MAR Governance Task Force - 2013
Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®

Massachusetts Association of Realtors® Strategic Plan
Objective 3: Develop a more efficient governance structure for MAR.

Key Initiative M3.1:   Structural Audit Task Force
A taskforce will be appointed to conduct a governance review, examining the current policies and governance structure of MAR and recommending changes likely to provide superior member services with less expenditure of volunteer and staff time.  The task force will look at internal decision making procedures at MAR with the intent of simplifying decision making and appropriately empowering staff.  It is likely that the process will involve significant member outreach.

 
Late last year, MAR’s Board of Directors approved a new Strategic Plan designed to set the course of MAR’s future. As part of that future, it recognized governance as an issue in need of improvement and appointed a Task Force to study the issue and recommend solutions.

You may question why the Board thought this necessary and why now. Simply, it is because MAR’s current decision-making processes have become time consuming, expensive and counterproductive. To better understand MAR’s decision process, staff prepared a chart illustrating how one hypothetical member service proposal travels from idea to approval. The resulting flow chart was both enlightening and alarming.

As many as fifteen separate steps are required from the initiating committee’s outline to staff’s research and refining, to leadership team buy-in and decision to move forward, then reviews by the Finance Committee, the Executive Committee, the Caucuses and, finally, the Board. The process could take a year or more from idea to implementation.
 
For example, lets take a look at MAR’s decision process for selling and then buying a headquarters building. A property comes on the market that our Building Task Force believes is appropriate for MAR.  The property is very desirable and has lots of potential buyers.  Offers are on the table and we need to act quickly.

At best, we were able to make an offer contingent on due diligence and Leadership Team, Finance Committee, Executive Committee and Board approval at its next meeting, possibly months away. Like to guess at the seller’s reaction?

Is it any wonder that this very real example has actually been in process at MAR for ten years and is still not completed?  Thankfully, the Board recently empowered the Executive Committee to make the final decision and the CEO, President and Chairman of the Building Task Force to execute documents, so long as the purchase price and annual operating costs are within the Finance Committees approved guidelines.  Better, but it took us ten years to approve this exception to our normal process!

Over those same ten years, MAR has made forty-two changes to its By Laws and/or its Policy Manual, seven of them this year alone, all in the name of fixing the decision process. In each case the changes have further complicated and lengthened an already unworkable process. Simply believing that so many governance changes are necessary screams loudly that the process is broken.

So, what is the solution?  One thing is clear to me, after more than twenty years of observing and fully participating in leadership positions at local, state and national Realtor® levels, incremental change exacerbates the problem, it does not solve it.  We mean well but remain constrained by our own laborious process. We must develop a new approach, keeping in mind who our members are and what services they need to make them more successful Realtors®.

Where do we begin?  Each of us, members I mean, has a full time job essential to our wellbeing. For the most part we market and sell real estate.  We may know a little or a lot about many other things but must focus on our families, on our businesses and on honing our sales and marketing skills.  Who has time to “manage” our association?

Besides, is managing the association really the job of volunteers? Many of us, while in leadership roles, have certainly tried, me included!  A famous quote from Oliver Hardy comes to mind: “Another fine mess you’ve got us in!”  Dating myself but worth mentioning I think.

Governance, not management, is the legally required role of volunteers!  What is the difference between governance and management?  This quote states it well: “The governing body (Board) must govern; that is, it must provide leadership and strategy and must focus on the 'big picture'. Governance is about planning the framework for work and ensuring it is done. As such, it is distinct from management (organizing the work) and operations (doing the work). As far as possible, the governing body should therefore steer clear from making managerial decisions and getting involved in the day-to-day implementation of strategy.”  
(The Wheel”, an Ireland based organizational resource for charities and not for profit associations.)

Defining the difference between governance and management is the subject of hundreds of “authoritative” books.  The Wheel states it as well as any. Understanding the difference is one thing, practicing it is quite another.

As the Strategic Plan says, the Governance Task Force’s role is to recommend ways to actually practice governance as it is defined by the experts and in the law. That’s right, Massachusetts law tells us clearly how not-for-profit Boards must practice governance and holds us personally liable if we do not!  The state takes our fiduciary duty very seriously, even if sometimes we may forget our role.

Now let me tell you how the Task Force is approaching our task.  By now, you’ve probably heard that all Task Force members and MAR staff Directors have been asked to read a book, “The Race for Relevance (5 Radical Changes for Associations)”. Unusual, I know, but essential if we are to fully comprehend the scope of change being considered and embraced by other associations, Realtor® and otherwise, around the world.

MAR comes very late to the notion that historic association governance models no longer work. We have suspected it is broken for some time but, with good intentions in mind, choose to tweak it with regular By Laws and Policy Manual changes rather than confront governance head on.

Association members are busier than ever, more specialized than ever and expecting more value for their dues dollars.  Their companies are looking for a return on their investment and reject the idea that lengthy meetings, especially if they believe little is accomplished, are a good use of anyone’s time. Correctly, many assume their time can be used more effectively. Staff experts are trained to do the jobs we now attempt, mostly on a part time basis, better and more efficiently.

To make matters worse, competitors now offer programs once our purview alone. Technology provides members immediate and unlimited access to products and services we once provided exclusively.  In this accelerated new reality, Boards must be visionary and quick to act in order to stay relevant.  Given the time it takes us to make decisions, we cannot compete and will eventually wither away.

After reading the book, the Task Force interviewed Mary Byers, one of the authors of Race for Relevance, and concluded that the approach used in the authors’ consulting practices provide an excellent guide for our work.  We have not adopted, nor even studied, any of the specific recommendations they make but agree that their approach to finding answers is valid, well organized and likely to lead us to fully informed conclusions and effective recommendations.  We will use their years of experience to avoid mistakes we can no longer afford to make.

With the assistance of MAR staff, we have begun the process of research.  First, CEO Rob Authier has begun to identify other associations (Realtor® and otherwise) who have substantially and successfully refashioned their governance.  Next, we will set out to collect information from and about our own members that will help us better understand them and what they need and expect from MAR. After that, we plan to employ a facilitator with appropriate expertize in association governance and gather for a retreat to evaluate the information collected and consider our options.

Only then will the Task Force begin searching for governance models designed to streamline MAR’s decision processes, reduce volunteer and staff time and effort and produce faster and better results in keeping with our strategic objectives.

Along the way, we plan to keep you all fully informed online and through other means and invite you to ask whatever questions you have. MAR Directors, have a fiduciary duty to stay informed; members have a right to be kept up to date. We will do our best to ensure you are all part of this important undertaking.

Finally, we ask your patience.  This is a major undertaking that will require considerable time. The final decision to make any changes will be entirely up to the Board. The Task Force has no authority to make changes, only to make recommendations to the Board.

We will do the very best we can and ask only that you keep an open mind and a constructively critical eye. Rule nothing out without analysis and encourage expansive thinking.  This may be a very good time to recall Robert Kennedy’s famous words: “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

Ultimately be persuaded only by your personal understanding and good judgment, political considerations and factions aside, and I promise we will do our best to do the same.  Our members deserve nothing less.

END

By:  Peter P. Casey, Chairman
MAR Governance Task Force