Don’t Put Me on Hold

It’s that time of year: I’m knee deep in projects, battening down the hatches before the stormy blasts of winter. Projects are basically millions of little steps all strung together. I’m not the guy who repairs the elevator, removes the tree or installs the roof. The conductor doesn’t play an instrument. The conductor gets everyone playing an instrument to coordinate their playing. I know and hire some pretty skilled people. But my pet peeve of recent is having to search to find that skill which is no one’s specialty but everyone’s necessity: communication.

Good service providers rightly see communication as secondary (however not ancillary) to the service they offer. Do first and best what you get paid for. However, that doesn’t entail that communication is necessary only when everything else is done and you have a spare moment. No news is not good news, it’s simply no news. And I like news.

I traffic in information. The best vendors know the importance of keeping me informed. Who, what, when, where and why—just like newspaper reporting. They know it ain’t good enough just to do the job. Remember, I’m the one who pays the invoices. It is important to keep me happy.

Hey, I get it: everyone’s super-busy right now. You busy, me busy. But communication is fundamental. It’s not what you do after the job is done. It is an intrinsic part of the job. You don’t get a no-contact pass for being busy. You get failing marks for poor time management. Surgeons and very few others are not expected to make calls while they’re working.

Lights Out

Having witnessed the total eclipse on August 21st left me in total thrall over one of nature’s grandest displays. Near a cousin’s home in Missouri, in the path of the totality, I got to see the sun gradually give way to the moon’s disc. Ever powerful, the sun never quite let its presence be denied. But for two and a half minutes, there was a glorious muting of the mid-day sunshine.

Back on earth, I struggled to use this as an illustration. With my eclipse glasses (and not those dangerous knock-offs), I had seen the sun’s horns appear as it was slowly devoured. Once upon a time, a brilliant light called customer service shown over the land. It illuminated business transactions. Customers and business alike knew this was the way they wanted it to be.

For some years now, a shadow has been crossing, eclipsing the light. Used to be, customer service had a shared definition between the parties to a transaction. Everyone knew what it was and what it was not. Then the idea was hatched that much money could be made by reconfiguring the definition by one side and by convincing the other side that the change was good.

The recent Equifax debacle brought it all home for me. The theft of 140 million records wasn’t bad enough. The follow up had to be some of the worst customer service imaginable. (See the recent article in Bloomberg News or the latest edition of The Economist.) You cannot make this stuff up! The PR machine is engaged at full RPM to churn out platitudes about commitment to YOU and protecting YOUR safety and taking YOUR privacy seriously.

Somewhere along the line, they didn’t go off message. They disconnected the message from the mission. Customer service should always be part of the mission. It isn’t just part of the mantra.

We should be demanding a genuine, full-sun-in-the-sky customer experience.

Summer Safety

When it rains it pours of late and this being a sweaty time of year anyway, a lot of us have had the dehumidifier running in the lower level. Turns out there’s a huge safety recall. You can visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website at:
https://www.cpsc.gov/recall-products/dehumidifiers to see if your model is part of the recall.

Another summer pastime is to bring the cooking outdoors. But before firing up the grill, please review your association’s rules and regulations regarding grilling. Many communities mirror municipal fire code which often adopts what is known as Appendix K of the Minnesota State Fire Code. Here it is:

Appendix K-Fires or Barbecues on Balconies or Patios

1.1 Open Flame Prohibited. In any structure containing three or more dwelling units, no person shall kindle, maintain, or cause any fire or open flame on any balcony above ground level, or on any ground floor patio within 15 feet of a structure.

1.2 Fuel Storage Prohibited. No person shall store or use any fuel, barbecue, torch, or other similar heating or lighting chemical or device in the locations designated in Section 1.1.

Exception: Listed electric or gas-fired barbecue grills that are permanently mounted and wired or plumbed to the building’s gas supply or electrical system and that maintain a minimum clearance of 18 inches on all sides, unless listed for lesser clearances, may be installed on balconies and patios when approved by the chief.

Now, that’s some language that can give you worse brain-freeze than rapidly eaten ice cream. But it’s about fire safety and that’s important any time of year.

God Bless America

With Independence Day nigh upon us, I want to dedicate this space to those who have spoken so eloquently and powerfully to the raison d’ etre of this great country.

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence

“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war. . .testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated. . . can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate. . .we cannot consecrate. . . we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us. . .that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. . . and that government of the people. . .by the people. . .for the people. . . shall not perish from the earth. ”
Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

“I am not induced by motives of pride, party, or resentment to espouse the doctrine of separation and independance; I am clearly, positively, and conscientiously persuaded that it is the true interest of this continent to be so; that every thing short of THAT is mere patchwork, that it can afford no lasting felicity, –that it is leaving the sword to our children, and shrinking back at a time, when, a little more, a little farther, would have rendered this continent the glory of the earth.”
Thomas Paine, Common Sense

“As the happiness of the people is the sole end of government, so the consent of the people is the only foundation of it, in reason, morality, and the natural fitness of things.”
John Adams, Letters

The Two Faces of Memorial Day

Although the calendar says we have almost a month to go, Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of summer for Minnesotans. Summer time is so precious and fleeting that we grab it by the ankles and hold tight for all three of the months in which it stands in our midst.

I’m stocked with charcoal and food to grill. The flowers have been planted, the weeds pulled and the mulch spread. The gardens look great and I’m ready to enjoy the benefits of my labor with an extra day of down time. That is one face of the holiday.

Every Memorial Day Susan and I make our pilgrimage to Fort Snelling National Cemetery to pay our respects. It’s usually the only chance in the year we get to visit family who has gone on before us. Despite the crush of people, Fort Snelling is a place given to quiet contemplation. Thankfully our family members lived to relatively ripe old ages.

Not so according to the many head markers we read as we walk. Young men and women who put service to their country above the surer bet of growing old and passing in more peaceful fashion. We pause and reflect upon their sacrifice. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, paid for with the lives of those willing to serve. That is the other face of the holiday.

Thank you, Veterans.

RITE of SPRING

One of the most cherished traditions in townhouse land is the spring walk-through inspection. Gather the Board and amble around, see what winter has left us with. It is a great bonding experience and it reasserts ownership in taking inventory of your property’s needs.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, I tend to advocate for the minimalist approach. What should capture our attention are things recently out of the ordinary—as within a season or two. Some will argue for an all-inclusive list, following that great American adage, “if some is good, more is better”.

And certainly, one can be pleased with possessing the definitively comprehensive to-do list. But if there isn’t follow up with the to-doing, compiling the uber-list is a misuse of everyone’s time. (Spring walk-through lists have a shelf life of maybe six weeks. No one refers to them come autumn.) In my humble opinion, the list should be comprised of two types of items: 1—Things the Association should fix quickly; 2—Things the homeowner should fix quickly (be they from a repair or behavioral standpoint).

Sure, all the bad gutters or roofs with missing shingles can be identified. If this is going to be a project, why not let those who are going to fix them make the notations? They’ll do a better job. It is tempting to see information for its own sake having an archival or referential purpose. However, information of this sort is very temporal as Mother Nature never stops working.

Anyone besides me remember the Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda? To Castaneda’s assertion that “knowledge is power”, Don Juan replies: “What good is knowledge if it is useless?”

In House or Out House?

Currently undergoing a kitchen remodeling, I am craving a home cooked meal. A Sunday roast beef dinner which I will pull from my brand new refrigerator and cook in my brand new oven—once they are purchased and installed. There won’t be any out-sourcing here, this will be done in-house.

Whether to out-source a task is a decision we are continuously making. Time management certainly factors into the calculation. We ship our printing and mailing to a very competent shop, not so much because I can’t stand the taste of envelope glue (which I can’t) but because stuffing envelopes isn’t the best use of our time. Our clients expect us to apply ourselves to more essential matters.

Yet time and convenience do not run the show. There are certain tasks which we see as requiring our personal attention—even if they can be out-sourced.

A Real Estate Disclosure Certificate is a document necessary for selling a townhome or condo. Some firms out-source their production. We do these in-house because we believe that accuracy is best ensured by direct oversight. And we have a buck-stops-here attitude.

Likewise with logging work orders or just plain answering questions. We aren’t Luddites but neither are we enamored with an over-weening reliance on technology. (“Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed.” “On a scale of 1 to 5, how well did this answer your question?”) Guilty as charged to being control freaks. But in the service of our clients, we believe that’s a good thing.

A President’s Day Salute

Even though the name never technically changed from Washington’s Birthday, Happy President’s Day to all you advocates of democracy.

While set aside as a day to celebrate and contemplate the occupants of the Oval Office, I wish to redirect acknowledgement to those who have served as chief executives of their homeowner community. The president is the most visible member of the Board of Directors and thus often enough flak-taker-in-chief for complaints and problems.

Management’s primary liaison with the Board and the community is the president. When we need advice or a sounding board or a command decision, we approach the president. Other Board members are as involved as they are (and we are fortunate to have quite a few who are quite so). The president by virtue of the office, is necessarily most involved.

Thus we love our presidents for their willingness to serve doubly: as a Board member and as CEO. We are grateful for the uncounted and unpaid hours they devote to their Association. We hope that, as Management, we have been of assistance sufficient that they would consider the office again at the next Annual Meeting.

Thank you for your service to your community.

DAM ICE

To be clear, we do not condone profanity in this space. But I’m not above employing lame puns. A topic for any winter once the snow piles up is ice damming. You see all that snow on your roof? It’s fine where it sits unless it’s the spot where the roof meets the gutters.

When it’s liquid, water just follows gravity: off the roof, through the gutter, down the down spout. Solid water accumulates in the gutters and along the roof edges. The freeze-thaw cycle gets involved. It partners with warm air escaping from the building. And suddenly, you have a ridge of ice.

Would that it would stay that way. But the building heat and the weight on top reduce the bottom layer to liquid. This water has to go somewhere, so it will work its way up under the shingles and in through the soffits.

Voila! You have an indoor water feature on your wall or around your window.

There are short term and long term strategies for remediation. The common denominator with the short term is to rid the roof of the ice. Recommendations run the gamut, from shoveling to chipping to melting (ice melt wrapped in socks or pantyhose—I’m not kidding about this). The problem is, it can snow more than once in a winter. Then back to square one, with a lighter wallet.

A primary cause of ice damming is inadequate insulation. Warm air and cold air just shouldn’t be talking to each other. In the warm months, consider an energy audit and insulation upgrade. Doubtful it will offer a 100% fix. But in winter, in Minnesota, we seek manageability, not perfection.

Water is best in bath tubs and tea kettles, while ice belongs in a glass with a beverage (or under your skates). Wishing you a minimum of departure from these locations.

Should All Acquaintance

A couple weeks ago you would’ve caught me grumping about another wimpy winter. If you live up here, you ought to be able to exercise your bragging rights. Green grass in December just doesn’t cut it. Suffice it to say that Old Man Winter knocked me back on my heels. And days later, it’s a slush party. And the holiday weekend was a skating rink. Go figure.

Last week of the year. Punch your tickets for 2017. Tis a time both to look back and to look forward. What went right and what can be improved? Tis a time to finish all those leftovers just in order to recommit to the treadmill after January 1st.

Mere coincidence or Divine Intervention that Christmas and Hanukkah fell on the same day? And Kwanzaa began the day after. Perhaps it’s a hint that we just all need a bit more coming together.

Happy Holidays to you and yours. Best Wishes for a Prosperous New Year.