The "Goof Off" Approach to Productivity

Reduce office tension by giving associates ways to lighten the mood and blow off steam.

August 1, 2008

“I’ve never met a successful sales associate who wasn’t optimistic — even in rough times,” says ­Buster Vandiver, broker at Signature Real Estate of Athens in Georgia.

How do you keep sales associates upbeat when they’re facing glum news at every turn? In part, by explaining that today’s downturn shall pass. But another key is to relieve with a little fun now and then the tension sales associates carry on their shoulders every day.

The Comedy Club

Case in point: karaoke at Signature’s holiday party last year. “We turned it into a contest,” says Vandiver. “It was hilarious to make fun of each other and be silly. It’s good for people to get outside of their facade and have fun in times of stress. They can really come back energized.”

Vandiver also believes in the power of humor at sales meetings. “I allow sales associates to tell jokes because laughing as much as possible really helps to lift the spirits,” he says.

Welcome to American Idol

Another fan of fun is Jim Loss, broker at Loss Realty Group in Toledo, Ohio, who saw the upside of allowing his staff and sales associates to get together at the office to watch “American Idol.”

“Each week, someone taped ‘American Idol’ and brought it in,” he says. About 15 to 20 sales associates and staff would come together for lunch while watching the show.

“A couple of guys who are really funny would make jokes and have fun with it,” says Loss. “That’s a good thing. It helps people work together and become closer. That’s a big part of our success — that people truly like and feel comfortable with one another.”

Some brokers might grumble about the loss of productivity, but not Loss. “In real estate, you’re working all the time — at home and even sometimes at your kids’ ball games,” he says. “So it’s OK to take a little time to relax and build relationships. I’m sure there are still plenty of hours in the day to work.”

So You Think You Can Dance?

Beckie Agan, CRS®, GRI, broker and team leader at Carpenter, REALTORS®, in Indianapolis, is using dance to lighten the mood. “I’m trying to get sales associates in my office to try ballroom dancing by purchasing gift certificates for their lessons,” she says. “The goal is for people to get involved in activities that are fun and don’t have any connection with real estate. You can’t think about real estate when you’re ballroom dancing.”

Back to Reality

But motivating sales associates can include more than just fun and games. Brokers also are working seriously to provide encouragement. “The first thing to do is to get sales associates to stay busy by prospecting,” says Loss. “They can forget to do all the little things that make the phone ring.”

Loss is encouraging sales associates to routinely review and modify their business plans. “If you don’t change your business plan on a regular basis, you’ll be out of business,” he says. For example, “years ago, sales associates would spend money and time on print media. Now we’re trying to get them involved with the Internet.”

Vandiver circulates positive media stories and encourages sales associates to lean on each other. “I’ve allowed the last half of our sales meetings to become a time to share our business problems and frustrations,” he says. “Someone else might have the answer to your problem, and it helps us feel like we’re not in this alone.”

He also shares his experience with housing crunches he’s seen and survived during his 40-year career. “While it may last one to two years, it’s only a course correction, and the market will come out stronger on the other side,” says Vandiver. “Sales associates must have a core belief in the real estate business and in America.”

And, he might have added, the power of “American Idol” and a few good laughs along the way as well.

freelance writer

G.M. Filisko is a Chicago area freelance and former editor for REALTOR® Magazine.