The book "Drive" is of interest because it is about motivation -- a subject near and dear to the hearts of those who employ salespeople. Daniel Pink, the author of "Drive", writes this: "The first human operating system -- call it Motivation 1.0 -- was all about survival. Its successor, Motivation 2.0, was built around external rewards and punishments. That worked fine for routine twentieth-century tasks. But in the twenty-first century, Motivation 2.0 is proving incompatible with how we organize what we do, how we think about what we do, and how we do what we do. We need an upgrade."

The "upgrade" -- which, as Pink details, has been a subject of increasing study by behavioral scientists -- is intrinsic motivation, "Motivation 3.0". There are three elements to intrinsic motivation:

  1. Autonomy -- the desire to direct our own lives;
  2. Mastery --the urge to get better and better at something that matters; and
  3. Purpose -- the desire to be a part of something that is worthwhile and larger than ourselves. In our last column we discussed how autonomy might be fostered within the context of a real estate brokerage. Today we turn to the second aspect of intrinsic motivation.

Humans seek to achieve mastery in the realm of activities with which they are engaged. Work that is routine, repetitive, or reducible to following a set of rules tends not to be engaging. At least not for a sustained length of time. (Ever work on an assembly line? At first it can be a daunting and often frustrating challenge. But once mastered – and it can be mastered – the engagement fades.)

Other activities engage us, in part, because mastery over them seems so elusive, yet, at times, attainable. It is at the time that we are engaged in them and that we succeed in meeting challenges that require us to “step up our game”, so to speak, that we experience what Pink calls “flow.” “Mastery begins with ‘flow’ – optimal experiences when the challenges we face are exquisitely matched to our abilities.”

Think of the time you played your best (tennis, golf, fill-in-the-blank) game. That was “flow”. (And it was when you told yourself, “I can play this way on a regular basis.”) The experience of flow is what makes us continue our pursuit of mastery – even when we know that true mastery is but a theoretical concept.

Is flow something that might be experienced by a real estate agent? You bet. Although no one might use that term.

Some years ago I had a conversation with a truly outstanding Realtor® who was also an attorney. She had first practiced real estate, then joined a law firm, and later returned to real estate. I asked her what lead her back to the real estate business. Her answer was simple and elegant: “I missed the juice.”

There are those moments in the real estate business – times when challenges are met and obstacles overcome; times when your good work produces an outcome of satisfaction for both you and your clients. Call it “juice”, call it “flow”; it is an experience that prods us to seek mastery. We want to do more of the same, and do it better. This has little to do with external rewards. It is intrinsic motivation.

Pink discusses various ways in which companies can create situations that enable employees to experience flow. Real estate is not among his examples. But it is a topic worthy of our consideration. What might a real estate company be able to do in order to aid its agents – independent contractors – to have the kinds of experiences that encourage and empower them to want to achieve mastery at their craft? How can it help them to have intrinsically rewarding experiences?

The answer, I believe, is simple, although it is not necessarily intuitive: it can train them.

Real estate is hardest and can be downright unenjoyable when an agent lacks adequate preparation – when objections come that you’ve never thought of; when questions arise that you should be able to answer, but can’t; when solutions are needed to problems you have never encountered or anticipated. (Those are also the occasions when real estate can be its most dangerous: when agents try to fake it.)

Offer training. Offer training. Offer training. That is the secret to motivating agents.

Of course, not every agent will find themselves engaged by the activity of real estate. So be it; and probably nothing will ever change that. But those who do will quickly discover that the acquisition of more knowledge and skills is the key to achieving mastery of their craft. The company that makes that possible will attract and retain agents who are intrinsically motivated, operating with Motivation 3.0.

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