Mismanaging Agents

I still have my ‘director of the management company for a building of 78 apartments’ hat on. It seems to have one of those little straps that goes under your chin. I don’t seem to be able to undo the strap…

I hope that the worst is over. We held a meeting with the residents which went really well, we got 100% support for our actions and lots of offers of help. We are now paying our suppliers, most of them are continuing to supply, we’re collecting money and we’ve instructed solicitors to recover our documents from the agent. Once we have the docs we can sort out the mess that is last year, set a budget for this year, and move on. At that point I should be able to undo the chin strap and drop kick the hat into the distance.

It’s interesting for me to examine how I’m dealing with this particular situation. It’s not a normal situation for me to be operating in. I’ve run a consulting business for over 6 years, some years before that I helped to run a building company and a property investment company for 5 or 6 years. I’ve done the IT “management” thing at various points. But this is different, very different.

This management situation was a real “in at the deep end” kind of thing. Here’s a company that’s been mismanaged to the point that it owes all of its suppliers lots of money and doesn’t have any money in the bank. Those suppliers were about to stop supplying. We didn’t have any documentation and the managing agent that did have the docs was obstructive. We had to first locate and then placate the suppliers, explain the situation, calm their nerves, gain their trust. Then we needed to find out exactly what we owed…

The company has lots of invoices that are awaiting payment, some due to persistent non payment and some just because nobody ever asked the people to pay. We had to get that money rolling in so we could start to pay suppliers. We then had to open up a new seam of funds by issuing demands for the new service charge period and encourage people to pay early and in full so that we could get out of our cashflow hole.

We’ve been fire fighting for almost a month now. It’s been taking me around 2-3 hrs each morning and 2-3 hrs each evening. Interestingly I’ve lost a lot of sleep, that hasn’t happened to me before. Normally I sleep very well, even when I’m concerned about winning a consulting gig. This last month I’ve had hours awake in the middle of the night where all I can do is plan. Interestingly I’ve been operating pretty well on the reduced sleep. The adrenalin and fear can really fire the blood… There were what seemed to be an infinite number of things that needed doing and no perfect order to do them in. The problem domain lacked structure, all we could do for the first couple of weeks was set out the long term plans and respond and fire fight to the situation as it unrolled.

This is the exact opposite to how I like to work. I like to maintain control and discipline from the start of a project where possible. That’s not always possible of course, so, as with the refactoring project, I like to get an overall feel for the shape of the problem and then start picking away at small pieces of it; divide and conquer. That approach just wasn’t possible here. We had a swirling mess with emergency issues all over the place and lots and lots of unknowns.

I think it’s been a useful exercise and I’m learning useful skills, but I’d like it to stop now and I don’t really want to do it again.