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This article was published on: 06/01/2003

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Building Passionate Teams

Learn how to instill passion in your sales team or brokerage and reap the financial and psychological benefits.


Is your former top performer just going through the motions? Does your entire sales team seem to mope around the office complaining? If this sounds all-too familiar, your company may be suffering from a lack of Occupational Intimacy, says Michael Kroth, Ph.D. Along with his partner, Patricia Boverie, Ph.D. at BK&A, Kroth specialize in helping individuals, teams, and companies cultivate a passionate approach to both work and life as well as providing direction on how to build a cohesive business team that performs as never before.

RMO: Why do individuals lose a passion for their work?

Kroth: Time saps passion, even for very motivated workers. That’s why so many people job hop. Managers and team leaders have to regenerate passion to keep productivity and motivation alive.

RMO: How do you do that?

Kroth: The best way is to help your workers develop what we call “ occupational intimacy.” To achieve occupational intimacy, you must have love your work and feel cared about by the organization. It’s important that work is meaningful to you.

Meaning can be the idea of helping people or of having an important impact on their lives; it can be monetary achievement; it can be outperforming the competition. It’s different for everyone.

Good leaders are really meaning makers. Their job is to find out what is meaningful to each person on their team and then try to match the work to that meaning. Of course, you also need to hire people who will find some aspect of real estate sales meaningful.

RMO: How do you know what’s meaningful to an individual?

Kroth: First, just ask them. Make it part of each person’s annual business planning or performance review. Ask them what part of the plan or the job is most meaningful to them. Often managers assume that’s what’s meaningful to them is meaningful to others. Of course, for many salespeople, the principal motivator is money. But it could just as easily be the social relationships at the office, the desire to make clients happy by finding them a great home they couldn’t have found without you. Accountability through performance goals and recognition and rewards for performance also help give work meaning to most sales associates.

It’s also important to realize that what’s meaningful to a person can change over time. When you first get into the business, money may be the motivation. As your monetary needs become less, meaning may come from something different.

RMO: What else does an individual need to remain passionate about work?

Kroth: A nurturing work environment is critical to maintain both individual and team passion. You have to create the right conditions to help passion grow. In Primal Leadership , (Harvard Business School Press, 2002) the authors estimate that the work climate--how people feel about working for a company--accounts for 20 to 30 percent of business performance. And between 50 and 70 percent of how workers feel about a company, the article says, depends on the actions of the company’s leader. Many sales environments just toss people out and let them sink or swim.

RMO: What does a company need to do to create a nurturing work environment?

Kroth: Different people need different types of nurturing, but the principal components of a good work environment are opportunities to learn new skills through training and mentoring and the ability and confidence to take risks and be creative. If you want to get the most from people, you can’t take this “survival of the fittest” approach.

It’s also critical that the team provide support to risk takers. I think of this support as scaffolding. You need to give the right amount of support for an individual’s risk tolerance, skills, and experience at the right time. New associates may need you to accompany them on a listing to take that risk. An experienced agent may want nothing from you but an encouraging word. If you offer too much support, people will become dependent on you. If you provide too little, they are left hanging out to dry.
RMO: What else is critical for sustaining a high-performing, passionate team?

Kroth: A sense of trust, cohesion, and commitment to each other are essential. Teams gain cohesion by working closely together on interdependent tasks to reach challenging goals. For example, one member of a sales team might be preparing CMA for a listing, another might be customizing the Power Point presentation, while the principal agent might be rehearsing the actual presentation. But they are all working toward the goal of securing the listing, and they all depend on each other efforts to achieve that goal.

It’s hard to build a team if everyone is off doing independent things. That’s what makes it challenging to build effective teams in a real estate brokerage environment. You have to look for synergies that can benefit sales associates who work together—such as providing more backup for each others’ clients, sharing marketing costs, or dividing the expenses of administrative support. If you can’t identify these benefits, associates won’t work as a team.

RMO: What can you do when you see an individual’s passion wane?

Kroth: The responsibility for passionate work resides within each individual. But a team leader can have an effect. And it’s certainly in the best interests of the organization to have highly passionate, motivated, productive workers. One of the best ways is to rekindle passion is with learning. If you’ve done the same thing for 20 years, it's easy to be bored. Look for ways salespeople can become excited by something they’ve never done before. Perhaps for it’s shifting for residential to commercial real estate or focusing on a new specialty or geographic area. Maybe it’s going to conferences and classes to be stimulated by new ideas or to learn how to use new technologies. Maybe it’s going into management. Real estate has so much variety that there are plenty of ways to stay in the business and grow over a 30- or 40-year career. It’s a red flag when people quit learning and taking risks; it means they are not going to passionate over time.

Michael Kroth and Patricia Boverie have written a book, Transforming Work: The Five Keys to Achieving Trust, Commitment, and Passion in the Workplace, which can be ordered at or by calling 505-450-4248.

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