Jun. 28, 2010 - 100% Attendance, Part 2
Part 2 of my Online Meeting discussion is a brief analysis of some of the available tools which association staff can utilize to support volunteers doing committee work and attending information sessions. These supporting technologies are increasingly user-friendly and priced so that even the smallest organizations can increase efficiency and cut costs, as well as respect and enhance the time and efforts that members donate to their associations.
I've listed a few popular choices among meeting managers, and added a brief description of uses and costs for each.
Meeting Wizard: Meeting Wizard is a scheduling tool for meeting management. This program (free for basic use) will allow you to provide some alternative meeting dates, canvass the participants, and schedule a meeting when the participants are available. It will even send out reminder notices once you've scheduled a date. Easy to use—all anyone needs is email and an internet connection.
MyCommittee: MyCommittee is an online software package that is is not a meeting tool, but a meeting enhancement tool. Essentially the way it works is that you would sign up your board of directors, let's say, and you would be assigned a web page for that group. You could then set agendas (the service has templates to use) and add supporting materials. You then send these materials to committee members, along with meeting reminders. After the meeting, you can enter minutes (templates are included if you need them), mail out materials, and hold online follow-up discussions about the meeting. Pretty simple, this program might be a good starting place for getting members used to online services. The free level allows you one committee; multiple committee management is tiered, but five committees and 200 megabytes of storage is $19.00 a month.
TokBox: Tokbox is one of the simplest and most straightforward of the online meeting applications. Basically, all you need is a computer, a computer video camera ((under $20 almost anywhere if you don't have one built in to your laptop), and internet access. Tokbox is a free video chat service for up to 20 people though there are some enhanced service levels as well. You can see demos of Tokbox meeting applications on YouTube.
Yugma: In case you're wondering, 'yugma' (a pretty ugly-sounding word) is Sanskrit for 'confluence'. I couldn't envision anyone saying, “I'll yugma you this afternoon”, but I guess there's a reason for the word...At any rate, Yugma is a conferencing and desk-top sharing software, and it operates on both Windows and Mac operating systems. Yugma can be used for one-to-one communications (picture reviewing the financial report with the accountant) up to a twenty-person conference, in the free version. Of course, it's scalable—you can host a conference for up to 1000 participants, and the 'pro' version cost begins at $14.95 per month. Yugma claims to be secure and easy to use. It also comes in a Skype version, which would lower the cost of long distance calls. Watch the video to see how seamlessly Yugma and Skype work for online meetings!
GoToMeeting: GoToMeeting (along with its companion software packages GoToWebinar and GoToClass) are familiar to many of us. The software is very feature rich and user-friendly. Simply share the meeting link by email or instant message, or give participants a meeting ID to enter online. While joining, attendees choose whether to conference in via phone or using their computer's microphone and speakers. You can try GoToMeeting for free, but the cost for unlimited meetings is a flat fee of $49 per month. For associations which regularly hold online meetings, GoToMeeting is a reliable and cost-effective tool.
Fuze: Fuze markets itself as the leader in online meeting software—visit the comparison page to GoToMeeting and WebEx software to see how Fuze claims it stacks up against the competition. Certainly it's less expensive at $29 per month. It also has iPhone and Blackberry applications available. Me, I just like the breezy un-marketing approach of the company website.
Dimdim: Dimdim is another one of those unfortunate names, it seems to me. However, it is certainly an easy program to use, requiring only a web browser—no downloads! Dimdim offers the usual features: desktop sharing, instant messaging, whiteboards for collaboration, webcams, and (if you're using the Pro version) you can record meetings and revisit them later to check minutes or make the session available to those who were absent. (Professional Standards Hearings, anyone?) Comes in a free version or you can upgrade to a Pro version for $25 per month.
That's an introduction to tools for online committees and workgroups. There's lots more out there—if you're thinking of online courses, have a look at Moodle, an open source product which allows you to design your own online learning programs. And it goes without saying that there are many, many expensive and more sophisticated online meeting products out there: the ones I've named here are just starting points. The field is changing rapidly, as you might expect: one final resource is OnlineMeetingReviewSite.com—bookmark it in your browser.
The ease of use and low cost of these programs proves a point I made in the first blog in this series: an association has no excuse for failing to offer an online alternative for every group meeting it holds!
Monday, June 28, 2010
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Jun. 20, 2008 - Turn About
Turn about's fair play, as the saying goes.
I suspect some of my peers were a little uncomfortable about those high expectations the Board of Directors might have of them, but let's get real. Members of the Board of Directors often don't have a clue about what's expected of THEM, either legally or by the CEO who is employed at the Board's discretion.
Here are my thoughts on the matter of what CEOs expect from their Board of Directors:
Legal Compliance – The CEO is, after all, hired by the Board of Directors, and evaluated by them, and compensated by them as well. This means that the Board is an EMPLOYER (a term not all of them may understand). Usually the CEO grasps these responsibilities more accurately: she,after all, knows employment law and employer responsibilities. She knows how to evaluate employees, pay them fairly, and dismiss them in compliance with the law. My personal recommendation is that your association should annually provide a review of Director obligations under the law: be specific about the requirements of financial oversight, employee management, and other legal requirements. This education process needs to be consistent and unrelenting!
Additionally, Board members must be well of their responsibilities in matters of anti-trust, equal opportunity, and other legal and legislative requirements. Again, consistent and unrelenting education should be mandated for all members of the Board.
Support – Often the CEO is in the position of enforcing a Board of Directors program, let's say a dues increase. Directors need to support the Board's decision, rather than blaming the CEO messenger. It's also bad business—and unethical—to snipe at the CEO rather than bring performance dissatisfaction to this discussion table.
Hands Off Management - Micromanagement is the bane of the CEO's existence, particularly when that level of detail is engaged in by people who are not fully educated in the topic at hand. The Board and the CEO need to reach an agreement in this area by signing off on clear job descriptions and responsibilities of each. Board members also need to realize that they do not assign jobs to staff: the CEO is responsible for the allocation of all association resources, including staff time. I remember an exceptionally enthusiastic elected association treasurer who could consume 10 hours a week of the staff business manager's time. As a result, staff work was not getting done in a timely manner, and overtime expense grew and grew. The CEO and the Treasurer had to work out a compromise plan which would satisfy the Treasurer's need to know and the existing association resources.
Financial Support – The CEO expects financial support for personnel programs. That means that she expects to be compensated in a manner equal to her peers in the management field. Health insurance, retirement, and other benefits must be included in this calculation: again, the Board must remember that the standard is not the independent contractor arrangements with which they may be familiar. Surveys are available which define these levels in actual situations: NAR's Toolkit for Recruiting AE's
Participation – A good practice to follow is that clear and specific descriptions of what is expected in terms of a Board member's performance be developed, adopted by the Board, and put in the policy manual—with a copy given to every member of the Board at the beginning of each term. Include the attendance policy, appearance at association functions, behavior and protocol, preparedness for Board meetings, and requirements (such as a functioning, usable email address).
Personal Ethics – The Board members must display the highest standards of ethical behavior. Each Director should be required to sign confidentiality and conflict of interest statements, and these should be respected and enforced. In addition, Directors should avoid any indication of personal illegal or immoral conduct, and by no measure should the staff be expected to cover up such activities. Horror stories exist—you can imagine them, so I won't go into detail....
Confidentiality - The Board of Directors of a Realtor association is the 'court of last resort' in professional standards issues, and should understand that these matters cannot be discussed outside the board room. In addition, the CEO expects confidentiality in regard to her relationship with the Board, as well as in matters of business discussed in Board meetings.
And finally, the CEO expects the Board members to be the liaison with the community—both the membership community, the real estate community, and the public in general. It is Directors' familiarity of these areas which will govern the policies by which the Board operates and the direction it takes. An example of this is that of the CEO who, prior to beginning the budgeting process for the year, solicits information from the Directors about of the state of the real estate economy and its impact on business operations. Budgeting for dues income, for example, depends on knowing whether brokers will be hiring potential Board members, or cutting back; whether brokers are anticipating a good year of listings and sales, or a weak one. No budget can be realistic without this important information from the practitioners in the field.
In addition, it is the members of the Board of Directors who are elected to represent the membership community, and in order to do that they must be in contact with those members. Staff can do some of this work, but it is leadership which conveys information to and from the constituents. Each meeting of the Board might have time for this discussion on the agenda, or the association might set up an online discussion program for the Directors so that they can examine new information as the need arises.
As I mentioned in the previous post, people don't know things unless they are told. Directors run for the position for a variety of reasons—desire to serve, ego gratification, political agendas—but whatever the reason, they usually come into the Boardroom without a clear understanding of what's expected of them. Consider informing candidates for the Board of these expectations at the time a nominating petition is requested. Make sure that the Nominating Committee (if you have one) understands the requirements. And don't skip an orientation or a mentoring program for the new Directors as well as an annual review of expectations and requirements no later than the beginning of each new leadership year.
(writer's note: don't read anything into the fact that some of this text is underlined and blue. I just couldn't figure out how to turn it off.....j )
Also reprinted by request...
Jun. 15, 2008 - What the Directors Expect of the AE
In the introduction to this series, I talked about the need to establish regular, meaningful communication between the president-elect and the staff manager, or AE. I urged you do to this regularly—maybe a weekly coffee, or regular phone call. It's important to be there, to gain cultivate familiarity and confidence—not to mention trust.
One of the most significant interruptions in the circuitry between the leadership and the staff is the lack of understanding of the differing roles of the two. Perhaps the best way to mitigate this hazard is to approach it directly: develop a written list between the President and the AE about the expectations one has of the other.
Begin first with the larger statements. Those are really the most difficult to talk about, but once you have an agreement, then the smaller duties ascribed to each party will become more clear and any disjunct will be apparent. As an example, I have a friend who is the CEO of a mid-sized Michigan association. Her Board of Directors went to a leadership conference and decided that she needed a new title: “Board Executive Officer” just wasn't enough: it was much more prestigious to be called “CEO”. And so they bestowed the title (needless to say, with no new job description or salary increase). I was talking to her the other day, and she told me the phone lines into the association office were clogged with calls from morning to night—not unusual when an association has grown 40% in three years. “Get another line,” I counseled.
“Well”, she said, “I could take that the the Board for their approval....”
Egad! A CEO who can't order in a telephone line?
Let's begin by looking at what a Board of Directors might expect from a CEO. What specific attributes can be defined by the Board? Of course many of these characteristics will be defined by the inner workings of the Board itself, but certainly there are some 'best practices' that can be articulated.
Leadership! This is not the familiar (and often meaningless) question of whether or not an association is 'staff driven' or 'leadership driven'. A well-run Board of Directors has specific goals (can you say “strategic plan?”) and the CEO (or AE, or EO) should have the ability, influence with members and community, and charisma to guide the organization on its stated path.
Team Player. It's not enough for the CEO to be a member of the staff. She is, in fact, THE member of the staff—she's in attendance at the pig roast and the bowling tourney, she's the cheerleader for Realtors, she's a performer. Staff members are often, by definition, followers. The Board expects a well-run, supportive team, and that will only come from a participating, interactive CEO.
Staff Manager: In addition to wielding the broom on association office clean-up day, the Board expects the CEO to manage the staff. The Board of Directors does not want to handle personnel problems, staff development issues, or retention problems. The Board members want a well-running and competent staff team, and they expect the CEO to bring this about.
Business Manager: In addition to being a staff manager, the CEO should be competent in the day-to-day management responsibilities of the organizational operations. In a Realtor association, this means knowing about issues and trends, volunteer management, program management, membership records and financial direction. It means that the Board expects the CEO to solve the problems that arise as they do in ant business, and to find help from delegation of responsibility and available resources.
Communication skills are also a key expectation for the CEO. The CEO must be able to convey the goals and programs of the association, and keep key players informed—be those players leadership, members, or staff. The Board of Directors does not want to be caught by ignorance, and the CEO must assume the responsibility of informing them IN ADVANCE of their need to know.
Picture this scenario: a Realtor comes into the Board president's real estate office and says, “Hey, Jack! I was just over at the Board office in this rainstorm and guess what! There's buckets and garbage cans all over the place collecting water. There's buckets of it! Everywhere! I betcha you're gonna have to raise dues for a new roof, eh? Probably you should think about cutting out those expensive trips you guys take to places like Las Vegas first. And staff salaries, don'tchaknow?”
The impending disastrous dialog would never take place if the President could have replied, “Yeah, I know. The AE has called the roofer, and we're still under warranty. Not to worry.”
Community involvement. Most Realtor associations are concerned with their community image—that's no surprise. And so it is that the CEO represents the community just as much as the association headquarters building or the media ads in which many associations invest. The CEO must be visible and active in the community, holding leadership positions in visible community groups and being an industry spokesperson in appropriate discussions.
Personal Ethics. The Board expects the CEO to behave in a manner consistent with the highest propriety. Without this reputation, the association cannot gain strength in the community.
Impeccable Financial Management and Control. Probably this requirement should be at the top of the list! By law, the members of the Board of Directors are the stewards of the organization's assets,and it is through the CEO that these responsibilities are implemented. If you as CEO or elected leader have any questions in this area, I invite you to refer to my Financial Operations Checklist ( http://www.judithlindenau.com/financial_checklist.pdf) which is available for your use on my website.
Business Development: Certainly over the last ten years the watchwords of “non-dues income” and “run like a business” have been increasingly more frequent in Realtor hallway discussions. Some of that is due, of course, to the failing economy in some areas, and the loss of association income due to declining membership. Expense cutbacks are the word of the day for many Realtor associations, and accompanying that is the need for CEOs to look for new income sources. When I was the manager of a small association, I used to call us the “Bake Sale Board of Realtors”, because it seemed that ever project needed to develop a funding source. But above and beyond that, CEOs need to be alert to the income potential available to them, and take the initiative in bringing to the Directors some new income—perhaps a new membership category, an income producing website, or an online class. Directors (and members) are busy with their own business development, and they expect the CEO to produce results in this area.
The buck stops here. Well, that's the bottom line, isn't it? Board of Directors don't want excuses as to why something didn't happen, or was unsuccessful. They want to have it HAPPEN, no matter how difficult. In that respect, Realtor association Directors are no different than Directors of large corporations and cause-driven non-profits.
Once again, the important lesson here is to talk about these expectations in a no-holds-barred conversation between leadership and CEO. Often, Directors have not allocated resources (either staff or financial) to meet their needs. In that case the Board must evaluate the compromises necessary to meet their goals. In other instances, the association staff person has been hired without any expressed expectations and have no idea that her former experience as a secretary or librarian (or even real estate salesperson) does not provide adequate knowledge and experience to move the organization on the right path.
Reprinted by request.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Jun. 16, 2010 - 100% Attendance, Part 1
As a consultant and a coach, I'm finding that more and more of my work is being completed on a a conference call basis. When I first hired a personal coach, I was given the choice of holding sessions in person or via telephone. I'm not a telephone lover, so I chose to make a weekly trek to my coach's office, sink into a comfy chair, try and balance a notepad on my knee while juggling my coffee cup at the same time. When the session was over, I'd rush home and jot down all the helpful items I could remember, including as my thoughts and impressions of the lessons learned.
Then I coached my first client. She was a new Realtor association exec whose board of directors wanted her to get up to speed quickly on NAR policy and other unique challenges of our organization. It was a long way between Northern Michigan and the East Coast, and we settled on weekly phone sessions and reading assignments. I was able to review the organization bylaws and help develop an operations policy and a dues billing system. I have yet to meet this AE in person, by the way—but I like to think those coaching sessions helped her transition more easily into her current successful CEO position (and her recently acquired RCE designation!)
My point is, using the telephone changed my attitude about delivery of services. As I said, I'm now finding that much of my work is delivered via telephone, on-line conferencing, and webinars. Not only are these tools much less expensive for participants, but well chosen and carefully utilized distance delivery of meetings and educational events can often be more effective than the traditional face-to-face, butt-in-seat experience.
In the next installment of this blog, I am going to comment on some specific services that association managers can add to their toolbox of information delivery and communication tools, but first let's talk about general principles.
#1: Any association can use these tools. They are not cost prohibitive: in fact, many excellent services are free. Even if you're an association of 60 members plopped down in the middle of Prairie Flats, Middle America, you can use these tools.
#2: As an association staff member, you do need to consider that in order for the tools to be effective, the use needs to be comfortable for you and your members. These days, most conferencing tools are easy to use, but you may need to do some careful evaluation and a little training before you are fully operational.
#3. My suggestions is that associations never hold a meeting without a call-in alternative. If at the last minute someone can't get to an in-person meeting, it will be clear that participation is the priority—even if it is by call-in from a cell phone from the side of the road.
#4. Meetings where there is mixed attendence (some people are in person and some are not) are not always optimally successful: the meeting facilitator will have to make sure that both forms of participation are accomodated. The chairman may have to say, “We're looking at the financial report, page 7, now” for the benefit of those not physically present. Also, in any conference call it is good to insist that speakers identify themselves when they are speaking.
#5. Make sure the call-in instructions are clear in your meeting announcements and reminders. Here's an example from a recent conference call:
Note the contents of this notice:
A. The details—time, date, chairman, topic
B. How to log in. Note that two links are given, just in case one doesn't work.
C. The price (this call is toll free, but not all services may offer this). The call in number and a security code are standard components.
D. The protocol: use “mute” frequently to cut down on background noise. Often the conference call provider will have a code, such as *6, for mute. Remind your participants in your advance notice of this arrangement.
E. Tell participants how long the meeting is expected to last. Then, stick to it!
F. Residual information. Some conference call services allow you to record the call so it can be accessed later, and even edited and saved. If you are using slides or documents, it's always a good practice to host them somewhere (like slideshare.com) so participants can access them after the event. Many conference call services will allow you to do this, and even make the information password protected so you can maintain the security of the information. Again, I'll discuss some of these services in a later blog in this series.
This information is pretty basic, particularly if you have an association which has a high dependence on technology and a long history of using it. The take-aways here are that you always have an in-person alternative to any board or committee meeting, and that even the smallest association can afford distance meeting tools.
Also, learn to be alert for conferencing opportunities to enhance meetings: you can save your association some significant money if you ask your CPA to explain the annual audit via conference call, or the association attorney to conference in her legal opinion—or the association consultant to deliver an online update on strategic plan management.
Teleconferencing is not a tool of the future, it's an essential part of the association tool box, and is invaluable as a way to engage members and encourage participation.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Now this is way cool. I must admit, I haven't seen the series, but it addresses an issue which always bothered me as a Realtor association manager: on-the-spot training. We spent a lot of time in pre-training our members, not only in being good professional standards committee members, but also in knowing what to do when a member encountered a tricky ethics situation, or a balky seller who might unknowingly be insisting on something illegal or unethical.
But what happens when the planned-for event finally arrives? Will the trainee remember the coaching? Probably not!
This was often true in training potential committee members for professional standards work: it might be months before an actual hearing was held. Would panel members remember how to write a decision? Or would staff have to run an intervention training course?
This CD series is an innovative way to offer on-the-spot training when needed. Hats off to the Realtors and staff at North San Diego County for this cool approach to a difficult problem--and for sharing your expertise with the rest of us.