Are you the “right” kind of board member for your MLS? Is your heart in the right place?

by THE WAV GROUP on November 11, 2010

On a recent business trip, I read a book called The No Asshole Rule:  Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving On that Isn’t by Robert Sutton, PHD and Stanford Professor. It is a delightful quick read that demonstrates that “a__holes” destroy companies and the people they mistreat.  Seems obvious enough, but often the “a__holes” are also power mongers who frequently succeed in life (Steve Jobs, for example, is rumored to be one of these!)

After finishing the book, I opened the window and took a few pictures of the Grand Canyon, then considered the plight of the MLS CEO. As an MLS consultant, I care deeply about the success of the MLS industry.  I know there are a lot of smart and hard-working people dedicated to evolving the industry and constantly seeking to make their service more relevant and satisfying to their customers.

When we conduct strategic planning sessions we have the privilege of looking inside of organizations. We have noticed something disheartening in the past couple of years. In many MLSs we work with we see an “a__hole” as the book defines, that is trying to destroy the MLS for personal gain.

One of the largest advantages AND challenges MLSs face is the make-up of their governing boards.   In many of the regional MLSs around the country, boards are made up of agent and broker representatives placed there on behalf of their local real estate Associations.  Many board members bring a depth of knowledge of the local marketplace that can be a strong asset to a MLS organization.  However, in many places around the country, competition among Associations is finding its way into the MLS boardroom.  We have seen valuable programs designed to benefit subscribers get stonewalled because the shareholder associations do not want every association to have access to the program.  I have seen outright hostility in strategic planning meetings where Association representatives will not even speak to their fellow board member from an “opposing” Association.

The National Association of REALTORS supports a concept called Board of Choice. Simply stated, REALTORS may be members of any Board of REALTORS they choose. This is a great program for REALTORS as competition among boards for members leads to value. If a local board charges high dues and provides poor services, members have the opportunity to migrate to neighboring boards that provide greater value and support to them.  While this is a sound philosophy the practical application of putting association “competitors” in a room can be less than productive for the MLS.

While competition is a good thing in a capitalist society, I believe that you draw that line when you walk into the boardroom of an MLS. The MLS is not the battleground for Associations to gain a competitive edge over one another. It is a place where directors are charged with the obligation to act and behave in a way that supports the success of the MLS for the mutual benefit of all its shareholders, participants, and subscribers. Moreover, it serves the home buying and selling consumer by supporting agents with the best possible source of information to protect consumer interest in every transaction.

Sometimes the naysayers are large brokers dead set against “leveling the playing field”.  They are so blindly competitive and are so threatened at the moment that they sometimes cannot see the value of industry-wide collaborative efforts led by the MLS.  Competition in every industry, especially in an industry under siege, can lead to animosity and distrust between competitors. I have watched perfectly good industry friends become archenemies as a result of joining competitive companies. It seems only natural to hate your competition. But where do you draw the line without becoming an “a__hole”?

If MLS directors place the goals of the Association or their brokerage above the goals of the MLS, Brokers, and Agents – the MLS will be compromised. The MLS is a company that manages technology offerings and services the customers that use them. It needs to demonstrate a single-minded focus to accomplish these tasks as well as they can without being encumbered by indecision driven by conflicting priorities.

Let’s face it – the real estate industry is a tough business. There are tons of people outside of the industry trying to take our online traffic, expertise and value away from us.  By infighting we just make it easier for them to “divide and conquer”.  Doesn’t it make more sense for us to lay down our arms and try to figure out better ways to collaborate and create win-win situations?

I would suggest that every MLS board member in the country think about the importance of the role they are playing and be honest with themselves. Can you honestly separate your competitive spirit from your Association or brokerage from your role as a MLS board member?   Can you put aside rivalries and focus on your task at hand – to create a profitable, viable MLS that continues to evolve so that it can stay relevant to ALL of its customers, not just YOUR company or YOUR association?  Can you remember that the MLS is a technology service provider, designed to help its customers sell more real estate and should not be concerned with local politics?

If not, then you may want to consider moving on.  I sure hope that is not the case, but if so, your MLS will appreciate your honesty and candor and will likely support your decision to withdraw from the board. If you believe you can put aside your competitive differences, then I applaud your effort to recognize the value and insight you can provide to your MLS organization.

If you would like to learn more about your role as an effective board member, you can read “Boards that Deliver” by Ram Charan or Boards that Make a Difference by John Carver.

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