Shared Services Workshop Reports

By Pat Stahl

Sharing Success
Whether it’s saving thousands of dollars by sharing one data entry assistant, pooling staff to host a technology conference, going in on the purchase of new MLS software, or finally having a political voice by uniting behind one government lobbyist, associations that partner and share services, are able to grow and profit and accomplish things they’ve never been able to before.

Teaching associations new techniques that will allow them to share services is the goal behind a major national association program launched this year: Shared Services, a RealtorŪ Association Partnership Initiative. Hundreds of association leaders have attended seminars and workshops and have instituted new sharing programs that have transformed their associations. We’ve profiled some of these success stories in REALTORŪ Association Executive this year. At the Shared Services home page on, we’ve also reported on associations’ successes in sharing an array of services, from technology support and MLS services to professional standards administration and lockbox service.

In this article, four veteran real estate consultants retained by NAR as facilitators in the Shared Services program report on the training workshops being held around the country. They reveal workshop challenges, successes, unexpected findings.

Skepticism, motivation, challenges
Association executives and volunteer leaders generally have a positive attitude toward the idea of sharing services with other associations, and they appreciate the training that’s being offered to help them get started, facilitators say. But Adorna Carroll, president of Dynamic Directions in Rockfall, Conn., says members don’t want to be force-fed. “We facilitators make sure participants understand that the shared services initiative is voluntary,” she says. “If they think it’s a mandate from the mother ship, they resist it.”

Des-pite widespread acceptance of the shared services concept, facilitator John Tuccillo, president of JTA LLC, sees a gap between acceptance and implementation. “They find the ideas interesting, but they don’t always see the relevance,” he says of the staff and volunteer leaders who have attended his -workshops in Mississippi, Virginia, and the New England region. “My major challenge is to instill a sense of urgency about this program—to get them to incorporate it into their regular service offerings.”

Robert Golden, cae, executive vice president of the Vermont Association of RealtorsŪ, agrees that implementation is a challenge. “The workshops create momentum,” he says, “but it takes initiative to put the ideas into play when the participants return home.” To keep the momentum going, Jeremy Conaway, president of Recon Intelligence Services in Traverse City, Mich., encourages associations to design shared services into their business plans.

Conaway notes that motivation is often an issue for larger organizations with a lot of resources. “These groups see shared services as a welfare program rather than a strategic alliance,” he notes. Although it’s true that smaller organizations are generally looking to larger ones for help, Carroll is quick to point out that shared services can be a two-way street. “An association with 50 members might not have sufficient resources to handle its own legal and accounting needs,” she suggests, “but it might have strong communications capabilities that would enable it to swap services with a larger group.”

Treading on hostile territory
Since the facilitators have all observed the counterproductive “territorial imperative” at work among associations, they tackle this issue in their workshops. “We want to believe we’re a family of RealtorsŪ, but we’re more like warring tribes in a federation,” Conaway observes. “We may feel like a family emotionally, but we often don’t act like one operationally.” He explains in his workshops that associations can no longer rely upon “good old boys” with individual power because associations are larger today, the issues they’re tackling are more complex, and the _services members are demanding are more elaborate. Associations need to join forces to create and leverage their organizational and political power, says Conaway.

Carroll understands the urge to protect one’s turf. “On an organizational level, there’s a huge fear that establishing a systematic program of shared services is a step toward loss of autonomy and loss of identity,” she notes. “On an individual level, staff tell me that these programs could undermine their job security. If they admit that some of what they do isn’t done well, they’re afraid they’ll jeopardize their job and lose face among their peers.”

Conaway counters these fears by positioning shared services as an issue of strength, not weakness. “We’ve got to make shared services something winners do,” he says.

Carroll and Golden also find that having some advance knowledge of the groups is helpful in breaking down barriers to participation. They try to identify hot-button issues and are alert to any history of bad blood among the participants.

What makes a good session?
Vermont’s Golden measures the success of a Shared Services workshop by the amount of dialogue between the participants and by the progress groups make toward collaboration. Even if the collaboration itself doesn’t happen immediately, the newly-created channels of dialogue are a positive step. He tries to create an atmosphere of unity in his sessions. “I encourage participants to talk openly about their strengths and weaknesses. After awhile, they start to compliment one another on the things they do well.” In a similar vein, Tuccillo emphasizes that the hard work of honest self-assessment is pivotal to the process.

Golden also strives to sign up the right mix of people for his sessions. Volunteer leaders need to be there because they’re the decision makers, he explains, and staff people are important because the implementation typically falls on their shoulders. “The interplay between volunteer and staff leaders in the sessions is invaluable,” he notes. “Each has unique concerns, and they see issues through a slightly different lens.”

Universal Shared Services
The facilitators see a value in the workshops beyond promoting collaboration among real estate organizations. “Trade associations tend to be too internally focused,” Golden observes. “The workshops encourage staff and volunteers to look outside of themselves.” As Tuccillo says, “We’ve got the potential here to partner outside of the real estate community. Shared Services is a model for creating political alliances with builders and others involved in housing issues.”

Ultimately, the members themselves are the best selling point for a shared services model. In a recent member survey conducted by the Massachusetts Association of RealtorsŪ, fewer than half of the respondents were able to identify who delivers their member services. The findings, Golden says, suggest that members care more about receiving services than they do about who delivers them.

How to Share Services

Read these related articles featuring interviews with associations who share services online at

How to Share a Government Affairs Director. Read how four associations' successful shared GAD program increased member participation in legislative activities, raised RPAC contributions, and helped defeat state and local proposed legislation harmful to real estate.

How to Partner to Share Leadership Training. When Steve Francks, EVP of the Washington Association of RealtorsŪ, and Andrea Bushnell, EVP of the Oregon Association of RealtorsŪ, decided to create a leadership training program, it seemed only natural to pool their resources.

How to Partner to Share Lockbox Services. Today, an electronic lockbox service is one of the most basic association member benefits. Yet, what happens when a member in one association wants to access the lockbox on a property listed by the member of a neighboring association?

How to Partner to Share MLS Services. MLSs have a long history of cooperation. A combination of urban population growth and the rise of the Internet in the 1990s has prompted MLSs to work together to share everything from vendors to listings. MLS cooperation isn't a new phenomenon, although the Internet and cheap high-speed access has certainly made it easier for MLSs to work together. Here's how three

MLSs have made sharing part of their
success strategy.

How to Partner to Build Housing Opportunity.
Read how three associations have partnered with government agencies, other associations, and community groups to create housing
opportunities in their -communities.

How to Share Professional Standards Administration. Read about three different models of sharing the administrative costs and burden of enforcing pro-fessional standards. Whether it's a state sponsored program, sharing hearing board members, or sharing personnel, associations can save time, money, and work, by working together.

Pat Stahl is a Chicago-based freelance writer. She can be reached at

More Online: Shared Serves is a voluntary program that can be self-administered or facilitated with Shared Services experts. To schedule a Shared Services workshop at your association, contact: Laura Missitusits,

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