Sunday, July 3, 2022

The Strata Camel

I was recently introduced to two concepts; one being Framing and how it can bias the rational decision-making process and the other being ‘The Story of the 18th Camel’.

I then thought, “how do these concepts relate to strata management, and how is the role of the strata manager defined?”

Is the role still defined as the traditional administrative duties; i.e. preparing budgets, issuing levies, raising work orders, enforcing by-laws, or has the role evolved?

For most, the role is evolving exponentially, and if you are not reviewing your internal processes and the client expectations at least twice a year, then you will be left behind. Unfortunately, there are many strata managers still stuck on the same tram tracks doing the same old duties and have not managed to shunt themselves off into a more progressive direction.

When people buy into a strata scheme, they are effectively entering into a joint venture involving shared ownership responsibilities and with this comes a divergence of priorities. There is now an increased expectation that the strata manager has the skillset and sensibility to be able to try and avoid conflict amongst their clients and if conflict does escalate, that they can resolve and mediate a positive outcome.

These expectations being placed on strata managers are onerous, it is not just the traditional administrative duties which comes with a sound knowledge of the Strata Titles Act, an understanding of other legislation including the Residential Tenancies Act, OS&H Act (WA) and to a small extent the Australian Building Standards, but also the ability to deliver conflict resolution.

It is in your nature to pin your happiness on your expectations and when they are not delivered, problems arise. Early, open and honest communication can stop the cascading cynicism when certain expectations are not met.

It is during these exchanges that each party begins to Frame the other and unfortunately, there are often preconceived thoughts;

  • the strata manager – “this not my role, this person is wasting my time because what they are asking I do not have the authority to approve, regardless, it is going to take hours to resolve”; and,
  • the client – “this person is incompetent, what am I paying this person for if they cannot do what I ask”.

It is because of these preconceived misconceptions that both parties fail to listen and be empathic towards the other.

Framing of the strata industry has been going on since the role of the strata manager first evolved, and, the terms often used are not flattering; cottage industry, uneducated, unregulated, uncommunicative and then it goes downhill from there.

As highlighted by Noam Shpancer (2010) in the article Framing: Your Most Important and Least Recognized Daily Ment, “there’s a battle going on in your life. It has major consequences for you-your health, your wealth, your feelings and behaviours–and yet you aren’t even aware of it, even though it’s happening mostly right inside your own brain. It’s one of the fundamental struggles that define human existence: the framing battle”.

An article by Dan Defoe (2017) “Emotion and Ethical Decision Making: Anger, Empathy, [Lawyer] Deception, and Implications of Emotional Intelligence” states “Anger shares a link with deception” and goes on to discuss how empathy plays a role in the link between anger and ethical decision making.

The article explores how anger, a normal emotion, visits us two ways; “First, another person blocks a goal, interrupts or treats us unfairly, or treats us unjustly. These experiences can trigger our anger. Once angered, we may want to confront, fight, or punish the wrongdoer who treated us unfairly or got in our way. Anger can also occur indirectly. Indirect anger involves carrying feelings from one interaction to another unrelated interaction”.

These notions explored by Dan Defoe (2017) emulate framing and the preconceived misconceptions of strata managers and their clients. The sensibility of the strata manager needs to come to the forefront.  We need to stop framing those clients that come to us with increased expectations. We need to reflect on their expectations and how failure to at least listen can have untoward repercussions and ultimately this leads to even greater time demands.

Until we as strata managers can get past how some of our clients perceive us, we cannot re-frame our industry and build on the reputation and recognition it deserves. We need to acknowledge our failures and demonstrate that we are learning and improving.

Through ongoing education, accepting regulation is essential and by working together, we will get there quicker. It will also lead to improving the perceived value of a strata manager. The strata manager that works positively with the client, provides a clear, precise direction, highlighting the obstacles in the way of delivering on their expectations, will become invaluable.

The improvements in strata management programs will make the traditional administrative role of the manager superfluous, it will be those management businesses that have highly educated and qualified staff, promote a team office environment that communicate and share their privations and can work cohesively to resolve their daily trials that will able to truly value add to a strata scheme. This is where instilling the culture of the “18th Camel” is so important in strata management.

The story of the 18th Camel teaches us there is a solution to every problem, although, it may not be immediately obvious.

When a father passed away he left his sons 17 camels, the eldest son should get half of the camels while the middle son should be given one-third and the youngest son should be given one-ninth of the camels.

As it is not possible to divide 17 into half or a third or by 9, the three sons started to fight with each other, until a member of the village suggested they to go and see a strata manager.

The strata manager listened patiently and after thinking about the problem, they brought one of their own camels and added it to 17 camels. Now, the strata manager started reading the father’s will, half of 18 = 9, so they gave the eldest son 9 camels, 1/3rd of 18 = 6, so, they gave the middle son 6 camels, 1/9th of 18 = 2, so, they gave the youngest son 2 camels. Adding up 9 plus 6 plus 2 is 17 and this leaves one camel, which the strata manager took back.

What this teaches us is that there is a solution to every problem, however, to get there the strata manager and the client must be willing to collaborate to jointly solve the problem and enter the discussion with honest intent. Rather than blocking a goal, or treating a client unfairly, or unjustly, which ultimately leads to a confrontation, the strata manager must be able to find common ground. The challenge of framing can certainly be difficult at times, however, to reach a solution, the first step is to believe that there is a solution and by giving up some of your time and a camel or two, a solution can be found.

This ultimately is where the role of the strata manager is evolving. It will be those strata management teams that work cohesively and in a positive mindset that will lead the industry and more effectively resolve the daily challenges.

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