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15 Ways to become the go-to business for anyone who has kids

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When Melissa McCulley was practicing optometry in downtown Minneapolis, she noticed a number of cool, funky eyewear shops peppering the Twin Cities area.

In her hometown of Fargo, ND, however, tradition and the status quo ruled. Many of the city’s eyecare providers were solid professionals, but there was nothing dynamic or contemporary about their practices.

“I’d hear stories of people driving from Fargo to Minneapolis some 250 miles away to get glasses,” McCulley says. “It was a light-bulb moment for me.”

In 2006, McCulley returned to Fargo and launched McCulley Optix Gallery in the city’s burgeoning south end. An area ripe with new home developments, modern schools and a swelling population, McCulley immediately targeted children and families, confi dent she could more easily land new customers rather than dislodge rooted adult customers from their familiar routines.

McCulley created a kid-friendly offi ce featuring a miniature table, children’s toys and a television, touted the benefi ts of a full-fl % $edged eye exam over the basic school vision screening and began off ering vision therapy to children, something she could easily accommodate as her upstart business worked to build its clientele.

“All of this established us as a place where kids were welcome and cared for,” McCulley  says.

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A decade later, McCulley Optix Gallery is thriving. Fargo’s go-to destination for kids’ eyewear, the shop continues to reap the benefi ts of McCulley’s calculated, decade-old bet on children and families.

“The beauty of taking care of children is that when parents come to check out our offi ce, we have an opportunity to become the eyecare provider for their entire family,” McCulley says. “That piece has been a major part of our overall success.”

Earning family business, however, is far from a case of “build it and they will come.” Parents demand trust and patience, quality and value, convenience and care, safety and selection for their children as well as themselves. Here’s how eyecare shops across the country are accomplishing just that.

Connect with Other Pediatric Providers

1 By and large, Dr. Nathan Bonilla-Warford of Bright Eyes Kids in Tampa, FL, says pediatricians are not “super comfortable” talking about vision, so Bonilla-Warford makes outreach a priority.

Throughout the year, he spends one-on-one time with local pediatricians and their staff members, providing lunch and in-service training. These visits, he says, allow him to answer questions and demonstrate how he and his team practice evidence-based care. Furthermore, Bonilla-Warford can scope out the pediatric office himself and identify key decision-makers.

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Almost immediately following one of these visits, Bonilla-Warford says, referred patients appear at Bright Eyes Kids.

“And once these doctors have one or two patients they’ve referred leave happy, referring us just becomes the norm and that makes a giant impact on our practice,” says Bonilla-Warford, who does similar meet-and-greets with occupational therapists, physical therapists, educational specialists and other youthservicing professionals. “It takes a lot of coordination and activity, but we really only need to do it once to have a big impact.”

Get to Know the School Personel

2 In Holland, MI, Beth Cassar of Complete Eye Health and Contact Lens Center has reached out to local school nurses and hand-delivered eyecare kits featuring a small screwwith driver, miniature screws, cleaners, cases and contact lens solution that help nurses troubleshoot minor problems. This gesture has helped Complete Eye Health build sturdy relationships with the school nurses, whom Cassar calls key influencers within their respective communities. The nurses will often send kids to the shop who are in significant need and, in some cases, have even called to make appointments.

Dr. Nathan Bonilla-Warford of Bright Eyes Kids Tampa works with local pediatricians and other youth-serving professionals to drive kids through his door.

Lambaria Eye & Optical in Davison, MI, meanwhile, connects with counselors at nine area schools. Lambaria provides each counselor 10 vouchers for a free eye exam and free glasses. Counselors can then distribute the vouchers to students screwwith vision needs, particularly those without the means to purchase glasses.

Spotlight Family-friendly Service

3 While word of mouth drives much of the traffic into Lambaria’s State Road storefront, the office actively markets its kid-friendly vibe on back-toschool billboards, print advertisements, email blasts and social media, including YouTube videos. “We are not afraid to mention that we’re a kid-friendly practice because we know that everyone knows someone who has kids,” Lambaria office manager Alissa McKinstry says. In Tampa, meanwhile, the mere name Bright Eyes Kids leaves no doubt as to the shop’s target clientele and its sensibilities. “The name alone absolutely makes a difference,” Bonilla-Warford says.

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Capture Mom

4 Lambaria Eye and Optical places an emphasis on targeting 30- to 45-yearold women, driven in large part by a boutique-style office that offers a chic, contemporary counter rather than the more traditional offices in town. After all, the first step in earning family business, McKinstry contends, is appealing to mom. “When you earn mom’s business, she’ll trust you to see others in her family as well,” McKinstry says.

Be Un-clinical

5 From the dentist to the doctor and, yes, even the eyecare shop, children, and even adults, can be turned off by overly clinical experiences. At McCulley Optix, McCulley dials down the traditional sterile feel. She ditches the white lab coat, talks directly to children and will even turn on a movie in the exam room. “It’s the exact opposite of a clinical experience and that helps put the patients at ease,” McCulley says. Similarly, Bonilla-Warford rejects the clinical vibe at Bright Eyes Kids. As children are often nervous and unsure at the start of an appointment, Bonilla-Warford prioritizes jokes and games before clinical work. He also employs a “no-drama drops system.” Bonilla- Warford first lets kids decide if they want their eyes open or shut for eye drops. He then distracts them by talking about the movie Up, a poster of which is tacked to the exam room’s ceiling. “It makes kids much more comfortable and relaxed, which is also a way to get better clinical information,” Bonilla-Warford says.

Promote Specialty Services

6 During her first year in business, McCulley had a few parents ask about children’s vision therapy. She accommodated those early requests and continues to do so. Today, McCulley Optix is one of only two stores in 114,000-resident Fargo offering the service and McCulley says the specialty continues to attract patients and bolster her shop’s reputation as a pediatricfriendly office. Bonilla-Warford says offering services such as vision therapy and orthokeratology distinguishes his office from a technological and credibility standpoint. “When people see the specialty services, they see the long-term comprehensive plan of care we offer and are incentivized to come back,” he says.

Favor Forgiveness

7 When Tammy Heldt arrived as the new manager at Aardvark Eyewear, a dispensary business inside the Chicago- based pediatric ophthalmology practice of Dr. Lawrence Kaufman, shifting the warranty service was among her first actions. She ditched the shop’s longstanding warranty that covered only defects and instituted one that honored more general wear and tear. Thereafter, she altered the shop’s purchasing habits to favor inventory from manufacturers with a demonstrated track record of offering quality, well-fitting frames and standing behind their product. “With kids eyewear, in particular, forgiving warranties are critical,” Heldt says.

Give Parents a Look

8 At Complete Eye Health, Dr. Kevin Cassar often invites parents to sit in the exam chair. He will then blur their vision to help them understand what their child sees. “This helps parents explicitly understand what their child is facing,” says Beth Cassar, adding that the exercise also prevents parents from feeling sold on potentially unnecessary interventions or products. “We want and need the trust of our patients and that is something you earn over time with education and honesty.”

Speak Kids’ Language

9 The father of two children, Bonilla-Warford knows lots of kids love Legos, which is why he invites kids to trade Lego figurines with him during their visits to Bright Eyes Kids. It’s a stealthy way to show kids that the business speaks their language. “It’s a totally easy and simple way to make their visit fun and memorable,” Bonilla-Warford says. Find a few things the kids in your area respond to — be it Minecraft, Pokemon, Shopkins, Matchbox or football and baseball cards — and offer it up as a reward for an exam well done. In no time, they will be begging their parents to take them back to your practice.

Custom Accomodations

10 In an effort to provide a better fit, Heldt adds custom comfort cables to many of the children’s frames she sells. Parents subsequently rave about how well the glasses stay on their child and Heldt consistently fields referrals from parents who have learned about the custom comfort cables from parents of current or past Aardvark patients. “This has been big in driving new business our way,” says Heldt, adding that fit is more critical with children than adults given the younger set’s general activity level. “Six months in the life of children’s frames is like six years to adults.”

Offer Convenience

11 At Complete Eye Health, the Cassars bunch family appointments together, a risky move, but one Beth Cassar says families with multiple bespectacled individuals love. The office will book parents and siblings together and take the entire family to the exam room at the same time. This means parents make only one trip to the office, there is less wait time between appointments and kids aren’t left unattended in the waiting room. “It’s easy and convenient for [families] and makes the patient experience better,” Cassar says, adding that her team “uber-confirms” the appointments with text, email and phone reminders to limit no-shows.

InfantSEE allows Dr. Melissa McCulley to introduce her practice and staff to new families.

Leverage Infantsee

12 InfantSEE, an 11-year-old public health program managed by the American Optometric Association Foundation, allows children between 6 and 12 months to receive a free infant eye assessment from participating eyecare providers. McCulley Optix has been a member of the InfantSEE program for much of the shop’s 10-year existence, and McCulley calls InfantSEE a no-hassle way to connect with families, proactively address any vision needs and get parents and kids acquainted with her shop. The typical first appointment, McCulley says, is a five- to 10-minute vision screening in which McCulley checks the health development of the eye. She explains to parents what she is assessing, when they might return and spotlights different services her shop offers, such as vision therapy and treatment of eye diseases like pink eye. “InfantSEE is a free opportunity for the family to meet me, interact with our staff and see our office, and it has definitely helped us establish ongoing relationships,” McCulley says.

No Excuse Replacement

13 Forgiveness is divine as well at Lambaria Eye and Optical. The 4-year-old shop offers children under 10 a no-excuse replacement once in the first year. Initially an offer limited to particular frames, the offer now applies to all of Lambaria’s youth eyewear selection. “This takes the pressure off parents as well as kids,” says McKinstry, who has used the program herself to replace her own 5-year-old daughter’s glasses.

McKinstry says only about 10 percent of qualifying patients ever need the replacement, and many of those instances are covered under a manufacturer’s warranty. “The risk versus reward is wonderful for us and parents appreciate that they don’t have to pay extra for a warranty,” says McKinstry, adding that the opportunity to build a longterm relationship “more than pays” for any replacement costs.

Keep the Pediatricians in the Loop

14 Whenever a child visits Bright Eyes Kids for an eye exam, staff ask parents for permission to send a simple one-page evaluation report — on Bright Eyes letterhead — to the child’s pediatrician. Parents value that their pediatrician is kept in the loop, while doctors generally appreciate the clinical communication as well.

“It’s a more passive marketing tool, but one that’s proven very effective,” Bonilla-Warford says. “It opens everybody’s eyes to what we do.”

Carry a Wild Selection

15 Over the last decade, Aardvark’s inventory has grown from about 300 frames to nearly 1,000, including frames Heldt has designed exclusively for the shop and a handful of select partners. Having such an expansive selection with price points ranging from $75 to $280 enables Heldt to find numerous frames that offer the precise fit she wants at styles and price points patients can appreciate. “For any patient, I’m going to have about 25 great fitting frames because of our deep inventory,” she says.

Heldt notes, however, that wide selection alone isn’t enough to drive repeat business and fuel a shop’s bottom line. “Selection draws people in, but it’s the quality of the fit that keeps them coming back,” she says.

Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 21 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at editor@invisionmag.com.

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How Eyecare Businesses Can Win the Hearts and Minds of Their Customers

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Loyal customers — not the ones who choose you because you’re the closest optical, or in the building they work in; we mean the ones who cross town to see you, the ones who are genuinely loyal — bring immense benefits. To name just a few, they reduce the cost of every sale, they tolerate price increases and the odd gaffe by a new employee, and perhaps most importantly in the eyecare business: they generate referrals. But how do you win these mythical creatures over? We asked ECPs about some of the more creative ideas they’ve come up with for winning the undying love of their customers.

COMMUNITY VIBE

The business district in Decatur, GA, holds an annual wine crawl through about 30 businesses, and Decatur Eye Care wasn’t about to let their customers miss out. Held in early March, all the businesses open their doors on the weekends, and put out appetizers and quality wines. “It’s a great way to introduce new people to your business and meet current patients in a more relaxed environment,” shared owner, Tom Brillante, OD. Similarly, Avenue Vision in Golden, CO, decided that instead of the traditional frame show, they’d collaborate with area artists and craft breweries. According to Becky Furuta, the result is “an event with a local vibe and a lot of cross-marketing. It’s an easy way to tap into other parts of the community with whom you don’t normally do business, and to bring a local focus to the business.” Who wouldn’t be back?

COLD, HARD CREDIT

Of course, nothing inspires loyalty quite like a reward in the hand. Far be it from us to encourage the pursuit of instant gratification, but an analysis of 20 brands by digital agency Hawkeye found that the most popular loyalty programs have one thing in common: “customer experience [i.e., the reward] is delivered close to the actual purchase.” That’s what Ames Eye Care in Ames, IA, discovered when they started their referral program, which according to Susan Ames has brought them many new patients. “When a patient refers a new patient and that patient has their exam, both patients can choose either a $50.00 credit in office toward glasses or contacts, or they can receive a $25.00 Amazon gift card,” says Ames.

APP AND AWAY

Precision Vision’s Loyalty App.

One of the more interesting trends among ECPs who are serious about locking in customer loyalty is developing a reward program app. Buena Vista Optical in Chicago, IL, asks patients to sign up with their phone number. Every dollar invested in their vision, and every patient referred gets them points they can cash in for their next eyewear purchase. “We have already used it for two-and-a-half years and we feel this app has definitely kept our patients loyal,” says co-owner Diana Canto-Sims.

Precision Vision Edmond in Edmond, OK, has an app with a loyalty program that’s still in its infancy, but owner Selina McGee, OD, is confident it will become a key channel for making meaningful connections with patients and customers. “One aspect that I’m really excited about are the loyalty points that can be tracked with it,” says McGee. “We can reward our patients for investing in their health and education, as well as save them a few dollars along the way.”

Having your own app can allow you to get really creative with marketing: the goal is to get people to register. (Domino’s famously awards pizza points to anyone who uploads a picture of themselves eating pizza—even if it’s a competitor’s. Of course, you have to register to upload.) According to The Manifest tech blog, nearly half of small businesses it surveyed spent less than $25,000 on theirs. There are various ways to go about it: DIY app builders, hiring outside developers and relying on tech savvy staff are the most common options.

SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO

ECPs who believe “discount” is a dirty word, look away now. But while you’re doing that, those flex dollars will be flowing somewhere else. Just ask Robert McBeath, retail operations manager at Edina Eye in Edina, MN, which runs half off all in-stock frames December through January. McBeath has been doing year-end frame sales for a long time, turning those inventory dollars into cash the practice can distribute, rather than pay taxes on. “We stop buying frames in October and run the sale as an inventory reduction sale with reduced prices only on in-stock merchandise. That saves the ‘see-a-different color’ dilemma. We put up posters in the office, add the promotion to the website, push it on Facebook and sometimes an e-blast,” he says. The Dec. 1-Jan. 31 timeframe catches year-end and New Year flexible spending money. Patients have come to expect it and many contribute to their FSA knowing that if they over-contribute they can always use the money for eyewear. “I have a few that routinely come in at the end of the year to use up their flexible spending. It does keep patients coming back,” McBeath confirms.

Edina Eye’s clients aren’t the only ones waiting for the year-end season. Mark Perry, OD, co-owner of Vision Health Institute in Orlando, FL, reports that their end-of-year frame sale —50 percent off, held on a Friday and Saturday — has been going strong for 10 years now “and it gets larger every year.”

YOUR VERY OWN RABBIT HOLE

At Vision Solutions in Lamar, MO, they call it “top-of-mind awareness.” All their marketing, according to Bryan Hartgrave, is coordinated to optimize this awareness of the practice, and targeted specifically to people living in the communities it serves. One of the best ways it’s found to do this is to implement a social media blitz several times a year, and they’ve also worked on geo-targeting their offices on search engines. “We maintain a daily social media presence with a balance of fun and educational content highlighting different themes throughout the year,” says Hartgrave. They do a frame show twice a year, and social media is a significant part of promoting it and other events and initiatives.

Coming full circle, Diana Canto-Sims at Buena Vista Optical mentions that she’s had good results with Facebook Live, which they do twice a month. She says the practice gets quite a bit of traction with more than 7,000 impressions per video and over 1,000 people reached. “We love this because it is free and 100 percent organic. Some of our videos get up to 40 shares. As a result of our Facebook Lives we usually get two or three bookings per video, not to mention more followers, likes and engagements,” she says. “Our Facebook page has over 4,000 followers. People feel they already know our staff before they come in because they have seen them on Facebook Live and we are very relatable.”

REWARD VIPs

Let’s face it: All customers are not created equal. The truth is, it pays to identify your best customers and do something special for them. Central Texas Eye Center in San Marcos, TX, have moved away from traditional trunk shows to focus on VIP private events every few months. “Our really good customers absolutely love that we close the store for them and make things personal,” says Leah Johnson. Once a VIP show is scheduled, invitations are emailed to all of CTEC’s clients. “The invitations clearly say ‘VIP event; you’re invited! Appointments are required to attend.’ If someone is interested in one-on-one attention, in a party like setting, they will respond and schedule their event appointment. These types of guests really appreciate that we close the doors to the public for the show,” says Johnson.

CTEC experiences better sales at VIP events over trunk shows, because people are committed to purchasing instead of being there to look.
“We weren’t afraid of losing money by closing the doors, and found out these are really profitable events,” she says.

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Get Your Mojo Back

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Burnout. According to retail consultant Vince Rath, it starts “when we experience the world in a way that doesn’t align with our expectations,” leaving us feeling that we’ve lost control of our lives.

Whatever the factors involved in your particular case of burnout — and it affects everyone sooner or later — the basic solution will always lie in making some kind of conscious change. And even if you’re still loving every day at work, don’t wait till you’re tapped out; implement one or all of these fixes now, whether it’s to recharge your mojo, or to just keep things copacetic…

HELP OTHERS

Researchers call it the “helper’s high.” Donating your time or volunteering can release dopamine, the feel-good chemical that causes the sensation you get when you eat chocolate. According to Psychology Today, “Brain scans show a surge of dopamine when we give or volunteer our time.” Annette Prevaux-Matejko of The Visionary in Allen Park, MI, makes time to “donate services and materials to someone who is down on their luck. Making a real difference in someone’s life makes me feel better about everything.”

CHANGE IT UP IN THE OFFICE

Melody Wilding, a performance coach and human behavior professor at CUNY Hunter College in New York, identifies “under-challenge burnout” as one of the three main types (the others being “overload burnout” and “neglect burnout”). What does Jeff Grosekemper at Casa De Oro Eyecare in Spring Valley, CA, do to ward off boredom or crankiness when it threatens? “I switch jobs with my co-worker. Right now I’m pre-testing and she is selling.” Caitlin Wicka at San Juan Eye Center in Montrose, CO, tried a different approach.

“Getting more involved with training and with patient interactions helps with burnout,” she says. “Seeing the positive feedback on social media really helps me.” If you’re an administrator, ask your boss if there’s a task you can be assigned occasionally out front. Nikki Griffin, owner of EyeStyles Boutique in Oakdale, MN, gets back out on the sales floor to “do my thing. I get all my energy from fitting an amazing pair of eyewear and lifestyle dispensing. The administration side of owning is a soul suck.”

Son Nguyen, OD, recalls a radical change in the optical that shook things up at Bakersfield

Eye Care Optometric Center in Bakersfield, CA: “Adding mostly independent frame brands to our practice. Our opticians were skeptical at first about eliminating some of the biggest name brands in our business, but, as a result, we’ve been told it has made them fall in love with their jobs all over again.” Mark Perry, OD, of Vision Health Institute in Orlando, FL, finds renewal by trying “to focus on some new and different aspect of optometry.” This has included accepting externs from two different optometry schools into his clinic.

CHANGE IT UP OUTSIDE THE OFFICE

Paula Hornbeck at Eye Candy & Eye Candy Kids in Delafield, WI sums up her revitalization strategy in one word: “Silmo!” Similarly, William Chancellor of Eye Can See Eyewear in McDonough, GA, tells us that, “Trade shows rejuvenate me. Attending Vision Expo West was a big exciting show that made the heart fonder!” Learning something new is another popular way for ECPs to find their second wind. Christine Howard at Attleboro Vision Care in Attleboro, MA, says, “Networking and attending conferences always ‘refills my cup’ when I’m feeling drained.” Sometimes, just nosing around another optical will do the trick. BJ Chambers at Carrera Optical, in McQueeney, TX, will occasionally visit a competitor, “and then I feel better about myself.”

GET CREATIVE

Burnout isn’t always a function of too much work. Repetitive or unstimulating work can land you in the same psychological territory as doing too much — feeling numb. “I’ve found coming up with a new project or marketing campaign to be rejuvenating,” shares Carissa Dunphy at Duvall Advanced Family Eyecare in Duvall, WA. “It brings the excitement [back] into what we are working on and it’s great for workplace morale.”

GET IN SHAPE

Jeff Migdow, MD, an integrative physician in Lenox, MA, told the Everyday Health blog in a recent posting that even a few minutes of physical movement serves as a powerful stress reducer, forcing us to breathe deeper and helping us “feel more like ourselves.” You don’t have to wait for the weekend or even until you get home: “Burnout is usually a sign that your work and your life outside the office are no longer in balance,” says Becky Furuta of Avenue Vision in Golden, CO. “I have always made sure to plan an hour in the middle of every workday to go for a run or a ride. I come back happier, more productive, and feeling good about where I am.” Robert M Easton, Jr, OD, in Oakland Park, FL is surely the gold standard bearer among ECPs in this category: “I do kickboxing, bodyworks, walk on the beach and weight lifting to lift the stress,” he tells us.

DECOMPRESS

We think of electronic devices as stress inducers, but your phone just might be your ticket to peace of mind. “I meditate and practice mindfulness daily, sometimes at work, using the Calm iPhone app,” says Vlad Cordero at Focus Eye Care in Hackensack, NJ. Sometimes burnout can edge into something more serious. A 2015 University of California study suggests that nearly half of all people who start a company say they have struggled with some form of mental illness. Don’t be afraid to get outside help. Tom Brillante, OD, of Decatur Eye Care in Decatur, GA, champions his “Regular visits to my therapist. Can’t recommend it highly enough.”

Billy Isgett at Eyecare of Florence in Florence, SC, shared what works for him: “Prayer.”

AND IF THOSE DON’T WORK…

Jen Heller reminds of us another sure-fire way to get your mojo going: “I read INVISION! It gets me excited about frames, fashion, new developments.” Sorry, we had to. But okay, she has more: “I’m also rejuvenated by just sitting and entering claims payment, or reconciling the books. Somehow looking at all the details of everything we do calms me down when I’m stressed, and reminds me that we’re superstars on a daily basis.”

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21 Tips for Motivating Your Team

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Behavioral researcher and author Alfie Kohn likes to tell a joke that many small business owners can no doubt relate to:

An elderly man who lives near a school is regularly harassed by a group of students. So, one day he approaches them with a deal: He’ll give each one a dollar if they’ll all return the next day and yell insults at him at a pre-ordained time. They do so eagerly and receive the money as promised. But the old man also tells them he will only be able to pay them 25 cents the next time. More or less still happy to be paid, the children are there again the next afternoon to taunt him, whereupon the old man explains that, henceforth, the daily reward for hurling abuse at him will be one cent. “A penny?” The kids are highly offended. For such a pathetic amount of money it’s not worth the effort. Forget it, they say, and never bother him again.

Like all good jokes, there’s more than a little truth in Kohn’s tale. Humans just don’t behave in seemingly rational ways, never more so than when it comes to money and the energy they are willing to exchange for it. Rewards work in some cases, but in others, they seem to not only deter quality work but bring out people’s worst sides.

The things that we humans tend to pursue with the most care and deepest motivation — like preparing dinner for a family reunion, coaching a Little League team, building a treehouse or running a marathon — are things that are challenging and complex and sometimes even painful. This suggests the things that motivate us — and which sustain peak performance — are things like a sense of achievement, progress, the welfare of others, what other people think of us — the intrinsic stuff. It also implies sustained performance is a result of people acting because they choose to — not because they feel they have to.

The final thing to appreciate about motivation is that it flows and morphs. Sometimes a surprise slice of free pizza will get the best out of an employee. Other times it is a heartfelt one-on-one talk. To unlock every employee’s fullest potential, you will have to experiment — every day and every week. In the following pages, we present a few ideas to help you on your way in this most vital and often mystifying field.

TWEEK TWEEK

1 Success in guiding employee behavior happens in the thousands of daily interactions and decisions between you and your staff. “Great managing is about release, not transformation,” says Marcus Buckingham, an author, talent expert and founder of The Marcus Buckingham Company, a strengths-based management organization. “It’s about constantly tweaking your environment so that the unique contribution, the unique needs, and the unique style of each employee can be given free rein. Your success as a manager will depend almost entirely on your ability to do this.”

KNOW THE RIGHT TRIGGERS

2 “As a rule, money tends to be a poor motivator. You have to look deeper if you want to understand what motivates people. Leadership is not about imposing your will on others, it has more to do with understanding people,” says Dr. Steve Vargo, a business consultant with IDOC and author of Eye on Leadership, An Optometrist’s Game Plan For Creating A Motivated and Empowered Team. Buckingham concurs: “A manager’s most precious resource is time, and managers know that the most effective way to invest their time is to identify exactly how each employee is different and then to figure out how best to incorporate those enduring idiosyncrasies and how to translate them into outstanding performance.”

FOCUS ON SMALL WINS

3 The psychology of motivation has moved away from the big goal approach in recent years and much more toward the idea of small wins. Indeed, Teresa Amabile’s research at Harvard has found that the most motivating thing is “any” progress in meaningful work. Says Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at the Fuqua School of Business: “The question for your staff should be, ‘Can I do one small thing to get better today?’ And the answer to that question is always, ‘Yeah, I’m sure I can.’”

HIT RECORD

4 Logging certain aspects of your life can be a surprisingly powerful practice — not because there’s much value in the record you create, but because the very act of recording exerts an interesting psychological effect. Get staff to spend a couple of days recording their time use in detail, productivity experts advise, and they’re likely to find themselves using it more efficiently. The first observation is likely the discovery that they are frittering away many hours.

DITCH DEBBIE DOWNER

5 The Protestant work ethic basically equates labor with discomfort and looks darkly at levity in the workplace. But there is little in the way of science to support it as an approach to doing good work. Indeed, berating oneself for not working harder runs contrary to establishing a mood that gets things done. A fun environment, on the other hand, promotes innovation, healthy risk-taking, good morale and improved social connections.

LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE


6 Promote positivity, says Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, explaining that an optimistic mindset boosts intelligence, creativity and energy levels. “In fact, we’ve found that every single business outcome improves. Your brain at positive is 31 percent more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed, and 37 percent better at sales,” he says on his widely-viewed TED talk. Much of the reason has to do with a better ability to deal with challenges and setbacks. But just how to do it? Achor recommends meditation, gratitude lists, more exercise and acts of kindness like sending a 2-minute “thank you” email every morning.

GIVE THEM A MAP

7 In 1965, Howard Leventhal, a psychologist at Yale, wanted to see if he could scare students into getting a tetanus vaccination (still rare then) with a presentation of lurid images of patients struck by the disease. The students were duly alarmed — but not enough to get vaccinated. Leventhal found there was one intervention that made a difference, prompting 28 percent of students to get a shot, compared with 3 percent of the others. It was a campus map, showing how to get to the clinic and the hours it was open. Subsequent research has underlined the remarkable power of such step-by-step plans. Got something you want your staff to do? Give them a figurative baby-step map to get it done.

STRUCTURE MATTERS

8 In Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations, Dan Ariely cites the case of different European countries’ success in getting their citizens to sign up to be organ donors on their drivers’ licenses. The disparity is huge and much of it comes down to a simple tweak in form design. In countries where people have to actively opt out, the willingness to donate is much higher. “It’s not because it’s easy. It’s not because it’s trivial. It’s not because we don’t care. It’s the opposite,” Ariely says of the study’s findings. “And because we have no idea what to do (in such a case), we just pick whatever it was that was chosen for us.” Design a work place where the default option is work, and people will be productive.

HARNESS TECHNOLOGY

9 There’s no shortage of apps to help your staff boost their productivity and stay motivated. One of our favorites is stickK (stickk.com), a free goal-setting platform created by behavioral economists at Yale University. Make a resolution and then if you don’t follow through, a pre-agreed amount of money will be sent to an organization you really detest. You then decide what’s worse, getting to work on time 20 times in a month or handing your cash over to Bernie or Donald or whoever else gets your hackles up. Another, HassleMe.co.uk, will remind you by email about anything you want, but does so at unpredictable intervals so that your brain can’t easily adapt to ignoring the prodding.

FLATTER PEOPLE

10 One of the most predictable and poignant (or pathetic, depending on your viewpoint) things about humans is our need to bathe in the warm glow of a compliment. Our brains light up even when we know the flattery is insincere. Think then of the power of a sincere compliment. Be on the lookout for chances to praise your team members.

GO EASY ON MEETINGS

11 For the most part, people want to work; they gripe when things like meetings stop them from doing so. Indeed, a 2006 study showed there’s only one group of people who say meetings enhance their wellbeing — those who also score low on “accomplishment striving.” In other words, people who enjoy meetings are those who don’t like getting things done. The key question for distinguishing a worthwhile meeting from a worthless one seems to be this: is it a “status-report” meeting so employees can tell each other things? If so, handle it with email or paper. That leaves much fewer “good” meetings, whose value lies in the meeting of minds, for example, a well-run brainstorming session.

PLAY PAVLOV

12 One of the reasons slot machines are so addictive is the unique power of “intermittent variable rewards.” As Pavlov showed with his dog, random rewards are more motivating than predictable ones. Make a bonus guaranteed, and it loses its power to motivate. Give employees a perk out of the blue, such as free lunch instead.

WHO MOVED MY CHEESY QUOTE?

13 The power of words tends to be fleeting, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to harness their uplifting power. Whether it’s on the notice board, a store Pinterest page, or the fridge door, look for places to adhere words of wisdom. Update regularly.

ACKNOWLEDGE PEOPLE

14 “Acknowledgment is a kind of human magic,” Ariely says. Indeed, some neuroscientists go as far as to say we need attention almost as desperately as we need food and warmth. Studies suggest that almost 50 percent of people who leave jobs quit because they feel underappreciated. Therefore, simply acknowledging a team member’s contribution can go a long way in making them feel appreciated and motivated.

TOSS BAD APPLES

15 Recent research says there’s something behind the bad apples theory: If a toxic worker sat next to a nontoxic worker, the toxic worker’s influence won out, with proximity increasing the probability that one of them would be terminated by 27 percent. Firing someone is, of course, a last resort measure. But if you have provided training, counseling and patience and the person evidently does not have the inclination to be there, it’s time for you to go your separate ways. And there’s also the sobering impact it has on other staff; firing the least productive employee serves to show staff that their jobs are not sacred.

MIND YOUR Ps AND Qs

16 In her book, The Gratitude Diaries, Janice Kaplan cites a recent survey of American workers:

81 percent of respondents said that they’d be willing to work harder for an appreciative boss.

70 percent said they’d feel better about themselves and their efforts if their boss thanked them more regularly.

And yet, gratitude at the workplace appears to be a pretty rare thing, with just 10 percent of the survey respondents saying they were regularly thanked. Want a more motivated staff? Be more generous with the thank-yous.

CLARITY OF EXPECTATIONS

17 Define excellence vividly and quantitatively. “Paint a picture for your most talented employees of what excellence looks like. Keep everyone pushing and pushing toward the right-hand edge of the bell curve,” says Buckingham.

FOSTER TEAM SPIRIT

18 Kind words and deeds count when it comes to motivating colleagues. According to research by Dan Ariely, complimentary remarks and pizza outpaced cash bonuses as ways to encourage workers to put forth more effort and show greater productivity. The results mirrored previous research by the London School of Economics and Political Science showing that people will work harder if they believe their work is appreciated.

MEET ONE-ON-ONE

19 Don’t assume employees know that you think they’re doing well or poorly. You have to tell them. According to Gallup research, employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers do not. “To get the best coaching outcomes, always have your 1-on-1’s on your employee’s turf not yours. In your office the truth hides,” says Buckingham, who recommends you spend at least 10 minutes with each employee each week, asking them just two questions: What are your priorities? How can I help?”

INVEST IN YOUR BEST

20 Spend the most time with your best people. Talent is the multiplier, says Buckingham. The more energy and attention you invest in it, the greater the yield. In one example from First, Break All the Rules, they studied great employees in data entry roles. Initially, they found that top performers were 50 percent better than average. However, after investing in them, they were nearly 10X better than average. “Ever get bogged down trying to squeeze passable work out of a bad employee? How did it feel?” he asks.

Spend the most time with your best people. Talent is the multiplier, says Buckingham. The more energy and attention you invest in it, the greater the yield. In one example from First, Break All the Rules, they studied great employees in data entry roles. Initially, they found that top performers were 50 percent better than average. However, after investing in them, they were nearly 10X better than average. “Ever get bogged down trying to squeeze passable work out of a bad employee? How did it feel?” he asks.

SHORTEN YOUR YEAR

21 Consultants Brian Moran and Michael Lennington aren’t big believers in the value of a year, at least when it comes to setting goals. A year’s too big to get your head around, they argue in their book The 12-Week Year, and there’s too much unpredictability involved in planning for 10 or 11 months in the future. Besides, it’s awful for motivation: the New Year surge of enthusiasm fades rapidly, while the feeling of racing to the finish line — that extra burst psychologists call the “goal looms larger effect” — doesn’t kick in until autumn. In its place, they advocate dividing your year into quarters, and to think of each 12 weeks as a stand-alone “year” — a stretch long enough to make significant progress on a few fronts, yet short enough to stay focused.

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