Change vs. Disruption: The MLS Strategic Plan Dilemma header image

Change vs. Disruption: The MLS Strategic Plan Dilemma

By Bill Fowler | April 14, 2023

You can see it on their faces. A look of mild surprise, followed by a long, far-away stare into the distance. I’ve already encountered this phenomenon in plenty of board rooms, mostly during MLS Strategic Plan exercises, and it almost always happens when new and far-reaching ideas are being discussed.

It’s the look that says, “I think I’m being… disrupted.”


Ah, the MLS Strategic Plan. For as long as I’ve been working in the industry, the MLS Strategic Plan has been the standard method of achieving long-term organizational goal-setting. The concept that an MLS must, on some annual or semi-annual schedule, bring in an outside facilitator to spend a few days speaking truth, building cohesion, saying difficult things, among a roomful of competing brokers who are volunteering their time for a higher good (despite all the politics and territorialism), remains a noble and timeless pursuit, taken on by a select group of brave people like me. The skilled strategist. The creative unifier. The hopelessly hopeful.


You may have experienced some rough ones, so you may not think so, but I think MLS Strategic Plans are a blast. I humbly think my methods are pretty entertaining, and that makes it a really fun gig. I love the idea of bringing some wit and wisdom to a group of MLS leadership eager to learn how to grow and prosper in a shifting, modern strategic landscape.


What could be more fun and rewarding than that?


Well for one thing, the fact that for some people sitting in these rooms listening to me talk about technology, and business models, and trends, and so on, means the opposite of fun. In fact, for a small percentage of people working their way through an MLS Strategic Plan, it’s downright painful; a signal that, “things are going to be different and I’m going to have to adjust.”


The thing is, any strategic planning exercise worth the effort will require an organization to go through some kind of operational adjustment for the sake of forward progress. Hiring an expert to run your MLS Strategic Plan is like taking your car to a mechanic. it doesn’t always result in an overhaul, but they’re going to find something to work on, and that isn’t always a good time for everyone involved.


That brings us to the issue of Change versus Disruption.


When you take your old iPhone to the Apple Store and trade it in for the newest model, that’s change. You’re prepared to stand in the store for an hour or so, backup your data, buy a new case, reinstall your apps, and probably reset a few passwords. No big deal. It’s a process you’re willing to go through (maybe even eager to go through) for the sake of a better overall experience. Because, hey, new phone!


Disruption is when your old iPhone finally dies. You have to go to the crowded Apple store across town and stand there for an hour or so, backup your data, buy a new case, reinstall your apps, and probably reset a few passwords. Crap, new phone!


See? Change is something you welcome. Disruption is something that happens to you. Change is a mild inconvenience that you choose. Disruption can seem like a crime perpetrated against you.


It’s my belief that MLS Strategic Plans are most effective when everyone in the room realizes that this distinction between change and disruption exists, not only in the boardroom, but also in the everyday lives of the membership. It’s important to understand how people are impacted by shifts in their workflows, regardless of the intended outcome. Not all movement is as simple as stopping one thing in favor of another. Sometimes change is worth the disruption. Sometimes it isn’t.


Have you ever wondered why so many MLSs are still using the same 3 or 4 software platforms for their listing search/add/edit? Because some of the membership will endure the transition and welcome the change to a newer more user-friendly platform, but a lot more will absolutely panic and surround the MLS office with pitchforks and torches because of the disruption.


Change and disruption. Two very similar, but critically different concepts that are a part of the complexities that drive decision-making of any organization, not just MLSs.

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