The 2018 NAR Leadership Team photographed in Washington, D.C.
Editor’s Note: This is the cover story in the July issue of RISMedia’s Real Estate magazine.
The search for the next CEO to head the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) was an intense process. When it came down to the final few candidates, Bob Goldberg knew he had his work cut out for him, having served with NAR for 22 years. Goldberg also knew he was the change agent needed, and was brimming with cutting-edge ideas to quickly steer NAR and the industry into the future.
To prove that he was exactly the right person for this mission, in his final presentation to the search committee, which included NAR 2018 President Elizabeth Mendenhall, Goldberg presented a long list of changes he would enact should he become CEO—changes that presented huge logistical hurdles and even larger cultural ones.
“I looked at it like this,” says Goldberg. “As the industry changes, I think the members’ association has to move faster than those changes. We have to be proactive instead of reactive. If you get mired in doing things the way you’ve done them in the past, even if it has been successful, then you’re destined to be behind the curve of change.”
Goldberg outshone the competition, landed the CEO job and took the helm on August 1, 2017. With little time to celebrate, the list of changes he had proposed was handed back to him with a question: “How soon can we get these done?”
It was, perhaps, in that moment that the new NAR was born—not in a series of changes outlined by Goldberg, but in a meeting of the minds around a unified goal: to make NAR a more nimble, member-centric, and future-focused organization.
As Mendenhall describes it, “Bob has brought a culture of ‘yes’ to the association. He says, ‘Let’s see if we can do it before we say no.’ That attitude gets you endless possibilities because any idea can be explored.”
According to Goldberg, he’s simply giving the membership what they deserve. “Our members have an expectation of their national association, and their state and local associations,” he explains. “In order to better serve them, we need to be progressive, and we need to make sure the member is first in every decision we make.”
Uniting for Members
While his appointment to CEO made headlines, the real story at NAR lies in the unique strength of the partnership between Goldberg and the leadership team, headed by Mendenhall and including 2018 President-Elect John Smaby; 2018 First Vice President Vince Malta; 2018 Treasurer Tom Riley; 2018 Vice President of Association Affairs Colleen Badagliacco; 2018 Vice President of Government Affairs Kenny Parcell; and Immediate Past President Bill Brown. From the outset, Goldberg has been in lock-step with this team to put several significant changes in place in the 11 months since he officially became CEO.
Why has this team been able to accomplish so much so quickly? For starters, excellent and open communication.
“The most critical part of making this work is the amount of communication we have with each other as a leadership team,” says Goldberg. “We constantly talk about issues. We don’t wait to have monthly meetings—we communicate in real-time. The other thing that makes us different is that we’re laser-focused on being out with our members and listening. We listen before we talk.”
Chemistry plays a big role, too. “We have a variety of skill sets among us,” says Mendenhall. “That gives us such a broader depth of knowledge. We trust each other and can rely on different people for different tasks.”
Plus, says Goldberg, “Our leadership team really like each other, and we respect each other’s opinions. That goes a long way when you’re collectively trying to do the right thing for members. It goes a long way toward moving things forward fast and efficiently.”
Of course, with rapid change comes discomfort and missteps, especially when those changes impact 1.3 million people. Goldberg, Mendenhall and the leadership team have confronted criticism with resilience, however, sticking to their guns when they know decisions are in the best interest of members, and stepping aside when revisions need to be made.
Mendenhall eloquently and passionately addressed the difficulties—and the necessity—of change during her opening remarks at the NAR 360 presentation during May’s Legislative Meetings in Washington, D.C.: “Change involves fear,” she told the standing-room-only crowd of 2,500. “But we’re not divided by hateful comments; we’re united. We can’t be afraid of criticism and comments and missteps. We have to own the responsibility of what this association is and what we’re doing.”
According to Mendenhall, much of the criticism aimed at NAR of late boils down to misinformation. “A lot of the pushback is caused by a delay in information and a lack of knowledge,” she explains. “The more open we are and the more we talk about where we’re headed, the greater insight it gives people. As we continue to do that more and more, members will be pleased, because the changes we’re making are the things they’ve told us they want and need.”
This commitment to increased, more transparent communication among the NAR leadership team and staff and with members is central to NAR’s overarching goal to knock down the “ivory tower” and become a truly member-centric organization.
To that end, Goldberg has worked tirelessly to open the channels of communication to brokers, agents and industry partners, personally engaging with more than 10,000 members and industry stakeholders on social media and meeting in person with more than 100 boards and association executives, as well as directly responding to emails.
While the path of open communication and transparency hasn’t been the easiest one to travel, it’s exactly what Goldberg wants.
“I wouldn’t trade this open and transparent approach for anything,” he says. “What comes with it is an opportunity to educate members and, therefore, they will have an opinion and get engaged. It may not be what we want to hear, but if members are listening and participating, and we have an opportunity to hear what they’re saying, that’s a good thing. That’s the price you pay for transparency, and I say, bring it on.”
Changing From Within
In order to truly effect change for the membership masses, Goldberg knew it meant looking within, as well.
“When I became CEO, I talked about my vision for turning the association ‘inside out’—for creating a radically member-centric organization. We must become not only the National Association of REALTORS®, but also, more importantly, the National Association for REALTORS®. ”
To do so meant a full organizational realignment at NAR, which led to changes like 227 employees reporting to new leadership and an abolishment of the “silo mentality.” Job titles were reexamined and terms like “departments” and “divisions” were replaced with “teams” and “groups.” The goal was to invert the pyramid, and the process is ongoing.
“The main goal of the realignment never ends,” Goldberg explains. “We will always look to perfect our structure to make sure it’s member-first and member-focused. That’s why we did what we did—to eliminate the hand-off mentality and a delay in responsiveness, and to make us more nimble. We’re working hard with leadership to flip the pyramid upside down so that the members are at the top and NAR is at the bottom.”
Belly-to-Belly With REALTORS®
Part of the organizational realignment at NAR meant getting NAR staff on board with its new member-centric mission. To make that happen in a fast and tangible way, Goldberg instituted an ambitious program to put NAR staff side by side in the field with REALTORS®. The Day in the Life Program mandates that every NAR employee—that’s 350 people combined from the Chicago and Washington, D.C., offices—annually shadow a REALTOR® in the field, participate in a sales or staff meeting at a brokerage office, or visit a state or local REALTOR® association.
Designed to give everyone at NAR a firsthand understanding of the challenges faced by the members they’re serving, the program has been completed by 100 NAR staff (including Goldberg), with the entire staff on track for completion by August 31.
In another effort to get the NAR team into the trenches, Goldberg launched the Executive Outreach Program in January 2018. Through the program, NAR senior management teams were formed to serve as direct points of contact and sources of information for the staff and volunteer leadership of the local, state, MLS, and brokerage entities within each of NAR’s 13 regions. The goal of the program is to utilize NAR senior management as direct points of contact and conduits of information for members, and, in turn, provide NAR’s top tier with a greater understanding of the key issues facing REALTORS®.
These programs are just two examples that define the larger cultural shift taking place at NAR. As Goldberg explains, “We understand that REALTORS® won’t always come to NAR seeking information, so our priority is to better connect NAR’s resources to REALTOR® communities in a more personal environment.”
Embracing the Disruptors
In a real estate environment where brokers and REALTORS® are increasingly worried about new business models infiltrating their business—the so-called “disruptors”—Goldberg wants to change the conversation and embrace these firms—invite them into the tent, so to speak—in order to lead change before it leads us.
To that end, NAR created the Strategic Business Innovation and Technology Group, designed to drive industry innovation and benefits to members through strategic relationships with a broad range of business and technology players. In addition to overseeing NAR’s Second Century Ventures, the REach® technology accelerator program, the REALTOR Benefits® program and the Realtors® Information Network (RIN) businesses, the group is forming a new think tank of strategic players who will meet regularly to help keep the association on the cutting edge of innovation.
“This will be a collection of some of the top minds in technology and business innovation,” says Goldberg. “This think tank will serve as a key feeder into the leadership team so we can be way ahead of the curve with planning for our future.”
Embracing the future of innovation even further, next month, NAR will debut a brand-new event: the iOi (Innovation, Opportunity and Investment) Summit, taking place August 28-30 at Bespoke San Francisco. NAR has long been driving innovation and benefits to members through its strategic investment arm, Second Century Ventures, and its REach® technology accelerator program. The iOi Summit will now extend that mission by bringing together technology innovators, capital investors, and the real estate industry to help get in on the ground level of cutting-edge opportunities.
Why REALTORS® Have to ‘Own It’
Mendenhall’s rallying cry for her 2018 presidency is the phrase, “REALTORS® Own It!” While effective in its simplicity, its meaning is actually multilayered and deeply significant. In its simplest form, Own It relates directly to the NAR mission of advancing homeownership for more Americans, but the message is also meant as a call to action for NAR leadership and REALTORS® themselves.
“In our organization, our local presidents and state presidents turn over every 365 days,” explains Mendenhall. “You have to be willing to take ownership of your organization during that time. We’ve given it to you; make it better than where you found it. And, as REALTORS®, there’s a lot of conversation about professionalism. You have to be willing to be more professional and own your role in the transaction as a trusted advisor for the consumer—you can’t leave it up to someone else.”
Mendenhall’s 2018 priorities break down into four key areas:
Increased professionalism. This year, NAR is introducing the REALTOR® Commitment to Excellence Program, which invites members to take a skills assessment to measure their proficiency in 11 areas, including ethics, advocacy, technology, data privacy, and customer service.
“Professionalism has so many components,” says Mendenhall. “A lot of consumers really like their real estate agent, but they don’t like real estate agents as a whole. What you really want as a consumer is someone who has your best interest at heart, someone who is looking out for you. We have to be the best that we can be.”
Increase influence in an uncertain legislative, regulatory, and political environment. NAR played a huge role in this year’s historic Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, collectively sending a record-high 300,000 letters to Congress. NAR’s efforts helped preserve the rules of exclusion for capital gains on the sale of a principal residence, and preserved the 1031 like-kind exchange for real property.
Mendenhall is calling upon members to increase advocacy efforts, as it directly affects their business. One of the most important legislative issues on the agenda for this year is the preservation and advancement of the Fair Housing Act. The Act turned 50 in 2018, but work remains to ensure fair access for all, Mendenhall says.
“As stewards of the right to own, use, and transfer private property, REALTORS® depend on a free, open market that embraces equal opportunity. Fair housing protects our livelihood and business,” says Mendenhall, “and it protects consumers. It makes all of us stronger.”
Take the management of real estate data to the next level. The third priority involves the evolution and management of real estate data. “Competition and the demand for more data and analysis is forcing the management of real estate data to evolve,” says Mendenhall. “We want to help brokers better understand effective ways of managing their data.”
Ensure the role of the REALTOR® is essential to the consumer.
All of Mendenhall’s priorities feed into the ultimate goal, which is to make sure the REALTOR® remains essential to the consumer. And one of the best ways REALTORS® can secure their role is to stay educated, informed, and current on innovation. And that’s where NAR can help.
“One of the things NAR does best is provide news and information on every issue and every new technology coming up,” says Mendenhall. “You don’t have to know everything, but you have to know what you don’t know. You have to be confident and know why you’re doing what you’re doing.”
An Ongoing Mission
The transformative partnership that Goldberg and Mendenhall have forged isn’t something that will fade with the tenure of her presidency.
“We started this year with clear goals,” Mendenhall says, “which came from strategic planning and research and from the members. The entire leadership team is clear on these goals, but more importantly, the NAR staff is clear and committed, as well. We’re doing a better job of melding the entire organization together to ensure continuity.”
And while so many changes have already been put in place, there’s no slowing down. NAR will adapt as members’ needs dictate.
“Everything we do, everything we’re all about, every decision made on a daily basis, must answer, ‘How does this benefit our members?’ That’s the ROI for NAR staff and leadership,” says Goldberg. “We’re the stewards for the members. We need to make sure that every penny they pay us in dues is well spent on their behalf.”