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2010-08-26 20:28:17

Strategic Planning for Realtor Associations

In the 60s we talked about “Managing by Objectives - Peter Drucker style”. Then came “Long Range Planning” which was followed by “Strategic Planning” and more recently “Scenario Planning” and “Visioning”.
All of these management tools have merit, but in today’s world of rapid change there is no substitute for sound planning tied to a clear vision of the future. Strategic Planning used to be based on looking out five years and developing a plan to take the organization to where you believed it should be in three to five years. The plan was designed to be flexible and revised every two to three years. Today the forces of “CHANGE” are so powerful that we develop strategic plans looking out three years, but focusing on what must be accomplished in the next twelve months. Strategic Plans must be updated yearly and be flexible so that they take into account emerging “Hot” issues and dramatic changes in the housing market.
Many people have asked me about the process of getting involved in strategic planning. They have heard about the need, but really don’t know where to start. Let’s try and lay a foundation for what needs to be accomplished both prior to and following a strategic planning retreat. We are looking at a process that is rather like that used by a developer who is opening up a new subdivision in an area of raw land with no infrastructure. A developer has a vision of what the new development will look like and possibly an architectural rendering. Ariel photographs are needed, plat maps, topographical maps, surveys, countless meetings with planning and zoning commissions, city and county councils, environmental studies and maybe a plat will be approved and permits issued. Then comes all the planning associated with the development itself. Clearing and grading, protection of trees, retention ponds or dams, roads, drainage, water, sewer, electric, gas lines, cable, phone and high speed access lines. All the planning and processes need to be in place before any contracts are bid and any work started. Proper planning is absolutely critical to the successful development of the project.
Some years ago I wrote an article, “Dinosaurs and Dodos – Will Your Board Survive”. The issues dealt with the forces of change and how we need to properly respond. In so many organizations there is a philosophy of doing the same old thing, which includes a culture of “Resistance to Change” also known as the RC factor. This article suggested that one of the better ways to truly serve the members of any organization would be to start from scratch and wipe the slate clean. Imagine that there was no organization or association in place to serve your members. Now imagine what it would take to create an organization or association that would best serve those in the profession who needed specific services to enable them to compete successfully and prosper in a rapidly evolving society that was being driven by the forces of “consumerism” and “technology”. You would be looking at market boundaries, the type of organization that would be needed, facilities, staffing, governance, volunteer leadership, internal infrastructure including technology and communications capabilities, plus much, much more.
If we are truly cognizant of the forces of “change” we can avoid the process of starting over as long as we are resilient and adapt both our services and our governance to best serving our members or constituents in an environment that requires new practices and new methodology every day.
If you are seriously interested in staying ahead of the game I ask that you consider following these steps, usually begun four to eight months before the actual strategic planning retreat:
  1. Survey your members to find out how they rate your existing services and what services they feel need to be expanded or dropped. Use of an outside consultant is desirable or use a “” or ‘” survey with questions taken from surveys that are available from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (NAR) Research Division or other associations. For large associations send a survey to 25% of your members. For associations under 1,000 members, survey every member. For e-surveys, survey your entire e-membership list. (2 – 6 months out)
  2. Conduct Focus Groups of target member groups to find out what the members think about your services and the direction of the association. At least three Focus Groups targeting different categories of members, including one category focusing on new members and their expectations. Contrary to general principles, I recommend that the leadership of the association and the CEO/AE be present to answer questions and that an outside facilitator actually conduct the Focus Groups. Focus Groups are best conducted as breakfast or lunch meetings lasting no more than one and a half to two hours. The ideal number of participants (excluding leadership) is between ten and fifteen members. For the REALTOR® organization I suggest the following Focus Groups: Brokers/Managers, Top Producers and New Agents. (2 – 6 months out)
  3. Develop a Timeline for the entire process (4 – 8 months out)
  4. Go to the NAR Website and print out the document “Best Practices for Associations”   (60 – 90 days out)
  5. In conjunction with your elected leadership, sit down together at the computer and complete the association models online survey that is found on the NAR Website at (60 – 90 days out)
  6. Determine Date and Place of Strategic Planning Retreat. Look for a location that will allow for participants to be undisturbed. A country club or conference center with one room for all participants to meet and space for at least two to four break-out groups.
  7. Hire a qualified facilitator who really understands the real estate industry to guide you through the entire process.  A good facilitator is worth his/her weight in gold and can save you literally thousands of dollars in wasted time, resources and misspent effort.
  8. Allow one and a half days for the Planning Retreat. Begin around 2:00pm on the first day and end early afternoon of the second day.
  9. Meet with your president-elect at least six months prior to the strategic planning retreat to determine who the participants will be. Please consider that to have effective “buy-in” to the Plan all those involved in determining the strategies or action plans to implement the Plan, must be part of the planning process. This includes the president-elect, all incoming leadership/directors and committee chairs, the movers and shakers of the organization and key staff.  Ask the president-elect to personally call every invited participant and obtain their commitment to both the time and the process needed.
  10. Develop a budget for the Strategic Planning Retreat. If you have never done this before you will have to rely on your best efforts to guide you and will need to involve your president, president-elect and treasurer in the process. Determine the cost of the meeting facilities and all meals/breaks, the cost of your facilitator and the cost of any materials you are printing for the participants plus flip charts, markers, screen rental, etc.  
  11. Send out a written invitation to all participants referencing their verbal commitment to the president-elect. (60 days out)
  12. Send reminders to all participants enclosing an agenda for the conference and copies of documents they will need to review ahead of time, including, but not limited to: (30 days out)
    1. Agenda for the Planning Retreat
    2. List of Breakout Groups and participants
    3. The Association Models Document you prepared from the online planning tool
    4. Summary of your Survey
    5. Summary of any Focus Group comments/suggestions
    6. Copy of the Association Budget
  13. Develop the agenda for the Planning Retreat taking into account the following:
    1. First Day. Begin around 2:00pm with an agenda that should include:
                                                               i.      Welcome by president-elect and purpose of retreat
                                                             ii.      Self Introductions and introductions of any speaker/facilitator
                                                            iii.      Overview of Issues and Trends
                                                           iv.      Strengths and Weaknesses of current organization
                                                             v.      Opportunities and Threats based on information available
                                                           vi.      Appropriate breaks
                                                          vii.      Mixer reception at around 5:30pm or 6:00pm (30 minutes to 1 hour)
                                                        viii.      President-elect, AE, facilitator and group leaders have dinner together to go over responsibilities for the next day.
    1. Second Day. Begin with continental Breakfast at 8:00am – conference starts at 8:30am:
                                                               i.      Overview of major issues discussed previous day
                                                             ii.      Purpose of Breakout Groups – Develop major Goals and Strategies
                                                            iii.      Breakout Groups ( 2 – 4 broken down by program/service areas) Meet for 1.5 to 2 hours.
                                                           iv.      Report back from leaders of Breakout Groups
                                                             v.      Refine the Goals and Strategies which form the basis of the Strategic Plan and which must include for each strategy:
1.       What Action or Result is needed
2.       By When
3.       By Whom
4.       Budget and Staff resources needed
5.       Accountability and Measurable
                                                           vi.      Determine Vision and or Mission Statement
                                                          vii.      What Next by facilitator and president-elect, including development of action plans or tactics for implementing each strategy. Must focus on results that are measurable and accountability.
                                                        viii.      Adjournment no later than 3:00pm
  1. Materials Needed for Retreat and format:
    1. 2 – 4 Flip Charts with Thick colored markers (Use 3M self stick flip charts)
    2. LCD projector
    3. Screen and table for LCD projector with power cords
    4. Notepads and pens for all participants
    5. A small gift if your budget can cover this
    6. All participants to be seated at tables using hollow square or U format.
  2. The Strategic Plan. Staff will use the materials from the Planning Retreat to develop a Strategic Plan (within 5 days). The Strategic Plan is to be approved by the Board of Directors and published to all members via Website or other means.
  3. Implementation of the Strategic Plan is critical. Leadership and staff are responsible for monitoring the implementation process and progress should be included as an agenda item for each Board of Directors meeting. Committees, Task Forces and Working Groups are responsible for developing tactics or action plans to implement each strategy. The facilitator will explain this process during the retreat.
  4. Changes to the Budget should always follow. Best practices will provide for the strategic planning process to precede the development of the budget so that the strategic plan sets the priorities for the budget process, not the other way around.
  5. Accountability is essential. The Board of Directors or Executive Committee should review progress on implementing the strategic plan at least quarterly.

Jim Peters, RCE, CAE, e-PRO

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