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The Ghost Writer

No I’m not talking about one of those high-priced pros hired to pen a best-selling bio of some non-writing celebrity. But for all you know, there could be a ghost writer in your midst, anonymously churning out your building’s history. I know, I was one.

By now you’ve probably figured out that board members who can’t agree on what to do, usually don’t agree on what to say they did or didn’t do. (See, Fact Or Fiction –  Or Revisionist History?) So even if what Mr. X on one side of the table wants to include in the minutes is right, Mr. Y on the other side automatically will say it’s wrong – and vice versa, leading to a never-ending game of verbal ping pong. It’s like the health care debate in microcosm, which is why we have no bill and why your building could be left in a state of minute-less limbo. This may not only leave owners in the dark, but also can put a crimp in already sluggish sales when buyers want to come inspect the building’s history as part of their due diligence only to find out it has not been recorded.

What to do? One technique I’ve observed is to record the minutes before the meeting has taken place.  Maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but not much. The way this works is that someone with a fast and fancy laptop inputs his take of what’s happening in real time, then tries to get everyone to sign on to what he says they just said, scarcely before the words are out of their mouth.

It’s board meeting turned into reality programming. But even the folks on American Idol wait till everyone’s had their say – or sing – before writing the ending. And so should your board because minutes are supposed to record what happened, not short circuit the end result.         

There is another way round the impasse.  Let Switzerland take the minutes – or at least some unaligned third party. Except there isn’t always one available, at least not one who’s big on recording history. That’s how I got the idea of becoming a ghost writer, or more accurately, re-writer – of minutes sent out and signed off on by our manager(s).  Since everyone thought the pages came straight from the pen of Mr. Switzerland, they didn’t set off any party line feuds, and got approved without a hitch, cutting a huge chunk out of our meeting time. Plus the experiment was an interesting case study in identity politics, proving my long-held thesis that who says something can matter a lot more than what is said, a lesson for all you would-be board members out there.

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