Lessons From the Pandemic

What have AEs learned that will change how they run their associations?

“These are unprecedented times” is probably one of the most common phrases you have heard over the past several months. Association executives have had to ask themselves how they can manage, lead, parent, work, and generally exist during this pandemic.

Even though we have never experienced this kind of event previously, AEs were made for this challenge. We have learned so many lessons to help us prepare for the future. “One test of leadership is how one prepares for possible crisis—and handles it when it comes—without losing perspective,” says Chuck Kasky, RCE, CEO of Maryland REALTORS®.

Professionals across the industry have been able to ebb and flow with the waves of crisis washing over us. Some of us discovered that our boards are behind us. “My board of directors gave me the authority and trust to get my job done from the start of the pandemic,” says Kim Clark, AE and government affairs director of the Silver City Regional Association of REALTORS® in New Mexico. “I have been an AE for 23 years, so I have always felt that I had the trust of my membership and leadership.”

Not every experience has been so positive, though. One colleague who wishes to remain anonymous says his association recently formed a committee to discuss best practices concerning COVID-19 because of inaction by the association’s board. “The state did not issue a stay- at-home order, and so members did not take [COVID-19] seriously,” he said in May. “Though as states are opening back up, our members seem to be taking it more seriously. Going forward, I would love to see more uniformity and guidance to AEs and leadership.”

Work From What’s Known

One of the things you likely already know is that you can’t please everyone. “With the support of our executive committee and other board members, we had to reeducate a couple of directors about their roles,” says Jim Haisler, RCE and CEO of the Heartland REALTOR® Organization in suburban Chicago. “It reaffirmed for me that AEs have to have thick skins and must stand committed to their dedication to the members of their organization.”

Another “known” is that communication is key—and it is certainly paramount during times of crisis. Members want someone they can turn to, as well as a centralized message and resources they can use for their businesses. Going beyond Zoom while under stay-at-home orders, many associations amped up communications with video, enhanced newsletters, and Facebook groups.

“Early on, we determined the need for a central go-to place for communications and information,” says Dale Zahn, RCE, CEO of the West Michigan Lakeshore Association of REALTORS®. “In a blast email, we directed members [to our Facebook group] and immediately saw membership explode.”

Make Changes That Stick

Even AEs who had never used these tools to their fullest pre-pandemic were forced to be more proficient. That’s how change takes hold: A crisis sheds light on areas that may be lacking within your organization, and you make the moves necessary to shore them up. Once we move past this moment, what will stick?

Tools. All of us have discovered whether or not we had the tools needed to cope with a crisis. My association and MLS dealt with internet, computer, and phone issues. Our internet service provider got bogged down. To work through that, we had our association management software provider move our files to a cloud-based system. It was something that needed to be done, and the coronavirus nudged
us forward.

Policy. The pandemic has highlighted gaps in policy for many organizations. Some colleagues revisited who speaks on behalf of the association. Many focused on ways to support staff in times of need and offer flexibility in how work is done. “We have a small endowment available for charitable contributions but no formal way to award the funds,” Kasky says. “There are so many needs. REALTOR® associations should have a process in place to make these decisions about how best to serve the community at large.”

Growth. During the shutdown, thou- sands of REALTORS® nationwide worked on classes and designations with a focus on bettering themselves and their businesses. Staff, too, broadened their horizons through the National Association of REALTORS®’ Right Tools, Right Now program; my staff accelerated their learning through Association Management Self-Study, e-PRO, RCE, and C2EX. The extra time gained from event cancellations has helped this along.

Connections. One of the most important things we rediscovered due to the crisis is the importance of connections. Whether remote or in-person, human interaction is crucial. Creating connections helps you stay focused on what’s best for your organization. Members want us to lead through this tragedy, showing strength and devotion to the task at hand. Reaching out and showing genuine care also shows members that we are human and doing the best we can, just like they are.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to crisis management. Colleagues have had to lead through natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and financial collapses; we can now add managing AORs through a pandemic to our list of qualifications. The way our industry has come together to help REALTORS® and association staff work through this has been remarkable.

The coronavirus seems certain to remain a concern as fall approaches. Take the time you have now to prepare for further uncertainty. Lead with positivity, passion, competency, and empathy. And know that we are here for you.

Right Tools, Right Now

In light of the challenges presented by COVID-19 on the real estate industry, NAR is stepping up to support members through these uncertain times.

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