POD Style for HOA Management

Why do we think POD style is a better structure for your HOA Management company?

Staffing is changing in the HOA industry – no one is surprised to hear this. HOA management has always been a high turnover industry. Two years into COVID, people’s expectations have shifted wildly. Both on the employee side and on the client side. Employees expect more flexibility in their work, more independence while simultaneously having more support. This puts pressure on the employers to find a new way to manage staff. Clients have begun to expect instantaneous high touch solutions to their needs, no matter how small. As employees continue to leave and clients continue to expect more, how do we meet this challenge? 

Historically, there have been two schools of thought on how duties ought to be divided: the portfolio model and the departmental model. In the portfolio model, the HOA manager is required to wear a lot of hats. As the community manager, they need to be the friendly face of the Management Company. They need to attend meetings, settle disputes, be problem-solvers and be approachable. They are also handling the community finances, overseeing day-to-day accounting matters, they will also need to be detail-oriented and know how to read and interpret financial statements. With maintenance coordination, they must switch gears and have to be aggressive and follow up with vendors, understand the various scopes of work and have a thick skin to be able to handle cranky and rude owners or even the occasional board director who tends to be difficult to deal with sometimes. Being an expert in administration is also one of the attributes that an HOA Manager should have so they can track all the meetings, filing deadlines, maintenance work, recurring services, and amenities. They should always be in the office to answer calls and emails. They also have to be onsite to meet with vendors and talk to the board. And this is just only for work, aside from the fact that they also have various personal duties they need to budget energy to keep their home lives running like humans. They have a lot on their plate and their responsibilities need to be managed efficiently. There are also task deadlines that need to be met, otherwise it can affect the whole institution. Many portfolio managers find themselves in extended working hours and losing their work/life balance. Most of them experience burnout and stress.

One of the best case scenarios is hiring some with three of those skills, but you will not find someone who has all the skills that you’re looking for unless they have been managing a place for ten years. For the sake of argument, let’s say that one person can effectively do those things without burning out. Here’s the catch: what happens when they leave or get promoted? Even if they stay forever, what happens if they want to take a vacation? All of that information is running in their head, so if they have to change jobs, get sick or take a vacation, we need to anticipate this reality and be ready to find a replacement that can fulfill all those tasks in a short span of time.

In the departmental model, different departments handle different roles and responsibilities. You have an accounting department that handles financial statements and answers homeowner questions about why the fee wasn’t waived when they talked to the property manager during their last meeting. You also have the maintenance department who answers questions about why ABC roofing is doing the work when at the board meeting they decided to table it at the meeting. This can result in increased frustration and higher customer turnover. If each department is focused on seeing only their role and data, it falls to the client to piece it all together and ensure each department is up to date on what’s happening.

Fortunately, more and more companies are pivoting to a hybrid of these two styles that I call the Pod model or the Account Executive Model. By the definition, a Pod is a small group of individuals with complementary skills working with a shared purpose to bring forth systematic growth with meaningful output. This model calls for the splitting up of duties like a departmental model but retains the personal touch of the portfolio model.

In this model, the community manager is the main point of contact for the community, but it is now being supported behind the scenes by different members like the maintenance, accounting and customer service staff/team who are specialized at their own specific tasks and perform them for a few portfolios. Boosting the number of communities the CAMs and the company can handle while simultaneously making the job easier for each staff member. Sometimes the support staff talks to the homeowners, but most of the time, they pass the information back to the community manager so that they can appear to be superhuman and help the community feel that they are getting that personal touch. In addition, when a staff turnover occurs or a staff member needs to take an extended absence (vacation, parental leave, etc), the whole institutional knowledge is not lost and still fully functioning because there are multiple support personnel who can help to service this portfolio. This makes everyone’s job easier because they have more people they can rely on, in a narrower, and more organized focus. It also allows the management team to promote the best candidates without worrying about replacing them. How many times has a skilled community manager been passed over for promotion because they were too good in their current position? Additionally, the Account Executive Model ensures that Community Managers are being trained in managing people, which is a key skill for moving up to a supervisory position. In the Portfolio model, the Peter Principle occurs: someone who is wonderful with their communities and does everything themselves gets promoted to regional VP only to find that they are not good delegators and struggle to manage a team. The Account Executive Model prepares them for the next rung much better than either the departmental model or the portfolio model. 

The pod model also reduces the number of employees that need to be in the office in person compared to the portfolio model.  Since there are positions that don’t need to go into the field, it increases the number of positions that can be allowed to go on working remotely. Aside from being more compliant with the ever-changing COVID requirements, this allows companies to widen their hiring radius, hiring the best talent for the best price, regardless of whether or not they’re able to commute. This in return makes the job more attractive to applicants. It also frees up more cash in the budget to raise wages for key employees, such as the community managers. 

On the back of this shift, we’re seeing new positions created that didn’t exist pre-COVID. For example, some companies are creating dedicated inspectors who do nothing but visit sites, check for violations, meet with vendors and generally spend 90% of their time in the field. Since the skill level for this type of position is more narrow than it is for CAMs, they are easier to find and hire. It also ensures that the CAMs time isn’t spent on driving long hours and site visits when they could be managing larger portfolios and focusing on what really matters.

Other companies are creating a Jr CAM position. This is a fully remote CAM position who is paired with a local CAM and manages part of the portfolio remotely. Companies who manage smaller communities that are run completely by Zoom are also recruiting from out of state or nearshore for Jr CAMs. If they require someone to attend their annual meetings, the Sr CAM can attend or the Jr CAM can fly in for a week during September or October. So instead of ten communities with one manager, companies are putting 25-30 communities in a portfolio with a Sr CAM and one or two Jr CAMs.

In the end, the goal of this structure is to reduce the number of tasks that are being appointed to each person or role. Community Managers are the essential part of the HOA and they can only last so long as a jack of all trades before the job frustration increases to the point they feel burned out or must change companies and start over. The CAM is responsible for the day-to-day management of an association and ensuring everything runs smoothly so we have to make sure that we are minimizing their tasks and they should be focusing on their top responsibilities. Having support personnel, we see happier, more organized employees when you pare down the number of tasks that they are expected to know and perform. Their productivity and efficiency increases, and better collaboration, empowerment, and turnover decline as your key employees feel more supported and less chaotic. It also gives employees a better chance to connect with their communities and reduces mistakes by training specialists rather than generalists. The change from departmental or portfolio management to the pod model is not a hard one to make, but it yields lasting improvements to the level of service your company is able to provide and to the quality of work and life that your employees experience.