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The Levels of Perception in HOA Problem Solving

Posted on April 14, 2013 at 12:10 PM


Whenever a problem arises within any community association the leaders have the opportunity to look deeply into the root causes of the challenge and administer the most effective solution. Does this always happen? No. Many times community association leaders react based on the most time-efficient and obvious solution. They are guided by the lowest levels of perception, not because they are incapable of perceiving the problem at a deeper level, but because the volunteer nature of being a community association leader limits the amount of time and energy available to spend resolving the situation.

What is key in being able to look deeper at any problem and applying the most effective remedy – not the most obvious or time efficient – is being able to spend some time trying to understand the hidden nature of the problem and perceive the deepest causes of it.

Most of the problems that community association leaders face have at least four levels of perception:

1. The first level is the level of the initial perception. For example, when a community struggles with non-compliance issues, the obvious solution is to engage in stricter enforcement of rules and regulations, employ hearing and fine policies. This is the ‘knee-jerk’ reaction level because it usually only addresses the symptoms in the most obvious, and often, ineffective manner if not pursued further.

2. The second level is the level of emotional connection with the problem. Once the first level solution has been implemented, using the second level of perception allows community leaders to understand the emotional component of the problem. Non-compliance issues are the result of community residents failing to obey community rules and guidelines. But, why do residents feel that they do not have to follow community guidelines? Stricter rules enforcement and more aggressive hearing/fine policies do not address this level of perception. For some communities the answer to the “why” question is because of ignorance of the rules or a failure by community leaders to adequately educate residents about them. Addressing this perceptive level requires the solution above AND a dependence upon a reactive communication campaign aimed at educating and informing residents of the community rules and regulations and why they exist. This approach helps residents to feel like they understand what is expected of them.

3. The third level is the level of conscious connection with the problem. It deals with the collective consciousness of the community and often embraces much broader issues of which non-compliance is just one of them. Solutions at this level address the question of “how” to help residents embrace the concepts and reasons that form the basis of successful community association living. A solution at this level of perception may be to create an on-going proactive communication campaign through newsletters and on a community website that aims to unite residents in their understanding of how their role in the community is important and why being conscious of community issues helps themselves and everyone else they share the community with. At this level, committees are employed that empower residents to help contribute to the solution and the solutions take a step beyond reinforcing a resident’s feeling the need for compliance to a sense of connection with everyone else in the community to contribute to its success.

4. The fourth level takes the third even further and is one of the highest levels to perceive a problem and aims to build upon the other three by focusing on the resident’s sense of community. When residents actually feel a part of something larger than themselves, they connect with everyone else within that larger community. Rules compliance becomes a common-sense approach to living within that community not a restriction to their individual freedoms. Social events, opportunities for resident input and community empowerment at the individual level are embraced and increased. At this level, all business partners, management, committees and residents are involved and have a clear understanding of their role in the whole scope of community association living. Residents are united in their sense of togetherness and belonging, help each other and look out after one another outside of the scope of the community association. They do so because it feels right and it impacts how they relate not just to their neighbors, but to everyone else they connect with on a personal level. Addressing problems at this level makes the community better as a whole and everyone within it better individually.

Each level of perception has to be addressed and understood, employed and reinforced through time in order to truly be effective. You aren’t going to solve non-compliance issues by skipping the first three levels and simply throw a community party (although I’m sure that wouldn’t hurt and I’d love an invitation!). Community leaders have to be aware and mindful of their actions and always ask the right questions regarding the solutions they are considering. To depend solely on the first level of perception and assume that is all there is to solving the problem may address the legal requirements demanded of them as community association leaders, but it is woefully inadequate in truly addressing the real causes of the problem and will probably not lead to a greater sense of community by residents – the ultimate solution to most community association problems.

Michael Pierson is CEO/President of Community Association Publishing Services (CAPS). He is the author of “Taking Control: Time Management and Communication Tools for Community Association Management" and "Creating Community: The Art of Empowerment in Community Association Living."