If you recently joined your homeowners association board, you might be asking yourself what does this job actually entail? What is the role of the board? And what are my fiduciary responsibilities?
Here’s the short answer: A board’s job is to effectively represent the needs and interests of the HOA’s membership. These should be translated into performance standards and expectations that are substantially delegated to the community manager. A board sets the direction and expectation for a manager. The manager then applies his or her expertise to develop a plan to deliver on that expectation.
Policy Governance® is a set of principles that establish a framework for how the board can ensure that the association is well governed and managed. The principles are the basis for the board’s development of a Board Policy Manual, essentially a “playbook” for the carrying out of its duties. Boards must come up with their own policies – although the topics tend to be similar from organization to organization within a given sector. And, if you need help creating this, there are experts who specialize in helping boards craft this essential document.
Very few HOAs actively use the Policy Governance framework, but there are many reasons why you should. First and foremost, it clarifies roles, responsibilities and accountability for HOA boards and managers. It helps a board get on one page as to how it conducts its work. And it clarifies the essence of “one-voice” leadership: that being elected to the board does not give an individual authority. The board, as a group, determines how the association is managed.
The role of a board is not to plan the strategy, but to set the strategic direction of an HOA. Then the board allows the community manager to determine the best road or action plan to accomplish the directives the board has set.
These directives should speak to the results produced on behalf of the homeowners. The governing board’s job is not to manage the association – that is why you hire a management company. But, the board must ensure that the association is well managed. Your duty of oversight is to monitor and evaluate what the manager does; to follow-up and make sure work is getting done in accordance to the board’s established policy criteria.
DOES YOUR BOARD NEED TO ESTABLISH BETTER GOVERNANCE PRACTICES?
- Has the Board established specific results criteria defining successful performance of the HOA?
- Is there clarity and a shared understanding between the Board members and the manager as to where the Board’s authority leaves off and the manager’s picks up?
- Does the Board have a clearly defined agreement as to what constitutes effective manager job performance?
- Are the performance evaluation criteria and systems for Manager evaluation clearly established and understood by all members of the Board?
- Do the Board have a clearly articulated understanding as to their role and authority, individually and collectively?
- Does the Board have a system to assess sector trends and the future needs to the point where they, with confidence, can establish priorities as to the HOA’s intended future results?
Answering “yes” means that there are clearly defined parameters and an understanding as to who does what, and what the expectations are from a Board, HOA staff, and community managers. If you answer “no” to any of these questions, that ambiguity elevates the risk of conflict, mismanagement or potential lawsuits. The use of the Policy Governance principles enables boards to get to “yes” to each of these questions.
Bill Charney is the principal consultant at Charney Associates, which provides strategic consulting services in board governance and leadership, and is based in Denver, Colorado.