability to set forth a reasonable belief of when and what they intend to do by virtue of communication. Failure to communicate these expectations creates potential sources of frustration. We’ve all been in meetings where homeowners are upset with a vendor, unaware that the issue is beyond their community’s scope of work. As managers, we’ve discussed vendor or board nonresponsiveness, which impedes progress. As board members, we’ve likely been frustrated with our community manager or management company for missing deadlines or delays in action items. To be effective, expectations must be explicitly defined for every project and action item, considering context, clarity, conditions, and commitment. Identifying these elements is crucial for setting clear goals. Equally important is continuous communication as these factors evolve. Flexibility is essential, but changes are better accepted before commitments are unmet.
Consistency is the hallmark that distinguishes good organizations and individuals from great ones. Often, we underestimate the value of simply following through on our promises. In community associations, uniform treatment of situations, rule enforcement, and adherence to protocols are vital. Inconsistencies can lead to litigation. Demonstrating consistency in your actions showcases trustworthiness, reliability, and discipline to residents, board members, and your leadership team.
The community association management industry is ever-changing. State laws evolve annually, and board members change with each election cycle, while homeowners come and go. Change is inevitable, and we should embrace it. However, we must always communicate the reasons behind these changes effectively. We should establish reasonable expectations that we can uphold and follow through on our commitments. In an industry in constant evolution, remember the words of Winston Churchill: “Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”
In summary, successful leadership in community association management hinges on effective communication, well-defined expectations, and unwavering consistency. These pillars provide a solid foundation for navigating the dynamic landscape of community management.
Vice President, Leland Management
Jessica Cox is vice president at Leland Management. Since joining Leland Management in 2015, it has been her priority to offer a high level of service to her clients to exceed their expectations, having a perspective of once having served in the role of board member. Jessica has always had a keen interest in promoting education among her team, her clients, and most recently as an instructor of potential future CAM candidates at Valencia Community College. As a mother of three, Jessica finds much joy in spending time with her family and firmly believes that consistency is the key to success in all aspects of life. For more information call 407-477-9955 or visit www.LelandManagement.com.