It is early, but never too early to start planning for next year’s sales award event for your office. What better way to kick off a new year in real estate than with recognition of the real achievers in your organization?

The easy way to select who should get what award, of course, is to go by the numbers. The agent who listed the most homes wins "Lister of the Year." The one who sold the most homes wins "Salesperson of the Year." With such awards, there can be no questioning the selection criteria.

Unfortunately, while these criteria are valid in the purest sense, they do not measure one’s production based on what one could have or should have produced.

The issue is: What did one accomplish, compared to what one could have accomplished, had the individual applied himself or herself more?

And do those awards overlook hard-working sales associates who may not bring in the larges sales volume, such as the single parents who fed, clothed and got their kids through another year of school while working in real estate?

How about recognizing an agent who is not a top producer but has the potential to be, for example — you could display a "production potential" meter to show the audience how well the agent did based on how much time they were able to devote to their work.

To help clarify, which of the following three agents would you select for the top award in your office, based on both the numbers and the wagon the agent pulls every day to support and/or raise a family.

Let’s use Agent A, Agent B and Agent C as examples: The numbers used are for example only.

Agent A has 20 years’ experience, no children at home, none in college, and his home is paid in full. He sold $4 million in 2011, mostly through referrals.

Agent B is a single parent with two children. One is in day care. The other is in the fourth grade. The agent is fighting foreclosure. Agent B sold $2 million in 2011.

Agent C has four children and a spouse, is financially secure and, except for fact that the agent was diagnosed three months ago with a treatable form of cancer, is doing great. Agent C sold $2.5 million in 2011.

Of these three, which do you think should be awarded the "Sales Agent of the Year" award?

According to the numbers, Agent A wins. According to what the agent had the potential to produce, Agent A finishes last.

I would vote for Agent B, who is pulling a heavy wagon.

There’s nothing quite as awkward as being recognized for a sales achievement while being applauded by those in the audience who have accomplished the hardest feat of all: feeding and clothing their families and keeping the house out of foreclosure for one more month.

Don’t get me wrong: Sales awards are important, meaningful and fun. We need to celebrate our successes in these times, more than ever. We all need encouragement and recognition at times. This includes those who by a numbers comparison do not hold a candle to the "top producer" in the office.

The risk for the younger agents is that they put the top sales agents on a pedestal. They want to be like them — be No. 1 someday. This is great, but I know from experience that setting up role models is a risky business.

My admonition to sales agents or anyone else, for that matter, is simply this: Don’t spend your time among yourselves comparing yourselves to yourselves. You are special. Set your own standards.

Perhaps at next year’s sales award breakfast, it might be fun to recognize the "doers" in your office — those whose sales record cannot and never will match the office star.

These are the agents competing to overcome their circumstances who fight real odds in the real world and win, because quitting in not an option.

Compete? Yes! Compare? No.

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