As much as I appreciate how Rob Hahn’s mind works, his interpretation of Bob Goldberg’s statement in his CEO report at the NAR Board of Directors meeting in November is completely inside out.
- Before NAR can become an organization of members, it must start to become an organization for its members.
Goldberg said, “First and foremost, it’s imperative that we are not just the National Association of Realtors, we are also the National Association for Realtors. Every action we take is geared to making sure our members come first.”
This is Hahn’s interpretation, “For Realtors represents a complete departure from the origins of the Realtors Movement and strips organized real estate of nobility and high purpose.”
He went on to add that a for organization philosophy shift would reduce NAR to the equivalent of a union, “which is concerned only with the wages and working conditions of its dues-paying members.”
It’s not just semantics
While my exception with his interpretation may be rooted in a battle of semantics between of and for, where I believe for is the equivalent of focus, not profit.
However, there are also several philosophical and practicum based differences regarding how Realtor associations can best further the public interest and protect the consumer, which he identified as the Realtor organization’s top priority.
Semantically, I believe that a shift toward a for rather than of mentality wouldn’t be an organizational doctrine, as much as it is an organizational orientation toward utilization of the association’s greatest assets, its members.
A reorientation that may be beyond NAR’s ability at the national level, but certainly one I support for local associations.
Having spent nearly a decade as an association executive, and several years as an association consultant nationally, it’s become abundantly clear that associations who first seek to establish value for their members are the ones also having the greatest impact in the industry.
Because they understand that to be an effective organization, your priorities must be to serve and leverage members, even those who feel compelled to join, to maximize the association’s reach and impact.
Typically, where I have seen associations that operate with an of mindset, you’ll find a group of individuals less intent on engaging and serving their members than maintaining their own pseudo position of power and the association.
These organizations by their very nature are completely incapable of serving with nobility or higher purpose.
That said, even the highest-performing associations are incapable of fulfilling public interest and consumer protection as their primary focus because it would likely require acting as a governmental agency with comprehensive regulatory powers.
A slap in the face?
Hahn argues from his point of view that for Realtors is a slap in the face of the Code of Ethics as this type of organizational approach would simply mean to focus in on the profit motive of members.
Member centric isn’t the equivalent of profitability, its more about the long-term success of members, which is ultimately part and parcel with upholding the core aspects of the Realtor Code of Ethics. Sure, there are members who skirt or ignore them all together yet find success. However, I’ve seen that success be short lived in many, if not most, cases.
In fact, most community- and industry-minded associations around the country already have strategic plans that start with a statement about members’ excellence, success or growth.
The important thing to note is they don’t say benefit or profit because that’s primarily dependent on the members’ ability to represent their clients’ interests.
An association that understands this and focuses on providing high-level services that empower the majority of its members to serve their clients’ needs is one that’s focused on improving the industry.
Who is your member?
Which leads to this observation from Hahn, “Who is your member? … Most Association Executives and Association leadership do not even understand the question,” and this is where Hahn’s thinking and mine converge.
He goes on to add this, “70 percent of the ‘membership’ has been forced to join, according to an Inman Special Report. Those people aren’t ‘members’ in any significant sense of the word; they’re hostages.”
He’s completely right; there are a significant number of members who are being held hostage by underperforming associations.
These associations fail to recognize that because of NAR’s membership dues formula compelling members to join, they must work even harder to be a representative organization.
Sadly, many associations see this as a justification of their own value, especially those who rely on the MLS’s value, instead of an additional burden to prove their value for members on a daily basis.
I hope to write more about this “because I said so” association mentality in the future.
But again, this demonstrates why associations should focus on being member centric organizations that places significance on how members’ long-term success depends upon ethical practices and public betterment.
Hahn concludes with the following question: “Which will you be, NAR? An outwardly focused, public interest organization, made up of men and women who have internalized the Code of Ethics as part of their own personal code of honor whose first concern was, is and remains the public good? Or an inwardly focused, special interest organization, which works for people who wonder what they’re getting for their dues dollars?”
Ultimately, I would answer Hahn this way. Before NAR can become an organization of members, it must start to become an organization for its members. There is no collective without first earning the individuals.
Or in other words, NAR and Realtor associations, must establish an organizational culture that ensures associations around the country spend less time seeing themselves as an organization of some members and more as an organization for all members.