Informative article on wind energy from a real estate perspective. Realtors, take note....
Thursday, August 27, 2009
BURLINGAME, Calif. -- Google hasn't yet finished previewing its new Wave collaboration tool, let alone given consumers full-blown access to it. But on Wednesday, Lars Rasmussen--one of the principle engineers behind Wave--hinted at how Google might monetize the tool.
Google ( GOOG - news - people ) Wave is a collaboration and communication tool that allows users to work on the same content object, dubbed a "wave," which can house both text and multimedia. Users can reply to messages and edit together in real-time. Beyond those features, developers can extend Wave's features through a programmable interface.
Rasmussen stressed that Google is, at this point, focused on polishing and popularizing the product, rather than figuring out how to monetize it. Still, he gave in to a tough line of questioning from reporters and hinted at three possible ways Google could monetize Wave once the product is fully baked.
One very real possibility: incorporating Wave into Google Apps for businesses, the suite of Web-based software tools that Google licenses to enterprises for $50 per user per year.
"We hope that will drive additional sales of that product," he says. "We were very positively surprised that our existing customers--and some enterprises that are not existing customers--have expressed some interest in trying out the tool."
Another option? Opening up a service where users can purchase extensions, like Apple's ( AAPL - news - people ) App Store or Google's Android Marketplace. Google could take a cut of that revenue, says Rasmussen.
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Google could also sell contextual advertisements against the Wave product, as Google does with AdSense in Gmail, its free e-mail service.
Wave's next milestone will come at the end of September, when Google plans to let in a pool of about 100,000 testers. Rasmussen says about a third of those will be developers with existing access, and another third will go to some of the million or so people who've applied for access through Google Wave's public site.
Google will likely carve out the remaining third to Google Apps enterprise customers, Rasmussen says. That would enable Google to solicit the kind of feedback it needs to understand what works and what doesn't for businesses--and whether the tool brought the kind of value to Google Apps that would bring new paying customers to Google.
A couple of things worth thinking about in this article:
1. Google is thinking about developing Wave, and THEN will worry about the money part. How many times do we, as association leaders, find a really worthwhile product or member service, and leave it in the dust because 'it won't pay for itself', or 'we can't afford it'?
2. Google's release program for Wave should be an object lesson: give it to the power users (the developers) first for the beta testing. Then, sign up a waiting list of those frothing at the mouth for a 'go' at the product, and let THEM do the second beta testing. By the time Wave gets to the naysayers and the lethargic, the product will have been fully tested and have cheerleaders among the membership ranks.
What a great way to introduce a new association service or product like, say, a new MLS vendor....
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Chapter 16 in Chris Anderson’s book Free talks about myths about Free. One myth is that you can’t compete with Free.
The way to compete with Free is to move past the abundance to fine the adjacent scarcity. If software is free, sell support. If phone calls are free, sell distant labor and talent that can be reached by those free calls (the Indian outsourcing model in a nutshell). If your skills are being turned into a commodity that can be done by software (hello, travel agents, stock brokers, and realtors), then move upstream to more complicated problems that still require the human touch. Not only can you compete with Free in that instance, but the people who need these custom solutions are often the ones most willing to pay highly for them.
- Portable Apps: Free Software on a (USB) Stick...
- Where is Your Value?...
- Webinar of Interest...
- Free Breakfast This Weekend...
- Wild Apricot Software News - April 2009...
Originally posted @ BlogClump - Blogging About Associations From a Gen Xer
Monday, August 24, 2009
I’ve done a lot of preaching and teaching about social media: for those of us in association management, I think knowing and using social media tools is an absolutely important part of our professional tool kit. But from time to time I find it important to stand back and look at my personal use of social media—for me, the temptation to let it take over my life is always there and always nibbling away at my work plan for the day, week or month.
So I stop and ask myself, why do I use social media? What’s my motivation?
Personal relationships: maintaining old ones, creating new ones. It’s how I find out about my family and my friends, and how I forge new relationships.
Building Business Networks: my network of professional people is the key to my success as a consultant and a personal coach. Most of the new clients I get come from referrals from satisfied customers.
Building a reputation for expertise, trust, and concern for the people I work with: it’s why I write blogs and give away stuff. I genuinely want people to successes: what better way to show that than to support their efforts?
Constructing helpful networks for others: someone once asked me what my strength was as an association manager. I replied, “I’m good at putting the right people in the right places.” I enjoy connecting people with each other and with jobs or information that can help them.
What are the most productive ways I spend my social networking time?
Twitter. Twitter is where I can learn the most from the people I follow. I select them carefully, and un-follow them if they are cluttering up my learning space. Twitter is also where I can share my thoughts. In order to do that well, I have be brief, concise, relevant for my network. Otherwise, they’ll unclutter me as fast as I unclutter some of them.
Blogs. Blogs allow me to write in more depth, think things through, make a coherent statement. They pause my thoughts and allow me to empathize with my readers and give them what I know.
Create and share content. One of the things I do is give presentations to professional groups, on a variety of topics. I enjoy putting together content rich, practical programs, and I think its important to share those presentations in any way I can: that’s why I use SlideShare, for instance, to host presentations I’ve made.
E-mail. Answering emails takes up a lot of time, but it’s how I meet my goals.
What are my biggest social networking time wasters?
The telephone. Yup. That’s social networking—and I hate it. It’s so much easier to hit ‘return’ than it is to make a telephone call, go through the social BS, or wait for a time when it’s convenient for both parties to make contact. Unless, of course, the real point is to be sociable.
Stupid meetings. By ‘stupid’ I mean the meetings which require getting there, schmoozing, doing a limited amount of real work, and driving back home. I could gave done most of these jobs quickly and efficiently from behind my desk.
Facebook. I know, I know: you love Facebook. But I don’t care what color your personality is, or what 1940’s song you most represent. If that’s your level of self-discovery, save me. Now if you’ve got some insights or photos or interesting news—that’s another matter. But I’ll take Twitter any day—it’s shorter, and more to the point.
Mainstream news. AOL thinks I have to know important stuff, like which starlet has a drug habit or which Senator is fooling around with a staff member. I don’t do mainstream news, even TV news. I like to select my news sources (public broadcasting, or the BBC) and my chosen blogs, and keep the ticker running across the bottom of my browser. I can click to open stories I want, and the rest is out of my life.
Not letting social media get the best of you is hard: you’ve got to be cruel about it. I limit myself to an hour a day (usually) to focus on news gathering, blogging, and those other activities. Within that hour, I try to prioritize the value of my activities: family, professional, personal interest.
It’s all about the value of information. The job we have is not GETTING the information, it’s about getting rid of what we don’t want, can’t use, and waste our time on. It’s like spam or junk mail in your US Postal Service mail box. Get a good e-mail filter, and rip up the shiny brochures and the unwanted phone books before you bring ‘em in the house. And be merciless about social networking it all its forms: know what you want , eliminate the rest.
Can online fees “protect” a print product? Here’s an interesting story about how the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette walls off online content and has seen circulation rise, which is, to put it mildly, a rarity in the newspaper biz.
Overall, though, even though I love the contrarian nature of the story, I have my doubts about the long-term viability of this particular strategy for consumer media. Not because I think all online content should be free (I don’t think that at all), it’s just that “dual” print/online strategies seem to be missing the point. By ”dual” I mean, “We’re putting out a print product, and we will also reproduce the content online.”
In my opinion, the bigger issue is that newspapers believed they were in the printing business, and by devaluing content creation they helped to create their own mess. Imagine how different the web would look today if newspapers and magazines had believed from the outset they were in the content creation business and charged for what they did. Blogs originally took off because bloggers were linking to, and commenting on, freely-available mainstream media content. Twitter and other social media avenues grew from that. Would these tools have grown as large, as quickly, in mainstream consciousness, without access to the original professional content? I have my doubts. Witness how many tweets and status updates today are still links to newspaper articles.
But now that this particular genie is out of the bottle, I don’t think there’s any way to put it back. Social media may have originally been fueled by a desire to comment on professional reporting, but I don’t think it’s about that anymore — now it’s about original content creation and individual networking. The question is, how can a mass-media content creator, like a newspaper, develop a sustainable business model for today? I wish I knew the answer. Newspapers are going to have to develop more ancillary revenue streams, and possibly get used to the fact that they just won’t make as much money in the future as they used to off their old expensive-advertising-cheap-circulation business model. The huge, highly-leveraged infrastructures many of them built to sustain printing operations are dragging them down.
The parallels to associations are clear to me. Those associations that make all their revenues off “membership,” and the fact that they offer entrance into a community of people with similar interests, are in for rough waters down the road. If your membership doesn’t offer any real value beyond access to a group, how long (and how much) are your constituents going to be willing to pay for it?
Just like newspapers, associations build up infrastructure and then worry about protecting it. Job boards, listserves, private networks, magazines, meetings, “generic” industry content (as opposed to specialized knowledge), cumbersome “delegate” and governance levels … many associations watch with dismay as all of this stuff either changes or becomes irrelevant, and it’s human nature for all of us to think, “How can I protect my stuff? It’s going away!”
Well, maybe the time associations (and newspapers) spend trying to protect what they already do would be better spent coming up with new stuff.-->
It's the last two paragraphs which resonate with me, and--I hope--with many of my peers and colleagues. Take note, those of you with cumbersome governance (you know who you are)--this is the 'stuff' that has become irrelevant. It's going away, and too many of our valuable and our very limited resources are being used to protect it, when in fact it's useless in today's world of social media and 'here comes everybody'.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
BY JAMES R. HAGERTY AND NICK TIMIRAOS
Sales of existing homes in July jumped at the fastest rate in 10 years, sending stock prices up around the globe on hopes that the U.S. housing market -- a driver of the world's largest economy -- is stabilizing after years of decline.
Sales of single-family homes increased 7.2% in July from a month earlier to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.24 million units, the National Association of Realtors said Friday.
The monthly increase was the largest since 1999, when the NAR began collecting data for all types of homes -- its measure includes condominiums and cooperative apartments. It ...Continue reading article with pop up player
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
"in the July 2009 analysis of the top properties where search activity is observed, Google Sites led the search market with 12.9 billion searches, followed by Yahoo! Sites with 2.8 billion. Microsoft Sites ranked third with 1.3 billion searches, up 3 percent from May, followed by eBay with 709 million. Facebook.com experienced the highest growth of the top ten expanded search properties with a 35-percent increase."
REQUIRES PHP 5
This plugin allows for WordPress to load in data from the following APIs:
The data from the different APIs is then presented on a single page that is dynamically created on the server depending on the specially-crafted URL that is being accessed. The format of the URL to load the plugin is as follows: <http://www.example.com/local/city/state>.
For example, to load the Local Market Explorer for Seattle, WA, you'd simply need to point your browser to <http://www.example.com/local/seattle/wa>. If you have spaces in your city name, you can use hyphens for the spaces in the URL, like so: <http://www.example.com/local/rancho-santa-margarita/ca>.
At any time, you can link to any city in any state that you'd like. While not all of the APIs have data for every single city in the United States, you'll find that most cities are sufficiently covered by nearly all of the APIs.
New application from Zillow: Realtors using Wordpress can add this app so that data about a listing you are featuring can be automatically available. Cut down on your work? Yep. Satisfy consumer demand for more info? You betcha. Wouldn't this be a cool idea for consumer-facing MLS websites? Uh-Huh!
ideas he reports are the topics of a lot of the conversations there.One of those topics relates to giving up control. Associations
need to give up the control they think they have, the discussions
go. This is, after all, the Age of Social Media, and many
associations are afraid of social media because they're afraid
of giving up control.Ah! you scoff. That can't be true of OUR association. Our
members are Independent Contractors. Well, let me ask you:
have you read the questions on AE talk lately? There are
a large number of them which talk about nothing else but
'control' (spell that 'rules' and 'fines' and 'policy' and 'bylaws'). Kevin has a paragraph which I think should be read aloud
every morning in real estate associations around the country:
"Do associations really believe they are in “control” of
communications, messages, members, or even their own
destiny? And who are these associations? Because I’ve
never believed that to be the case and am surprised if others
do. Any association that works in government relations,
for example, is well aware of how very little control they have
over anything. Any national association that has components
knows that it has no control (and any local component with a
national association knows that it has no control). Any trade
association that works in an industry that is bigger than a
breadbasket knows how little control it has over anything."The second concept that seemed endemic at the ASAE
Conference, and was rolled out regularly when the role of
Social Media in associations was the topic is the following
mellifluous phrase: "Associations are for Associating". Let
THAT roll off your tongue and then Kevin will swat it down with
" You’re an association, not a chatroom. Your job is to help
your members succeed, not bring people together so they
can talk and you can sell advertising space."In other words, associating is a means to an end, no matter
WHAT tools you use--and those tools could be face-to-face
meetings and/or the many facets of Twittering and Facebooking.
What you are about is supporting members' success, and
that should be the first question you ask about a service or
product: How will it lead to member success? And the next
important question you need to ask is, How do I measure
that contribution? Too often we measure the success of our Realtor associations by how
many people show up at a meeting, or come to the Christmas
Party. But that's a subject for another blog.
Wow, great closing party for ASAE tonight. Spectacular venue, beautiful weather (finally!), good food, and while I can’t get all that jazzed about a concert featuring Bachman sans Turner sans Overdrive, hey, the music was pretty good too. Met a few great people, had a very enjoyable time.
But I came back to my room to get ready to get up early tomorrow and despite (or perhaps because of) the libations from this evening, I find myself with a little energy to spare and so would like to share a few additional thoughts from this year’s conference.
There were some conversational themes that emanated throughout the meeting, in workshops, in conversations in the hallway, and even online. (I did check out ASAE’s “Annual Hub” a few times during the meeting. While personally I find that sort of online stream more chaotic than useful, I’m glad that ASAE developed it for the people who like that sort of thing.)
Here’s the thing about those conversational themes — I’m a little confused by why so many people found them so earth-shattering, since they seem kind of obvious. I suspect part of it is the divide between professional societies and trade associations, which is an extremely deep and meaningful divide indeed. In other cases it may be because I’ve been very fortunate in the organization I work for. And in other cases it may be because the individuals embracing them don’t have much actual association experience. In any event, the examples:
Associations need to give up control, or recognize they never had control, or need to move beyond worrying about whether or not they ever had control or will have control, or whatever. This one got talked about a lot in terms of social media, and I’ve seen it talked about a lot in the same vein before the ASAE meeting. “Associations are afraid of social media because they’re afraid of losing control,” people say.
This really perplexes me. Do associations really believe they are in “control” of communications, messages, members, or even their own destiny? And who are these associations? Because I’ve never believed that to be the case and am surprised if others do. Any association that works in government relations, for example, is well aware of how very little control they have over anything. Any national association that has components knows that it has no control (and any local component with a national association knows that it has no control). Any trade association that works in an industry that is bigger than a breadbasket knows how little control it has over anything.
Associations have no control. Everything is negotiated, and the most they can hope to do is influence. Even in our industry, our most engaged and vigorous members all belong to many other organizations, networks, for-profit groups, lists/forums, and any other number of permutations of association. This doesn’t bother me in the least. Communities are, after all, commodities, and are incredibly easy to start even if they are less easy to maintain over the long haul. Let people find their own connections and let the association focus on how they can leverage communities (their own or others’) to expand their own association triangle to further the interests of the industry or profession they represent– of influence, value, and resources.
I don’t know who these associations are who think they actually have control over anything (maybe it’s professional societies? they are a different animal). But they should probably lose that illusion, if it actually exists as something other than a strawman.
Associations should embrace “failure” and not be afraid to fail in order to succeed. This one came up in Gary Hamel’s keynote (”out of 1000 things try 100 and all but 10 will fail” — or something like that) and then again throughout the meeting. Here’s one where I’ve been very fortunate in the organization and CEO I work for. We value action over certainty, and good over perfect. Our CEO, who spent many years working for the brilliant and legendary Tom Donohue, learned his lesson well: Hire smart people, get out of their way, don’t be afraid to fail. No one at our organization will ever get fired for trying something that might have worked but didn’t. It’s how we’ve succeeded so well over the years — for everything we tried that worked, there were several other things we tried that didn’t.
So on this particular conversational theme, I do understand that there are still a lot of associations (I have friends who work for them) who are deathly afraid of failure. Everything has to be vetted through eighty-five levels of bureaucracy before they then have to get approved through a committee structure (shudder!) before they become reality. This is a stifling and lousy way to do business. It is killing a lot of associations. Unfortunately, most of the people who embraced this lesson this year and “tweeted” about it are not really in a position to change it within their own organization. My best advice to them is the very old-school advice of “it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.” It’s a maxim I’ve followed my own career and it’s worked out pretty well for me, for the most part. Unfortunately, depending on the organization and person you work for, I can’t guarantee that it will work or that it won’t get you fired.
“Associations are for associating.” The first time I looked at the ASAE annual hub I saw some little gem like this getting re-tweeted several times, and I almost broke my no-blogging-during-the-conference rule. The line was something like, “Associations existfor the purpose of associating” and then something about how that’s why associations have to get involved in social media.
Well, you may have to get involved in social media, but certainly not because “associations exist for associating.” That is absolutely NOT why associations exist. Associations do NOT exist for people to “associate,” associations exist to further the interests of the industry or profession they represent. This is NOT the same thing as associating, connecting or community. Community is certainly a tool you can use but it is not, with perhaps some rare exceptions, the reason you exist.
For you people pushing social media, imagine the sentiment above reworded. Imagine someone said instead, “Associations exist for the purpose of associating — so you have to have face-to-face meetings or else you’re missing the boat.” Hmm … really?
Associations don’t exist to meet; meetings are tools. As meetings are replaced by virtual connections, that doesn’t make them any less tools. The goal is to further the interests of the constituency. The problem is too many associations place themselves in a box and think “this sort of thing is what associations do and so it must be what we do, too.” Replacing or supplementing one of those things with another doesn’t make the sentiment itself any less hollow.
To succeed, look beyond the obvious and find ways to make your constituency thrive. Twitter, Facebook, a private social network — these all may be very useful tools, but they are no less obvious than annual conferences and committee meetings. None of them are your purpose, and none of them in and of themselves fulfill your misson or reason for existence. You’re an association, not a chatroom. Your job is to help your members succeed, not bring people together so they can talk and you can sell advertising space.
If you define membership as entrance into a community, then you’ve just commoditized your membership — and if you don’t have higher aspirations than “bringing people together” then you will find yourself struggling with a steep uphill battle over the next several years. Connections are just too easy. Leveraging connections (whether made through you or someone else) to provide real value and influence? Now, that’s hard, and a lot more fun.-->
From the "Wish I'd said that department"--This is a summary of an excellent report from the ASAE meeting which just concluded. For Realtor associations, there's a whole lot of insight...I particularly (and heartily) endorse the last paragraph I've quoted.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
'Green' is low real estate priority | Real Estate and Technology News for Agents, Brokers and Investors | Inman News
Most respondents in a survey of Better Homes and Gardens magazine readers said they most value ample storage space (74 percent) and closet space (74 percent) as very important in house hunting, while just 22 percent said they rate "eco-friendly" features as very important.
About 67 percent of respondents said an updated kitchen was very important, while 65 percent said a master bathroom was very important. Ranking far lower, at 27 percent, was "large square footage."
The online survey, conducted in July, featured 17,096 respondents. The results found that 57 percent of homebuyers have recommended a real estate agent to a friend or relative, while 43 percent have not. Eleven percent said they have used multiple real estate agents for a single property, while 89 percent had not.
A separate survey conducted for real estate franchise company Coldwell Banker found that women reach a decision faster than men in the homebuying process.
The real estate company engaged an outside research firm, International Communications Research (ICR), to conduct a telephone survey of 1,000 men and women in May 2009. The survey featured questions about purchasing a house, security and financial decisions.
About 64 percent of women respondents said they would no longer be interested in their dream house if they were worried about its security, compared to about 51 percent of men.
On being asked who makes the financial decisions, 70 percent of respondents living with their significant other said it's mutual, while 23 percent said that they are individually in charge of financial decisions -- not their partner.
Better Homes and Garden's survey said men play a greater role in price negotiations and bidding -- with 66 percent of respondents claiming men play the greatest role.
In the personal homebuying experiences, 75 percent buyers said they would consider working with real estate agents in the future, while 25 percent said they would not.
--Riya V. Anandwala
What's your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor.
All rights reserved. This content may not be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, in part or in whole, without written permission of Inman News. Use of this content without permission is a violation of federal copyright law.
Interesting survey of what home buyers want. Lots of storage, updated kitchen, master bath, security. What buyers want less: McMansions with lots of square feet.
And note: only about 20% care about eco friendly (green) features. Makes me wonder about the value of promoting all the 'green' programs for Homebuilders and Realtors. Right now, at least, 'green' doesn't rate with consumers. Guess the best justification for all those expended resources is in the name of 'raising community awareness'--in itself a good thing.
You don't have to be a student to love these 8 free programs that CNET describes. You could be a the manager of a small association or business. Don't buy expensive software: check these apps first. (I know from experience that many of these are preferable to the ones most people buy.) Ain't open source grand???
Sunday, August 16, 2009
A useful feature: go to Google image search, Advanced options/not filtered by license. Great for bloggers, webmasters, anybody needing a photo or drawing.
Friday, August 14, 2009
I am continuing my series on building the Strategic Board of Directors—what a strategic board is and how AEs can build one. The process clearly is ‘building’ one, a gradual process lasting over time. One leadership conference, one guest speaker, or a year on the board of directors won’t magically produce a strategic-thinking, productive leadership team.
In previous posts I’ve suggested how an executive director might create an atmosphere for more productive financial management, and how actual board meetings might be structured to become more strategic and policy-centered. Hopefully, you’ve already incorporated some new activities into the meeting agenda, like asking the board to approve a complete financial policy and introducing regular progress reports on the process of the strategic and/or annual plans. You might have started a series of analyses on how much things REALLY cost, like the annual summer outing or administration of your lockbox program. Directors are, hopefully, getting used to the fact that opportunities to nitpick the color of the drapes in the conference room are becoming increasingly more limited as they are being asked to converse on a somewhat broader scale.
At this point, my blog is going to get into a topic that NOBODY likes: the role of the directors as an employer. Members of boards don’t like this role because (a) they’ve never done it (they’re independent contractors or employers of one person, maybe) or (b) the whole idea of measurable evaluation and legal responsibility is not why they signed on as volunteer leaders (“YOU WANT WHAT? All I want to do is make sure we have a better Christmas party than last year’s”).
Joking aside, volunteers really want to do a good job for our associations, and they want to make meaningful contributions. But managing an employee? Most directors simply don’t have the skills and knowledge base to do it well. And most executive directors feel uncomfortable training their bosses in how to be good bosses.
Here are some suggestions about how you, the AE, might set the stage for good personnel management from your directors. First, answer the following questions:
1. Does our association have clearly stated goals for the coming year, and have we formulated measurable results for each? Often an association has definite goals (“We want more affiliate members”) but no measurable results (How MANY more members? How will you know when you’ve reached your goal, in other words?)
2. Has the role of the AE has been clearly stated in these goals? No strategy is complete without an assignment of responsibility. If the association wants twenty more affiliate members by the end of the fiscal year, who’s going to do this? If it’s a task force of members, what’s the AE’s job in the process? Once the Board has stated its goals and measurable expectations, you can come back to them with the statement of how you’re going to assist in the implementation (“I’ll work with the Task Force to set up a job description, make sure staff supports their efforts, and I’ll make sure their progress is reported to you each quarter.”)
3.Does the board have a consistent, ongoing process to review the progress toward its goals and recognize the AE’s responsibility in bringing those goals to fruition? As AE, the ‘you’ includes your staff: your job is to manage staff performance, and if the MLS director doesn’t complete her job, for instance, YOU are held responsible: this goes without saying. By the same token, you are the one to issue reports to the directors on the progress of the goals. I suggest you do this regularly, perhaps at every meeting. Give a report from the AE which in essence says, “this is how I am doing what you told me to do in the annual work plan”, and “this is how close we are getting to achieving the measurements you established at the beginning of the year. “
Are you getting the message? Once the board establishes clear and measurable outcomes, the process of evaluating the AE’s performance becomes straightforward. The board personnel committee can sit down with the AE, review the progress and discuss the results—or lack of them. By doing the initial work of clearly defining goals and outcomes in the beginning of the year, the process of evaluation becomes automatic.
That isn’t to say, however, that the board members are going to WANT to do the evaluation. If things are going well, they may go kicking and screaming into an evaluation session: “You’re doing fine,” they will say. “We don’t need a MEETING.”
“Well, yes”, you reply, “you do. You need to meet, fill out a written evaluation form, sign and date it, and put it in my personnel file.”
“Here’s why”, you continue:
1. As directors, your job is to be responsible for carrying out the organization’s mission. It there are not good results happening, you’re responsible, and you are expected to intervene.
2. It’s not in the association’s best interest to delay coming to grips with a AE’s failure to produce expected results. Delay gets you nowhere, and hoping the issues of unsatisfactory performance on the part of the AE will just disappear—well, it’s not gonna happen.
3. If in fact it is the responsibility of the board of directors to see that the organization’s mission is accomplished, then you need to find out what’s going well and what’s not. And if there are results that you have defined and are expecting, then you need to tell the AE about it. By the same token, the AE needs to know what IS going well. Only then is there a chance that the mission will be carried out.
I, for one, don’t believe that performance evaluation need be tied in to salary discussions, either. Sometimes an employee can be performing beautifully and meeting all expectations, and there just isn’t any bonus money. Insist on the evaluation and separate it from finances. Establish a pay increase discussion at another time, perhaps during the formulation of the annual budget.
In thirty years of association management, I’ve seen a lot of very fine AEs come and go. What I’ve learned is, frequently the disappearance of an AE has little to do with competence. Some very fine AEs have returned from vacation to find a cardboard box on their front porch and the locks on the office door changed. You as an AE need to understand that if the Board wants to fire you, it will—fair or unfair, politically motivated or not. You can’t stop that.
But what you can do is insist that the board be professional about it. Conduct regular written evaluations based on the agreed-upon tasks, inform you in a professional way when you are not meeting their expectations, and define a manner of termination which will work in the best interest of the association (one good reason for a contract for the AE, by the way). I have a dear friend, now retired, who always kept his signed letter of resignation in his top desk drawer. He told each new board that the letter was there and that if he found it on his desk one day, signed by a majority of the board members, he would be quietly gone in a few hours. It never happened, but he had the process defined and in place, and it would be graceful and quick.
By the same token, you can provide your directors with some tools which will assist them in being professional and, at the same time, doing as little harm to you as possible in the process. Perhaps a termination checklist/succession plan might be a handy education for them should the need arise: it will certainly point out that there are legal issues and protocol involved in a drastic decision—and those considerations may allow clearer heads to prevail in times of real stress in the organization. And of course, should some other unplanned disaster befall the AE, an emergency succession plan (either temporary or permanent) should be easily accessible.
Hopefully, this discussion isn’t about termination or disaster, though. It’s about performance evaluation, and that is a stage that you as the AE can set. Insist on a clear and measurable work plan from the directors, report on your performance in effecting that plan, and insist the board of directors evaluate that performance in writing on a regular basis. Encourage the directors to have discussions about your performance which are centered on those tasks in your job description and that your evaluation be conducted in a transparent and professional manner, rather than in the parking lot after the meeting or at the Malcontent’s Bar on a Friday afternoon.
I have developed a template for succession planning. If you’re interested in a copy, don’t hesitate to email me directly.
At this point, my blog is going to get into a topic that NOBODY likes: the role of the directors as an employer. Members of boards don’t like this role because (a) they’ve never done it (they’re independent contractors or employers of one person, maybe) or (b) the whole idea of measurable evaluation and legal responsibility is not why they signed on as volunteer leaders (“YOU WANT WHAT? All I want to do is make sure we have a better Christmas party than last year’s”).
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
If I was a gambling man, I’d bet on Google disrupting a significant number of property portal markets over the medium term. Brand building is a portal’s only defence and it will be the number two, three and four players who suffer most. Will it benefit agents? Probably, in some cases by putting downward pressure on portal prices but inflation in Adwords prices could cancel this out.
In today's blog from the WAV group (http://waves.wavgroup.com/google-launches-real-estate-search-portal) Victor Lund describes Google's announcement of a real estate search portal. And Global Edge's blog (reprinted by Inman) trumpets "Property Portals-Expect Casualties".
Speaking as a consumer, the Google search portal for real estate is pretty slick. A lot of the property data infrastructure is already in place from Google Maps, and I found that even for my isolated location in Northern Michigan there's a highly populated data base due to an existing feed from the MLS through the ListHub product. In addition, property owners can add their own listings if they don't have an agreement with a real estate broker--thus increasing the potential listing search for consumers.
Read Google's instructions for agents and brokers (http://maps.google.com/help/maps/realestate/data_provider_faq.html). The instructions are elegantly simple and designed to encourage participation. The bare bones, welcoming design is in itself one of the greatest challenges to many of the real estate search portals in existence today, particularly those affiliated with multiple listing services (the Google real estate search is NOT an MLS, as it clearly states). But the Google real estate search is inclusive, self-correcting, interactive, and free--conditions which will be certain to be attractive to consumers and real estate professionals.
If you have a property search portal on your company, franchise, or association web site, scurry on over to http://maps.google.com/realestate and have a look. There are a lot of lessons to be learned there.
Monday, August 10, 2009
There’s no more treacherous ground in association leadership and management than the fiscal oversight process: it’s the battlefield of last resort when it comes to staff-leadership relationships, and it’s a topic of ongoing complaints from the membership to the leaders and staff.
“What do I get for my dues dollar?”
“We pay outrageous salaries to the staff.”
“You’re travelling to NAR conventions on MY money?”
“My cousin could design a website for half the price.”
You’ve heard these comments I’m sure—probably many times over. Good management will, of course, stop and do a systems check to make sure that they aren’t a sign of a major organizational illness that needs first aid, but all too often these kinds of objections are brought into the board room and result in much time and resources being wasted on trying to satisfy the complaints of one squeaky wheel. In a board of directors which does not have a firm grasp on its priorities, such conversations often result in ill-conceived, hasty decisions which are not in the long–term best interests of carrying out the association’s mission.
The association’s travel budget is often the object of membership concern. In most associations the travel budget is a small percentage of the budget, often 7-10% of operations. Members often see association travel as a perk for leaders and staff rather than as an opportunity to learn from the best practices of other associations and to develop and groom new leadership, among other things. Armed with good intentions, the directors respond to membership complaints by hacking away at this expense item rather than seeing it as an investment in the future.
In reality, gnawing away at specific budget items is a very small part of the responsibility that a board of directors has to the membership. Much more important is the board’s oversight of the fiscal operations of the board, particularly in matters of financial operations, procedures and policy. Board members must not be allowed abdicate their responsibility for providing thoughtful fiscal oversight.
To be successful in carrying out this responsibility board members must:
1. Have a strong interest in the fiscal affairs of the association, including its overall, current financial position, the reliability of the reports it receives, and the effectiveness of the management of incoming and outgoing funds.
2. Require regular, timely and complete financial reports from internal finance staff or contract staff and expect the board to hold staff accountable for meeting the standards of timely reporting.
3. Ask critical questions about the financial reports the board receives, including budgets, periodic financial statements, the annual Form 990 and annual, sometimes audited, financial statements.
I know it seems impossible, but I received a call from a friend of mine, a Realtor in an association in another state, who was assuming the position of President-elect in her board. “Should we be getting regular financial reports?” she asked. “All we ever get is the year-end summaries from the bookkeeper.”
“Argh,” I growled. A board that fails on any of the above issues is incapable of meeting its legal duty of care, and any AE who does not enable the board to meet these expectations is not meeting her responsibilities as a staff manager.
As an AE, you can assist in positioning your board of directors to assume a role much larger than budget BB-stacking by asking them to
A. Approve a comprehensive fiscal policy. You might do this little by little at each meeting, but every association, large or small, should have a cash reserve policy, an investment policy, policies on fiscal operations, employee bonding, and spending. These policies should be reviewed annually by leadership at staff and revised as needed through a consent process;
B. Meet annually with the association financial professional to review the audit or review;
C. Develop a financial crisis plan. What would happen if disaster occurred—the association lost another 50% of the members, or the MLS disappeared? What are the options for survival?
D. Operate using professional reports. The board meeting is the AE's time to inform the board in a professional setting using written reports, business plans, and impact analyses. In an earlier post I mentioned business plans for new projects or services, and summaries for events or programs the association has held. Use operating ratios, too—the travel budget is what % of total operations? Personnel costs are what %? Compare these ratios with other organizations like yours, and make sure your directors think this way, rather than in nickels and dimes.
E. Complete a self-audit on a regular basis, preferably annually. This is a good exercise for the directors and the finance committee. I’ve posted a financial operations checklist on my website—feel free to use it or adopt it to meet your needs. Also visit Realtor.org for additional resources and examples of financial policies.These techniques aren’t limited to large organizations.
Even if yours is an association of just a few hundred members, it should have a clear and current set of financial policies, good reports, and a well-educated and responsible board which sees its job of financial oversight as one of conservation and protection of resources, a role that goes far beyond line-item scrutiny.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
I had a call from an AE the other day who described an all-to-familiar scenario. “I don’t know what to do about my association Board of Directors,” she said. “They spend all their time nit-picking the budget, arguing over expense cuts that might save us $250 a year, and pointing fingers at me and the staff because we are not in great financial shape right now. they make mountains out of molehills. What can I do to get them back on track?”
Many of you may be muttering, “That’s MY board of directors! I know these people!”
The pure fact of the matter is that these directors are everywhere right now. They are volunteers who are doing their best, trying to understand what’s going on in the industry, and hoping to save their professional associations in the only way they know how, the same methods they are using with their own personal checkbooks and their business management—they are dealing with the small issues, hoping that by chopping away at them one by one the cumulative effective of their actions will magically solve the problems.
Of course it ain’t gonna happen that way. A decision to move from 4-ply to 2-ply toilet paper in the association bathroom is not going to solve the massive problems of the real estate industry and the resulting effects those problems have on the association. The question then remains, how does the association leadership move from reactive micromanagement to proactive strategic decision-making?
The answer, I think, lies with the association executive. Too often I hear AEs say “My board would never let me….”, as if they are thus absolved of responsibility for and creative thinking or effective problem-solving. The reality is that over time, the association manager is in large part responsible for creating an atmosphere of exploration and strategy on the part of the leadership, for encouraging an environment of prioritizing and exploration and service to needs of the membership.
It’s not an easy job, building this environment, and it can’t be done all at once. You can’t just give a new format to the meeting agenda and change old patterns of prolonged discussions over un-productive issues. But there are some things association managers can do—changing the directors’ meeting agenda is one of them.
The Board of Directors will never start thinking strategically unless strategic thinking is a part of their meeting menu. That’s a fairly easy change to implement, and even if it doesn’t produce great results at first, a strategic agenda plants the seed: policy and strategy are the board’s job description.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Shorten the meetings. Our younger members have it right—any meeting over an hour in length becomes counter-productive. Use a consent agenda to minimize minutes, committee reports and routine business (you can get rid of it all in the first five minutes of the meeting). And use a timed-agenda—that says to everyone that some items are more important than others: there’s a priority suggested between a three-minute item and a ten-minute discussion.
2. Add some education to your meetings. Perhaps a telephone conference update from the state association on legislative issues or an important legal case, or your regional vice president on a new national association policy—the regular inclusion of these phone calls creates a sense of belonging to a world outside the drapes in the meeting room.
3. Have a regular agenda item for understanding membership concerns. It’s interesting how often when leadership shuts itself in the meeting room that it forgets that the primary responsibility is to the membership welfare. Consider setting aside a few minutes of every meeting agenda to concentrate on the members, either by letting them address the group in person, or presenting an email/Twitter compilation of member concerns, or by asking the directors to take responsibility for contacting one or two members between each meeting and reporting back to the group on member concerns. Again, the goal here is to create an ongoing awareness of responsibility to the members’ welfare.
4. Make an executive director’s report in each meeting, or distribute it in advance and just review the highlights. Keep the report short, but position yourself and your staff as the implementers of policy and programs, responding to the directors as the policy makers and strategists.
5. Always put your association’s mission statement at the top of every agenda. If one could get away with it, a group reading of the mission statement should start every meeting—at least keep it at the top of the agenda, in plain view of everybody.
I am planning on a series of blogs on developing a strategic-thinking board. I will cover other leadership issues—the board’s role in personnel issues, understanding the industry, and protecting the association’s resources. I’d be most interested in your ideas and solutions to building association leadership—please email me or call!
And I have more information about building agendas and planning effective meetings on my website.
Friday, August 7, 2009
More than one in three businesses have no policies concerning the use of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter in the workplace, according to a new survey from advertising firm Russell Herder and law firm Ethos Business Law.
For a complimentary copy of either of these articles, e-mail me!
"Social Media Policy for Realtor Associations"
"Social Media Policy for Real Estate Brokerages"
Facebook | GovLoop: All Aboard Social Media: Or, Why You Shouldn’t Stand In Front of a Moving Train With a STOP Sign
If you read the news, that controversy is very real, and raging every day. Organizations in both the private and the public sector are up in arms about social media. They can’t deal with the fact that they no longer control the message, but rather they are subject at all times to commentary, both positive and negative, by people ranging from the credible to the ridiculous, both inside the workplace and out.
What would Google do? "Get out of the way." Real tough for the control junkies and risk-averting association managers, isn't it?
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Forbes Magazine reports that Immobel Global Listing Exchange (Camden, SC) and the FNAIM (French association of real estate professionals) have signed an agreement to translate all French real estate listings into English and make them available for US Realtors to market on their own websites.
Wow! or "Woot!" , depending on your age group. We're talking 500,000 French listings here. We're talking country estates, Paris apartments, and a lot of real estate in between.....
And that's all very cool. But what's even more cool is a solution to what is bothering a lot of Realtors as MLS operations regionalize, or form data exchanges in an attempt to provide Realtors a way to move beyond the often-archaic boundary system of the traditional MLS.
Realtors often don't like offering a blanket commission offer to Realtors who are far away, or who may not be able to do their fair share of the cooperative work load. That's particularly true in large residential projects with complicated restrictions, or with recreational areas of the country where many property owners come from other locations.
But here's how that seems to be working with the FNAIM-Immobel deal: participants get widgets which can be embedded onto US Realtor websites. When a sale results from a prospect who clicks on the widget, the Realtor earns a referral fee from the sale of the French property.
And of course, the process works the other way as well: beginning September15, FNAIM members participating in this property data exchange will be able to display their choice of over 300,000 US listings and earn referral fees.
Sure, the agreement between the two countries is a wonderful thing. But the mechanism by which it is carried out is elegantly simple, a potential model for many of our US multiple listing systems.
The issue at hand is, what should a trade association be doing for its members as the industry it represents undergoes drastic reinvention. Should the association be spending a large proportion of resources trying to resist change? Or should it be providing new models of doing business, accompanied by services which support and encourage new identities for its membership?
Of COURSE its a rhetorical question. Listen up, Realtors!
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
La Piana suggests that a non-profit Board needs only three committees: Internal Affairs, External Affairs, and Governance. The Internal Affairs Committee has a job description that embraces finance, personnel, and facilities and capital acquisitions. The External Affairs Committee might have a job description which includes public relations, programs including social and educational events, fundraising, and legislative and advocacy issues.
To find out how this might work in your association, read my complete blog on "Off Stage" at http://www.realtown.com/Judith2/blog/three#