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Next in line: the Greensboro Regional Realtors Association offers a case study in succession planning success.

SELECTING A NEW CEO IS NOT A CRISIS SITUATION, OR AT LEAST IT shouldn't be. Continually hire talented people and develop leadership qualities in staff, and your association's next CEO could be in the office next door. That's in it happened for the Greensboro Regional Realtors Association, North Carolina, and the authors of this article.

Elaine's perspective

When my husband retired, I realized that the day was approaching when I would no longer work for the Greensboro Regional Realtors Association (GRRA). Having worked diligently to turn the association into a good-to-great organization--a Jim Collins concept explored in his book by the same name (2001, HarperCollins)--I made deliberate decision that given the opportunity I would help the association continue on its path to excellence no matter who led the organization.

In the fall of 2000, I contacted the incoming board president and president-elect to discuss my decision to leave the association at the end of 2002. I informed them that I had identified one employee as my potential successor--Michael Barr, GRRA's chief operating officer. Having worked closely with Michael fur a little more than a year, I saw in him several qualities that exemplified leadership:

* humility;

* a professional willingness to do what had to be done;

* the willingness to channel energy into the association rather than into himself;

* the ability to credit staff and volunteers, when appropriate; and

* a desire to develop both personally and professionally.

Based on my recommendation to consider an internal candidate for my position, the incoming president and president-elect both felt that a succession plan was in order. The next decision was whether I or a consultant should put the plan together.

Shortly after my conversation with the president and president elect, the full executive committee met and decided that I should create the succession plan. The committee believed that my knowledge of the association, its mission, and its needs--as well as my 10 years in its top staff position--gave me the insight required to create a thorough plan. Additionally, the committee expressed complete trust in me and my ability to not compromise the association. In total, the committee felt that a solid management plan fur succession would be an important part of the association's efforts to develop talent, meet organizational needs, and improve the association's overall results on behalf of members.

Using my job description, a list of things that I did that were not in my official job description, knowledge gained from scanning literature on CEO skill sets, and my understanding of the association's strategic plan, I drafted a work plan that defined the responsibilities and challenges of the executive position and outlined the areas in which I would coach and mentor Michael. It was early March 2001 when I submitted this draft succession plan to the executive committee. The committee accepted the plan in mid-March, and Michael and I began discussions about his long-range career plans. I asked him questions such as

* Are you interested in obtaining the Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation?

* Are you interested in expanding your responsibilities in the association and the community?

* Are you willing to travel with me to additional professional development seminars?

* Are you willing to work with me as your mentor for an opportunity to become a CEO? (No promises were made, of course.)

His affirmative answers noted, we started working through the actual plan outline.

Because Michael was COO, all staff reported to him. To free up time for him to work through the succession plan, we diverted some of his day-today responsibilities to other staff members, Job descriptions for senior managers were reworked to lessen Michael's workload. To explain this shift in activities, we informed staff that the executive committee wanted Michael to be more involved with the overall operations and mission of the association. While this was true, we did not apprise staff that Michael was being groomed as my potential replacement.

For the next 15 months, Michael and I spent a few hours each week reviewing the plan, setting priorities for the next month, making adjustments when necessary, and reporting to the executive committee on a quarterly basis. The committee left the decisions of progress, needed training, and adjustments to me, with input from Michael.

Here are a few things that I learned from this experience.

1. Every CEO is capable of doing succession planning if he or she care about the organization.

2. Succession planning is not an easy task. Little research is available about it especially for the not-for-profit sector.

3. Succession planning is an excellent way to assess the organization, look a trends, peek at what is coming down the road, and realize your strength and weaknesses as an executive.

Working through this plan with leadership and another high-level manager, it was easy to see what habit made the association successful and what areas needed more attention. I also solidified the organization's core values and made it clear what was important to continue.

Michael's perspective

After I agreed to and signed the work plan outline, I really got busy. I'd like to say the task ahead of me looked simple, but it didn't. At times I felt as though I was pledging a fraternity all over again. However, Elaine was a wonderful coach and mentor. Whether this adventure would turn out as suggested was anyone's guess. My focus was on learning as much as I could about association management, qualifying to sit for and passing the CAE exam, accomplishing the items detailed in the work plan, building a network of colleagues, and enjoying the experience.

The plan was specific and intense. It outlined nine major components of the executive position and specified several competencies in each area. Following are the components of the work plan and some of my prominent accomplishments in each area.

Essential management responsibilities,

This area included nine components such as financial oversight, office administration, and understanding the parallel structures of the association. Accomplishments:

* Worked with and advised association volunteer groups, task forces, committees, directors, officers, and presidents.

* Supervised staff; evaluated job descriptions, performance, salary administration, and work processes to provide high-quality and efficient services to the membership.

* Developed a three-year budget model and new reports for the board of directors on nondues revenue sources.

* Developed a new member benefits program that included affiliating with a local credit union and offering members discounts on local products and services.

Essential administrative responsibilities.

This component was primarily composed of human resources management issues such as employee performance, oversight of employee benefits plans, and compensation planning. Accomplishments:

* Coordinated employee searches that included position marketing, resume evaluations, telephone and on-site interviews, compensation negotiations, and follow-up correspondence.

* Researched and presented a new 401(k) retirement program and an employee education assistance program, which the board approved.

Research and statistics. Among other things, this area dealt with member demographics, trends in the profession, and industry demographics. Accomplishments:

* Collaborated with a local university economist to provide our membership with local and regional marker reports.

* Collaborated with a local university professor to product an unbiased survey for the association membership.

Information technology. This area included competencies such as keeping members up to date with industry technology trends and continual analyst and implementation of the membership's technology needs. Accomplishments:

* Developed and implemented a technology infrastructure plan that included replacing the phone system, upgrading computer software, and adapting wireless technology.

* Developed a new Web site that allows the membership to pay association bills online and provides segmented information according to members' premices.

* Provided the membership with various technology training opportunities, which had been requested through membership surveys.

Facilities management. This area covered everything flora the HVAC system to aesthetics and landscaping Accomplishments:

* Managed and supervised the association's banquet facility renovations and grounds beautification.

* Managed and supervised the association's building maintenance contractors and banquet facility operations.

Strategic planning. True competency in this area was defined by the ability to keep staff focused on the vision of the association, continually evaluate the association's operations, and commit and adhere to the strategic objective of the organization. Accomplishments:

* Participated in the research and preparation of the strategic planning board retreat, including negotiating with consultants, preparatory work with consultants, and execution of retreat, followed by the development and yearly refinement of the plan.

* Focused staff on association priorities to accomplish the strategic goals of the association within the set timeline.

Internal and external relations. Government affairs, coalition building, and public relations were the bedrocks of this component. Accomplishments:

* Attended local, state, and national Realtor association board of director meetings.

* Represented the association at the Triad Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition and at other regional coalitions.

* Continually represented the association at community events, local government meetings, and association events.

* Networked with the leaders of the local and state associations.

Continuing education. One of the key thrusts of this area was attaining the CAE designation, showing a commitment to association management and continual learning. Accomplishments:

* Attended numerous coaching and training seminars offered by ASAE, the National Association of Realtors, the North Carolina Association of Realtors, and GRRA on various subjects.

* Earned me CAE designation.

General working knowledge. The final component focused on understanding industry-specific processes, our bylaws, and the financial aspects of the association. Accomplishments:

* Trained to administer the association's professional standards and arbitration process.

* Studied and enforced multiple listing service rules and regulations and association bylaws and rules and regulations.

* Acted as chapter administrator for 360-member North Carolina Certified Commercial Investment Members, which the association manages.

After working through each component of the succession plan, l submitted a letter to the executive committee expressing my interest in the CEO position. At this point it was May 2002, and I was able to include a detailed description of how I had accomplished the work set out in the plan.

Coming to the conclusion

A month later, the full board of directors met. The president informed the directors that Elaine was leaving her position as CEO of GRRA at year's end. Copies of the completed work plan and Michael's letter of interest were distributed. Discussion ensued about the succession process and whether the job opening should be taken outside the organization.

A minority of board members felt that if Michael were truly qualified, he would win out in an extensive search. The majority of the directors, however, felt comfortable that the plan was comprehensive and that the executive committee had been sufficiently involved through its receipt of progress reports. An open search, in their opinion, would cost the association time and money. After taking a vote, the executive committee was granted permission to interview Michael for the position. If the committee was not satisfied with the interview, the search would be opened, and a selection committee appointed.

"Ten of eleven good-to-great CEOs came from inside the company," says Jim Collins in his book Good to Great. The Greensboro Regional Realtors Association found that to be the case after Michael's successful interview for the chief staff executive position. In mid-July 2002, more than a year after the draft succession plan was submitted, GRRA's board president started contract negotiations for the association's new president. Michael took over the top spot on January 1, 2003.


Since Michael P. Barr, CAE, took over as executive vice president of the Greensboro Regional Realtors Association, North Carolina, in January, he has started his own mentoring program with senior staff. Read what he has to say on the subject.

ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT: Why did you start the program?

Michael P. Barr, CAE: Being a product of mentoring, I saw the value in developing staff to their fullest and helping them with their career goals. Essentially that's what Elaine did for me. It's a win-win for both the association and the employees.


Barr: I meet regularly with staff. We consistently go over both their work goals and professional goals. It's individualized according to their preferences, because we're trying to help them achieve their professional best.

I take them to conferences, send them to workshops, and help them achieve the designation of their choosing. Basically, I go over their goals and objectives and help them get the education they need to obtain their goals. The board thinks that this is so important that it has increased the budget line item for staff development.

ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT: Who can participate?

Barr: It's open to anyone who has expressed an interest in association management. Obviously, it has to be tied to the job. Senior staff is really taking advantage of it.

ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT: How's it been received so far?

Barr: I have full participation. Those who have expressed an interest in learning what the top job entails, what running an association entails, are really receptive to learning. Empowering them to take on projects and responsibility has been a big plus in the operation of the association.

ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT: What advice would you give to staffers?

Barr: Approach mentoring with the best attitude possible. It's a win no matter what happens. You're going to do a lot of extra work, but it's good preparation for executive-level positions. Get ready for long hours.



Can you identify top performers in your association? Are you investing in their growth and development despite the slow economy? If you answered "yes" to both questions, consider yourself one step ahead of the curve in your hiring and succession planning process. If you answered "no" to either question read en for tips on getting to yes.


Hiring the right person, the first time, is a challenging but imperative task, as the success of your organization begins with hiring the best-matched people for your available positions. To do this, it's important to know the specific job competencies for each position you plan to fill and to use hiring techniques that will attract and retain top talent, Following are ideas for getting the right people into your organization from the beginning.

1. Use behavioral and competency-based interviewing. Behavioral interviewing focuses interviewees on past performance, as that is generally a key indicator of future performance. Competency-based interviewing defines observable and specific behaviors that exemplify excellent performance in a particular work context (e.g., a specific role or group of jobs),

2. Shape and develop desired competencies for all jobs. Competency-based job descriptions communicate job requirements and performance expectations to internal and external candidates. This exercise may lead to developing core competencies for the organization.

3. Involve other staff in the selection and interviewing process to obtain objective feedback,


Investing resources, management, time, and energy in your perfect hires makes good business sense. Investing in your best talent enables you to promote from within the organization, and it sends a clear message to new and existing employees that the organization values growth and expects excellence. Use the following tips to move the right people into the right jobs.

1. Develop leaders at every level of the organization, from receptionist to executive-level management, based on the organization's vision.

2. Invest in your best talent and their future with the organization through professional development, special assignments cross training, coaching, and reentering programs.

3. Develop staff organizational knowledge through an "ask the coaches" forum to give employees an opportunity to access organizational knowledge from coworkers and senior management.

4. Give staff tools to invest in and have accountability for their individual development, such as educational benefit and training.

5. Make proactive career development choices with employees by suggesting learning opportunities end offering resources as part of your overall performance management process.

6. Make it a priority for employees to learn new skills the will help them in their current jobs or prepare them for new positions.

7. Promote a workplace that talks openly about career growth, opportunities, and promotions.


Succession planning is a key component for an organization meeting its strategic goals, reducing turnover, and creating a learning culture that values growth. Here are a few tips to you shape this ongoing process.

1. Review the needs of the organization.

2. List key positions and the next time they might be open.

3. Analyze the competencies and performance requirements for key positions.

4. Assess whether existing employees currently have the leadership skills for key positions, or decide who could be groomed for them.

5. Develop and coach employees to move into new roles

6. Provide career development specific to job competencies.

7. Develop employees for leadership by training them to coaches end mentors.

8. Communicate your succession planning process to all employees, and describe how they will be involved.

Patty Hampton is a senior consultant with Nonprofit HR Solutions, Bowie, Maryland. E-mail:



* "Executive Selection: A Systematic, Team-Based Approach," Executive IdeaLink, July 2001

* "What If You Were Gone," ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT, August 2000

* "Mentoring: A Tool for Learning and Development," Association Educator, October 1999


* Building a Career Development Program: Nine Steps for Effective Implementation, Richard L. Knowdell (1996, Consulting Psychologists Press)

* Effective Succession Planning: Ensuring Leadership Continuity and Building Talent From Within, William J. Rothwell (2000, AMACOM)

* Grow Your Own Leaders: How to Identify, Develop, and Retain Leadership Talent, William C. Byham, Audrey B. Smith, and Matthew J. Paese (2002, Financial Times Prentice Hall)

* Systematic Succession Planning: Building Leadership From Within, Rebecca Luhn Wolfe (1996, Crisp Publications)


* Succession Planning Library ( /planning/sccs_pln/sccs pln.htm)

Elaine H. Ernest, CAE, is CEO of The Ernest Group, Hilton Head, South Carolina. E-mail: Michael P. Barr, CAE, is executive vice president of the Greensboro Regional Realtors Association, North Carolina. E-mail:
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Author:Barr, Michael P.
Publication:Association Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2003
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