The Big Story: Love Work

Change the way your team feels about coming to work each day with these 40+ motivational tips.

Go ahead, look around your business. Look at the faces around you. Do people seem happy? And when you look at them, do you feel happy? Now fire up your accounting software and look at your numbers for last year. Do they make you happy? Could you be doing better than you are? Answer honestly.

If you’re not happy with the performance of your store or practice — and your team — then it’s time to take a hard look at the work culture you’ve created. Have you hired the right people? Have they been trained correctly? When they do something well, do you let them know about it? Have you created a workplace where team members truly enjoy spending time? Most importantly, do they believe in your business and know in their hearts that the work they do is important?

If you can’t answer a resounding yes to one or more of these questions, INVISION is here to help. To ignite real change, read on.

Training shouldn’t be a periodic activity. It’s an ongoing process that requires your involvement, support, and most of all, creativity. A decade or two ago, sales staff could chug along and get by with the ‘Hey, those look really sharp on you’ sales pitch. That’s not true today. For top salespeople, acquiring product knowledge should take up to 10 percent of their time, according to author and retail consultant James Dion. Here are some ideas to motivate your employees to learn new skills and get passionate about what they sell:


Get some books on skill-developing games to play during staff meetings. Three to start with: The Fun Factor by Carolyn Greenwich, The Retailer’s Complete Book of Selling Games & Contests by Harry Friedman, and The Big Book of Sales Games by Peggy Carlaw and Vasudha Kathleen Deming. The Great Game of Business began as a book by Jack Stack 20 years ago; it now includes a complete approach to involving everyone in a company’s success.


Assign each new employee a “buddy trainer,” suggests Greenwich. Buddies should have been with your company for a while, have “x” number of sales, etc. Give buddy trainers a small percentage of the new employee’s sales for a set period.


You know the expression, “Teach a man to fish ...,” right? The same goes for your employees. If you teach them how to handle their own probl ems, it builds their self-confidence ... and your life becomes a lot easier. So, the next time an employee comes to you with a problem, sales trainer Tim Connor suggests telling them that, yes, you will help them with their problem but you want them to take the following steps first: 1. Ask them to define the problem, situation or challenge in writing; 2. Ask them to come up with five possible solutions to the problem and pick the best one; 3. Ask them to come to you when they have completed these steps; and 4. Ask them why they have selected the solution they did. If you feel one of the other options was better, coach them so they can understand your viewpoint.


Sign your employees up for Toastmasters International, says Greenwich. This will help them develop the confidence to make customer presentations, as well as to go out and perform a rousing “eyecare and eyewear options” speech for local business and social groups. Go to to find the club nearest you.


Put your office computer screens to work. Greenwich suggests screen-saver messages that help staffers sell. These can be educational (e.g. a rotating series of product pictures listing features and benefits) or messages that inspire people to serve — and sell — as well as they possibly can. (For any computer or tablet screens seen by customers, highlight brand stories and promotions.)


Buy your employees copies of books appropriate to their role in your business, says Bob Nelson, author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees. To be extra-thoughtful, inscribe a little note in the book, too.


Regular communication is the best way to shape performance. According to Gary McClain and Deborah S. Romaine, authors of the The Everything Managing People Book, “Nothing you say or the employee says in a formal meeting should come as a surprise to either one of you.”

Whether or not you are using standard sales commissions (see sidebar on page 38), there are many different types of bonus (or “spiff”) programs eyewear retailers can use. Some cost money. Some don’t. Some are most appropriate for larger staffs, while some are better fits for smaller businesses. Many are easy to set up and control, while others require ongoing oversight from management.

Here are some behaviors — beyond sales made — that you can reward: great customer service, phone calls made and letters written to clients, perfect attendance, product expertise. You can even reward employees for quitting smoking or exercising more. Track achievements on a results board visible to everyone in the company, and you’ll stir competitive juices.

Instead of throwing around cash, give employees points for positive behaviors. Points could then be exchanged for prizes. Here are some non-monetary, no-cost prizes you can give your employees: a special parking place, or even the most comfortable chair during meetings. Instead of “sick days,” give “well days” for your employees to do what they want. Here are more bonus/reward ideas:


Reward staff for superb customer service. One store gives bonus points to any employee heard referring to a customer by their name. Nelson suggests that any time a staff member gets a positive comment from a customer (on comment cards or via an email survey) they get a bonus.


Hire a “secret shopper.” And if the secret shopper gets extremely good service, they can instantly give the salesperson handling them a cash award.


Recognition is an important (and, best of all, free) reward. At Oakland Vision Center, when Dr. Tanya Gill receives a positive email from a patient about one of her staff members, she will first thank them privately for providing such a positive experience. She will also save the email, print it out and present it to the full team at the next office meeting — typically to raucous applause. “I love watching that staff member gush with pride,” Gill says. “This energizes all my staff.”


A manager’s self-humiliation is an especially inspiring free incentive. At Combs EyeCare and Eyewear in Western Springs, IL, optical manager Kathy Maren promised to do a cartwheel at the front desk with an office full of patients if her team hit a key sales goal. They did, and she did. (Even more impressively, Maren achieved her gymnastic feat at age 50.)


Greenwich has a fun motivating spiff: Have a point system for positive actions — phone calls made to customers, etc. The month’s top point-earner gets you to be their “Slave for the Day.” You make them coffee, do their paperwork, buy their lunch, clean up their workspace, etc.


Claudia Hecht of Sterling Optical in Newburgh, NY, has had coffee and breakfast delivered to the store for a whole week for a top performer.


If the team at Dr. Taylor Bladh’s practice in Diamond Bar, CA, hits a major goal, manager Josh Bladh hires a masseuse for a day. Bladh adds: “Don’t schedule too many patients that day; (team members) seem to want to take a nap after their massage.”


One day a week, tell your sales staff to pick their favorite high-end frame in the shop and try to sell it that day. If they succeed, they’ll get an on-the-spot bonus.


At Ulla Eyewear of Madison, WI, Margot Lanham plays a game called “Ulla Bingo.” Says Lanham: “I fill the spaces with frame brands, lens options and sale add-ons (multiple pairs, Transitions, etc). First one to black it out wins!”


At Eye Candy in Delafield, WI, Paula Hornbeck creates challenges that are fun, but not so competitive that they spur obnoxious behavior. Says Hornbeck: “Every month I create a challenge worth a certain number of points. It could be selling an item from a particular frame line, selling two or more pair, selling any red frame, etc. We keep track of our points and whoever has the most at the end of the month wins a $50 gift card of their choice.”


Encourage and reward perfect attendance. Give your staff a day’s bonus pay for every month of perfect attendance. Or hold a lottery with a big prize every quarter for all those who have had perfect attendance. Then hold a lottery with bigger rewards for everybody who has showed up every day for an entire year.


Have a top seller who’s got so many customers they can’t see straight? Think about hiring a support person for them. The support person could spend 50 percent of their time handling your top gun’s admin work, allowing your super-seller to be on the floor more. (This is a great incentive for your other salespeople to work hard to get to the level where they merit their own support person.) Meanwhile, the support person will learn excellent sales habits from working so closely with a top producer, making it more likely they will eventually become a top producer, too.


If you hit your yearly store target, treat your employees to a trip. At Vision Source Tifton in Tifton, GA, Dr. Ted McElroy closed the business for a long weekend and took his staff — plus one invited guest for each person — to Disney World after one particularly strong year. McElroy broke the news via boxed Christmas ornaments, which were greeted with polite thank-yous — until someone noticed each box also had a slip of paper bearing the dates of the trip.


The owners of Wood Vision Clinic in Iowa Falls, IA, thought even bigger: They put 10 percent of the month-over-month growth over the previous year away into a special trip account. And, after 18 months, the staff of eight had earned enough for a one-week trip to Jamaica. Says optician Jill Campbell: “If anyone chose not to go on the trip there was a cash option, but we all get along great and had a blast!”


Two of America’s most exciting cities and excellent motivational destinations — New York and Las Vegas — just so happen to be the locations of Vision Expo East and Vision Expo West.

You don’t need cash or prizes to make people feel good. It can be done with a few words, or a thoughtful gesture. Here are ways to show your team how much they matter to you:


Why should you wait until an employee leaves before you throw them a party? asks Matt Weinstein, author of Managing to Have Fun. Why not throw them one on their first day of work? It’s a great way to say, “Welcome, we’re glad you’re here.”


Another great way to welcome a new employee is by creating an “Oath of Office” for your company, says Weinstein. No, this should not be a formal scene with a grimacing employee placing his hand on a Bible and promising to serve Acme Eyecare to the best of his ability, so help him God. Make it fun, make it silly. But make it reflect your company values. “I do solemnly swear to provide superior service to every client who enters our business, even the contact lens customer who has been wearing his daily lenses for three months and now blames us for his eye infection ...”


Leave a “Happy Birthday” song on an employee’s voicemail. Sing it, or play it on a kazoo.


26 Praise people immediately, says Bob Nelson. And while doing it, use their name and tell them specifically what they did right. “Kate, I really like the way you handled that upset customer ... you kept your cool, and continued to do your best to solve their problem. You made us all look good out there today.”


Nelson tells a cautionary tale of an overly efficient manager who signs birthday cards for all his employees on one day at the beginning of the year. Why bother? When an employee has a birthday, do something for them ... something special and personal.


Buy someone a gift for their child.


Hold a barbecue for your staff. You cook.


OK, you might not be able to give your employees a surprise day off. But if someone’s worked hard — or appears stressed out — Weinstein suggests a “surprise hour off.” Say: “I want you to take a bonus hour off. I’ll cover for you, and I want you to go out and do something for yourself during that time ... go to the park, go for a walk, go shopping ... You’ve been working hard and I appreciate it — and I know you’ll come back from this break refreshed and ready for the rest of the day.”


Share the perks. This means that if you go to Silmo in Paris, you come back with something better than a T-shirt. Instead, buy a few boxes of chocolates or Laduree macaroons.


So you already thank your employees all the time? Well, you can still do more, and Weinstein’s got a few suggestions. Especially when things get crazy and the hours get long (e.g. during a sale period or big EHR upgrade), it’s an ideal time to write a short note to your employee’s wife/husband/significant other. In these letters, tell what a great job their loved one is doing, and how much their efforts mean to your company. Then thank the significant other directly for their support and understanding during this “crazy time.” You might even send along flowers, or a small gift.


When somebody reaches a significant milestone in your company — like a 10-year anniversary — give them something big, Nelson says. Make it expensive, and be sure it’s tailored especially for the employee (and something they never would buy for themselves). Let your other employees help you brainstorm for the perfect gift. Have a horse racing enthusiast? Buy a share in a racehorse. Have a big music fan? Send her to fantasy rock star camp.

Profit, growth and fun. Get all three, and you’ve really got something good going on. Focus too hard on the first two and you and your employees will feel the strain. Says Matt Weinstein: “Bringing fun to work is not a one-way street: this is for your benefit, too. Developing a sense of connectedness to your employees is essential to your long-term emotional well-being.”
So loosen up. You’ll live longer, and your employees will sell more. If you feel you might be humor-impaired, simply let your employees know you’re willing to support activities such as the ones listed below. But take it slow; your team will see right through you if you suddenly show up one day wearing a rubber nose. Here are some ways to get the fun rolling on the job:


Post baby pictures in the office. It’s a great way to establish the fact that everybody in the company, no matter what their current rank, started out life pretty much the same way: bald, nude and helpless. Plus, it’s also a great opportunity for your staff to have fun with patients. Ask them to match baby pictures with current photos.


Play dress up, too. Each year, the team at Eye Shop Optical in Lewis Center, OH, holds an “Ugly Sweater Day” during the Christmas season. They don costumes for Halloween and even held a special French dress-up day when the store started carrying Lafont.


Create a yearbook for your business. Bob Nelson says it should contain everybody’s photo and list their biggest achievements. Hand out awards: “Smoothest Talker,” “Best Customer Welcome,” “Over-the-Top Patient Service Hero,” etc. Include pictures of company outings and parties, as well as shots of everybody in action at work. Note achievements, and throw in positive reinforcements such as great customer feedback letters.


Do you have a dedicated “Fun Committee”? At Henry Ford OptimEyes in Westland, MI, they do: a group of four or five people tasked with finding creative ways to energize the team. Some of the group’s innovations: a hotly-contested election for most-radiant smile, a special tasting contest to determine the ultimate potato-chip flavor, and the addition of stress-relieving hula hoops (and weights and puzzles) in the conference room.


Staple Kleenex to potentially stressful memos. And tape chocolate kisses to boring ones.


Create food traditions. At EyeStyles Optical and Boutique in Oakdale, MN, one weekly tradition is Bagel Friday. “It’s an all-carb occasion,” says owner Nikki Griffin. “Woot-woot!”


If you have just hit a big sales target, or finished a patch of tough work, send your entire team on a big outing together ... deep-sea fishing, a baseball game, white-water rafting, a one-day cruise. You might notice the prevalence of water-based activities on this list. Why? Well, boat trips are especially good for building togetherness. After all, everybody has to stay in a restricted space and nobody can leave early. (Doesn’t every office have that one person who leaves every event early?) Even better, keep your outing destination a secret until the very last moment, like Dr. Joseph Smay of Family Eye Care in New Kensington, PA.


Have a ceremony to celebrate big sales. At one office Weinstein describes, whenever an employee closes a big sale, he runs over to a gong and smashes it with a mallet. (OK, so maybe this isn’t a great idea for an eyecare pro without a soundproof back office. The point is, do something to mark the big victories. At Fichman Eye Center in Torrington, CT, the team holds lunches after great days of sales or effective teamwork.)


Don’t overdo it. Big parties are more relaxing when they are less frequent — once a quarter is ideal — and occur off-site, according to McClain and Romaine.