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Who is Responsible?
by Chrissy Jackson, ACM, PHC
MHI Director of Training and Community Resources

Chrissy Jackson, ACM, PHC,

has been involved in Community Management for over 16 years. She managed communities from 200 sites in size up to over 800 sites. Chrissy is the current Director of Training and Community Resources for MHI. In this capacity, she is the principal trainer for the Manufactured Housing Educational Institute's programs and seminars, and provides professional resources for MHI's National Communities Council Chrissy also provides property management and sales training to state association conventions and private companies. She is also recognized as a nationally published author with several publications currently on the market.

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his is the time of the year when my phone starts ringing off the hook with calls from Community Manager who want to attend some of the shows, conferences, conventions, and seminars taking place across the country.

Sometimes, the calls are simply requesting information about the various events, speakers, and topics being presented. More often though, the calls reveal frustration. Someone, somewhere in the chain of command has made a decision that the Community Manager does not need to participate in an event that they want to attend.

This decision is usually made without input or discussion involving the Community Manager. Often, it is a financial decision on the part of the Community Owner based on the overall expenses for the proposed trip compared with the immediate return they can project.

Is that really a valid method of reasoning? If we look at this situation from the Community Managerís viewpoint, some of the questions might include the following: Should a Community Owner only be concerned with immediate return? Should a Community Owner limit the Community Managerís involvement in these extracurricular types of activities simply due based his financial considerations? Does a Community Owner ďoweĒ his Community Managerís the opportunity to attend, to learn, and to grow professionally from these events?

If we now look at this same situation from a Community Ownerís point of view, some of the common concerns might include the following: Itís not just the apparent costs of registration, travel, and lodging but it also involves the additional cost of staffing for the community while the Community Manager is away. Itís not knowing what may happen in the community and if the fill-in person will handle it properly and in accordance with established policies. Itís setting reasonable limits for expenditures that allow the employees to enjoy their time off while attending the event without appearing to financially encourage them to just spend money and party. Itís the concern that the employees may be seeking another employer without sharing that information with their current employer. And, itís taking the chance that another company may be at that event recruiting managers, and approach your employees.

So, where does this leave the two parties involved when we try to resolve this issue? Should the Community Owner offer carte blanch to cover expenses for these opportunities? Should the Community Manager expect to attend these events at the cost of the employer? Is there a reasonable limit to the dollar expenditure or number of events per year a Community Manager should attend?

In the interest of providing a reasonable resolution to this issue, letís look at a couple of things that may work. Before any of the following avenues are explored, however, look at the budget and the size of the community. Has there been anything put into the budget for management training or education? If not, can it be inserted for next year? Where would the money come from if the managers were to attend? And, how large is the community? It is only common sense that a larger community has typically a larger cash flow and is probably better able to absorb the costs of such an event.

Then, there obviously needs to be an evaluation of the event itself. What topics are slated for presentation? Who are the speakers? And, most importantly, is there a need for this knowledge within the community that would be footing the bill? How often is this event offered?

Next, letís look at who benefits. Certainly the Community Owner benefits to a certain extent from all learning and growth on the part of the individual Community Managers. And - - so does the individual Community Manager! When you look at growth, both personal and professional, the individual with the knowledge benefits first and foremost.

Does that still leave unanswered the question of who is responsible, and who should be responsible? Well, letís look at a couple of proposed solutions that might work.

First, on the part of the employer. If you want to offer these opportunities to your Community Managers, but hesitate for any or all of the reasons listed above, why not offer attendance contingent upon the Community Manager signing an agreement? This agreement would state that should the employee leave your employ for any reason within the twelve-month period immediately following the event, they would allow you to deduct from their final paycheck the full amount expended on their behalf. And, if the final check is not large enough, they would owe it to you, to be repaid in full within a prescribed amount of time. (Should you want a sample form, please fax, email, or write to me and Iíll send you one.)

Secondly, on the part of the employee. Who says you canít pay your own way? Who says your employer must always be responsible for your professional growth? Who says you canít take control of your own future, your own career, and your own life by planning to include education and training? If there are no company funds available for you to attend an event you feel is necessary, why not take some vacation days and dip into your own pocket? If it is to your benefit, you should not be against helping to pay for it.

Bottom line? There are many educational opportunities every year across the United States and most are not as well-attended as they should be. Each time, there are people who could benefit and who should be there who are not. And each time, there are other people who attend clearly just to party, not to grow professionally or learn more about their industry.

By opening the lines of communication with some honest discussion as to intent and finances, perhaps this issue can be resolved for many Community Managers and Owners who find themselves struggling with this situation. And, hopefully, the attendance at these worthwhile events will increase!

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