Dear Julie: Recently I became the onsite manager for a large-scale, over-55 community – where the average age is about 78. I’m the first “professional” manager they’ve had, and they’ve been self-managed for 45 years.

As this Board is moving towards and embracing a more professional administrative model, they are looking to disband some long-standing committees that hold a lot of power over the Board and the community. Truthfully, the folks on these committees like having authority without having the responsibility of being on the Board, and much of the time they make the Board’s life – and mine – a lot more difficult. The Annual Meeting is coming up, and we’d like to move on this. Any suggestions?

Great question and an issue that plagues many communities, self-managed or not. How best to retire long-term

volunteers, who have, shall we say, become stuck in a rut, without alienating them and their allies? Here’s how: Don’t outright disband the committees, re-populate them – but do it with equanimity and for all the right reasons. Here are some tips to make the transition politically less painful and promote healthier committees:

First, have solid reasoning to re-populate committees. The Board and management can’t just tell people their services are no longer needed because they have become unproductive (read: “a pain”) – especially for those on politically sensitive committees. So what is the reason to re-populate the committees? We want to invite other community members in to share the burden, we want to be inclusive, we want new members for a fresh set of eyes, etc. These are all legitimate reasons for wanting new blood. The bottom line is, the more community members that know what the real problems are, the fewer problems you will have in resolving them. Changing the committee population is also about informing the larger community.

Create and adopt policies that apply to all committees’ charters, comportment, ethics and tenure. In this case, time is short as the Board would like to handle this prior to the annual meeting, so management can put together policy and guideline recommendations for Board review and adoption; however, my larger recommendation would be to do this over a period of time and by someone other than management, such a as task force of select Board members and residents. Why? Making changes to long-standing methods of operation will always be an affront to someone’s entrenched interests. Those changes will be viewed much more amenably by the community if their peers, and not employees, are suggesting them, especially if the eventual outcome is to do away completely with a committee.

And, only for the brave and skilled…You may wish to ask some of your more recalcitrant committee members (i.e., those you would like off the committees) to be on that task force. This serves a few purposes: The committee member may be malleable, and understand why it’s important for others to participate, and they also can’t head out to the community and say they didn’t know what was going on and cry about poor treatment. BUT! This must be well-managed by skilled staff and/or Board members, as things could take a turn for the worse while someone isn’t looking.

Reach out to the entire membership. Call for volunteers through the Annual Meeting Notice packets you mail out, and don’t forget to make a personal call, staff or the Board, to those in the community you think would be great committee volunteers (and potential Board members!). Throw the doors open for new folks, asking them to step up and be a part of the process.

Don’t blindside the current committees. Ensure that all existing committees are aware the Board is considering making some changes. Yes, it will create consternation but much better to be open and upfront than appear conspiratorial and be accused of keeping those most affected in the dark (another reason to put committee members on the new Board task force).

Don’t discount the politics. Some committees may have tremendous political significance in the community even though their contribution is negligent or even detrimental. If the ultimate goal is to disband that committee, only do so after “careful study and consideration.” Don’t make the mistake of unilaterally disbanding those committees no matter how difficult they may make your life – in the short- and long-term. Sometimes, committees legitimately exist for political, not practical, reasons.

Communicate. It is very important to ensure the community at large knows the intent of the Board in re-populating committees. Communicate this intent in a positive, “moving-forward-for-the-betterment-of-the-organization-and-all-involved” fashion, not only in your call for volunteers, but at the next Board meeting, in the newsletter and on the website. It’s not spin, it’s actually what you are trying to accomplish.

Publicly thank all committee members. Once the committees have been re-organized and re-populated, thank publicly and privately and more than once all of the committee members who have served, in the newsletter, at a Board meeting, and at any meeting of the membership. Remember, even if some of those folks area pain, they almost all started out wanting what’s best for the community, and to be a part of the process. Close those loops by letting them – and the community – know how much their service has been appreciated. It’s good politics, and it’s the right thing to do.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! Management and the Board should always be mindful of good committee members who may be sitting on a “bad” committee. Make sure those folks who can still make valuable contributions are kept in the fold – maybe on another committee, or maybe as a potential Board member. Remember, people do want to be a part of something positive, and if you can salvage their efforts, it’s good for everyone: Board, staff and the community.

The Wrap

Most associations go through some period of time wherein certain committees are no longer desirable or viable, in that they have lost sight of their mission, their mission is no longer necessary, or they have become a detriment. It’s understandable that a Board, with much work and responsibility of its’ own, would simply like to be done with those volunteers and move on; however, that action can lead to dozens of hours of heartache and heartburn if those committees are politically sensitive. It’s much better for the Board, and better for the community in the long run, to put together a comprehensive strategy of re-population, along with adoption of committee polices and guidelines, so the process is, and is seen as, fair and equitable, and being implemented for the right reasons: New people share the burden, bring fresh ideas, have different problem-solving abilities and, last but not least, will bring the larger community a sense of inclusion. It’s no longer the same 4 and no more, it’s 6 more, or 8 more – and there is no one pulling levers behind the curtain. The crucial thing to retain is the political stability of the community. Turmoil around the committees can upset that balance like no other issue. Be aware, and take care, when rejiggering your committees

For the manager: Help to develop a cohesive plan to re-populate committees that the Board can implement with a clear eye to the political fallout. Stay neutral and professional. Minimize problems through communication and transparency. Nothing to hide, you are not operating in secret with an anti-resident agenda: It’s just another day at the office.

For the Board: Develop a politically successful plan using the tools and people at your disposal, think more to the horizon, encourage community involvement (inclusiveness), exude transparency, communicate as much as possible (newsletter, meetings, at the clubhouse on the and website), and always publicly thank every volunteer at every opportunity. –Julie

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