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Avoid Expectation Meltdown

January 1, 2009

You want me to do what? You never told me I was supposed to do that! How many times have you said or heard this? When I facilitate strategic planning sessions or leadership training at REALTOR® associations across the country, I hear it frequently. Often, elected leaders are just as unclear about what is expected of them as AEs are about what their elected leaders expect them to be doing.

So much of the strife and discontent that I encounter can be avoided with clearly established and communicated expectations.

For instance, when I recently inquired about the chief staff executive’s sudden resignation at an association with which I’d been working, a member of the board of directors said, “She didn’t do what we wanted her to do.” Digging deeper, it turned out that she was doing what she was initially hired to do, and the expectations had changed over time and were not communicated to her. It’s no wonder those expectations weren’t met!

It is impossible for anyone to meet expectations if they don’t know what they are. And when a person has no input into the goals that were set, meeting them can be difficult.

Not meeting expectations in REALTOR® associations often falls into three areas:
1. volunteer leadership and the chief staff executive,
2. volunteer leadership and the membership-at-large, and
3. chief staff executive and other association staff.

Here are four tips to help you avoid the expectation meltdown:

1. Put job descriptions in writing and review often.

One AE told me recently that her board of directors was heavily involved in every staff decision she made. She became quite frustrated when they started questioning whether she shouldn’t be laying off staff to save money, even though the association was well within its budget at the time and staff was working at 110 percent. She knew this was her job, not theirs.

Both volunteer leaders and chief staff executives should participate in the creation and regular review of job descriptions. Plan a one-on-one meeting with your incoming president to review necessary association leadership duties.

For sample president and executive officer job descriptions, access NAR’s Presidential Leadership Guide on REALTOR.org.

2. Survey the entire membership on a regular basis to determine their wants, needs, and expectations.

During its planning session, one association discovered that membership involvement in association activities was at an all-time low. The planning group didn’t know what strategies could help turn it around. Ultimately, they decided to conduct a member survey to better understand members’ expectations of the association.
Regular member surveys covering not only what members need but what they believe the association is doing for them provide essential planning data.

3. Conduct annual performance reviews with your staff and jointly establish measurable goals.

Recently I met with an association EVP who had serious staff management issues. Two of his long-time senior staff, dissatisfied with the EVP’s lack of direction, quit; neither had had a performance review in three years.
Performance reviews not only evaluate how well people are doing their jobs, but also set expectations for how a job should be done.

A performance review for the CEO is also an essential element in communicating expectations. The process for conducting a performance review of the chief staff executive—how often it’s done, who has input, what format should be used, and who conducts the actual review—should be included in the association’s policies.

For more on performance reviews, including templates and samples, visit NAR’s Human Resources Tool Kit and the REALTOR® Association Resource Exchange, both online at REALTOR.org.

4. Develop or revise a strategic plan on a regular basis.

Make members aware of the goals of the organization through a strategic plan that includes measurable objectives. Publish your strategic plan or an annual report on your Web site to keep members informed.
As you can see, the key is communication. If you can let people know what they ought to be doing and how well they are doing it, you can avoid the expectation meltdown.

Each of these tips will help to establish clear expectations and go a long way toward preventing the dysfunction that can arise in their absence. Perhaps more important, setting clear expectations can challenge us to exceed them, moving us farther and higher than we ever thought possible.

President and EO Task Checklist

NAR has posted online a checklist of more than 100 association tasks, from hiring and firing employees to recommending members for committee appointments. By working together on the task list, defining who will do what, association presidents and EOs can gain a new perspective on their relationship. In small associations, it is likely that most of the responsibilities and functions will fall on the shoulders of its elected leadership, since the AE may be the only staff or chiefly an office administrator. In larger associations, more of the responsibilities for publications, government relations, and media representation will be delegated to the AE and his or her staff. There are no “right” or “wrong” ways to define responsibilities, and task assignments may even change annually with each president’s style, goals, and abilities. The important thing is for the president and AE to reach an agreement on who does what, thus encouraging a level of consistency in the relationship. Access the seven-page PDF at http://www.REALTOR.org/association_executives/ae_subcommittees/tasklistpg.