The other day I was chatting with a buddy about some of the changes that were occurring at a local business that is “right‑sizing”. This corporation needed to trim itself up to meet new fiscal realities.

The topic of our discussion revolved around how this process was being done, and the effects of the methods used on the motivation of the “survivors”. This led me to think about the ways that brokers and managers motivate and support their agents, despite the myriad of personalities within the business.

The whole issue of how change is presented and implemented within the “culture” of a business really boils down to what the long-term net result will be on the human assets of the business. Two different styles emerge when this type of action is taken. The best way to illustrate it is

to look at the job as a dance and the salespeople or employees as the dancers. Then take the illustration a bit further and consider how to motivate someone to do the dance.

There are two methods to encourage someone to dance – you can either make them dance by

providing the music, (positive motivation) or you can make them dance by shooting a gun at their feet, (negative motivation). The question is, what is the most effective method for the long‑term productivity of the dancer?

Looking back from the illustration, a brokerage needs to ask itself: Are you looking for creative input and self‑managing agents?  Are you looking for sustainable productivity and long-term growth? Are you looking for cost efficiency?

It seems to me that by providing the music to dance to, you will achieve greater input, productivity and cost efficiency from the dancers. The biggest single factor is that the dancer will be motivated in a way that will provide a sense of unity with the music. They will engage themselves in the process. Internalize it.

On the other side of the coin, if the method of motivating the dancer is with bullets, you will achieve only results based on how many bullets you have. The dance will not be pretty, and don’t expect any input beyond self‑preservation. By using bullets, you also run the risk of

injuring the dancer and prematurely ending his productivity.

Alexander Hiam, the author of Making Horses Drink and Motivating and Rewarding Employees, tells us that, “management methods for years were based on command and control. You’d just tell people what to do, then make sure they did it by creating positive and negative

consequences.” This is called external motivation because it is based on factors outside of the dancer, just like the bullets whizzing by his feet. While this type of motivation might be

effective for a short period of time, it creates a culture of  “learned helplessness”. The salespeople become dependent on the brokerage to tell them what to do (how and when to dance). This is akin to feeding someone a fish each day but not teaching them how to fish for


The key to creating the music that will develop the best dancer is to get him involved. That means understanding the type of music that will help him be “self‑motivated”.

Understanding the music needed for each individual in a corporate culture requires a manager to understand that music must motivate each dancer in a personal way – don’t use heavy metal on a

polka queen. The music must create emotions in the dancer (joy, excitement, nostalgia, happiness, passion). The bottom line is that to motivate, you must understand the dancer!

If people’s hearts and minds are not engaged in their job, no external motivation will ever be enough. However, if you have allowed the dancer to create his own dance based on the music he relates to, he will be involved and he will have his heart and mind engaged in his work – not because of any consequences, only because he loves to dance.

So, why am I telling you this? Well, there is no profession that has a greater need for self‑motivated practitioners than this business of real estate. Financial incentives, job perks, threats, multi‑level splits, or sanctions will never be enough to motivate a salesperson alone. We can’t read each other’s minds and one person cannot control the thoughts and beliefs of another. The best motivation must come from within. It will not fade with time or run out of steam.

What do you use to motivate the sluggish performer? Are you using music or machine guns? Learn to understand the dancer and you will understand the music that will inspire. The challenge of every office manager and broker in today’s market is to provide real estate agents with an environment that supplies the motivation for a creative dance — not a gun

for the bullet boogie!


Ari Lahdekorpi is a broker with RealTV Realty Inc. in Thunder Bay, Ontario.



Leave a Reply