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The Big Story: Love Is in Sight







s an eyecare professional, you’re used to looking deeply into people’s eyes
— many, many times every day. But for most of us, somewhere along the line,
gazing into another’s eyes is a labor of love, not work. And when business and
pleasure meet, that can be the most fortunate love story of all.

The 2015 annual office romance survey by workplace
intelligence company found that 10 percent
of its respondents met their spouse or partner at work,
and nearly six in 10 report they’ve had a romance with
a colleague. Workplace romances were once widely
frowned upon, but only 5 percent of the people Vault
surveyed disapprove these days. Another interesting
statistic: The U.S. Census Bureau reports that
optometrists have one of the lowest divorce rates of
any profession. It was a mere 4 percent in 2000.

Love knows no season nor reason, but in honor
of this month’s big holiday, INVISION would like to
salute seven sets of visionary Valentines. Read on to see
how they met, how they make it work — and what you
can learn from them if cupid’s arrow (or maybe match.
com) ends up bringing you a fellow ECP sweetheart.



Dr. Katie
and Scot
relax with
their daughter


atie Robertson and
Scot McElvaine actually
sat next to each other
in anatomy class in high
school, but they didn’t
realize it until years later
when they saw a yearbook
photo. Katie’s family has
lived for generations in
Springfield, MO, where her
parents own an antique
store. Scot’s family moved
there in 1993 and bought a
jewelry store. “Small business
is in our blood,” Katie


DO play to each
other’s strengths,
and be patient with
each other.

DON’T step on
each other’s toes,
and try not to micromanage
each other.


The couple began dating in 2009 and Scot proposed
a year later in Hawaii, where Katie was doing an
externship rotation. They married in Springfield
in 2011 and have a 1-year-old daughter, Grace. Now
they have gone into business together, too, as the
owners of Springfield Family Vision, which opened
just before Thanksgiving last year.

Katie is an OD and Scot has an MBA. He previously
worked as a supervisor with Expedia; before that,
he helped out in his parents’ store. “I have a retail
background,” he says. “I was ready to do something
on my own, not necessarily in optical. It was the
right time to take a risk.”

For four years, Katie was an optometrist at a
group private practice in town. “There was a structural
change at my previous employer which made
it easier for me to leave,” she says. When working
for different employers, they were both doing shift
work and rushing home to see each other. Working together, especially with a small child, is a change
that simply feels right.

The McElvaines began setting up their practice
last August. They gutted a computer store and hired
an architect. “It was a mad rush,” Katie says. “But we
got everything done in 78 days.” With just the two of
them on staff, Katie runs the clinical side and Scot
does everything else. “She’s the brains and I’m the
muscle!” he says.

“We’re doing such different roles,” Katie says.
“But at the end of the day you’re going home with
that person and you want to live a happy life.” Some
days, their parents help mind Grace. Other times,
she goes to a day care center that shares a parking
lot with their business. After closing shop, they
can walk over together to pick her up. “We need
to remember why we’re doing this,” Scot explains.
“We’re doing it for each other and for our family.”



aughter is important in relationships,
and although Jason
MacLaughlin was a class clown,
Lisa Genovese fell for him. The couple —
she’s originally from Buffalo, NY, and he’s
from Shawano, WI — met socially during
their first year at Illinois College of Optometry
in 1998. Although there were 170 students
in their class, “everyone became close
real fast,” Lisa says.


DO rally behind
each other and
help each other out.

DON’T butt
into the


They worked together during rotation and then
again for 12 years at the same ophthalmology practice
in Amherst, NY. In December 2015, they opened their
own practice together. “We bought a two-location
practice owned by an optician,” Jason says. Their
new business is called Insight Eyecare/Licata Optical
with one location in Williamsville and another in
Lockport, both suburbs of Buffalo.

“People always say to me ‘you don’t want to work
together,’ but I’ve always found it fine,” Lisa says. “It’s
nice to rely on each other and bounce ideas off each
other. We use our iPhones to send each other pics to
get a second opinion.” Both have different talents,
too. Jason is more focused on optics and Lisa on
diseases. She says he’s good at billing as well. “I feel
like we’re different at what we’re strong at and so our
responsibilities complement each other,” she adds.

The couple have two children, a 9-year-old son and
a daughter who’s 7. Owning their own practice now
means Lisa can pick up their children from school
and do more activities with them. “It’s important
to enjoy life,” Jason says. “Don’t take work home
too much!”



ou know it’s love when someone
will leave a job selling luxury
real estate in Los Angeles to
join a fledgling optical shop. Two years ago,
Adam Hoffberg and his younger brother,
Jed, decided to move back to Santa Fe, NM,
where they’d lived as kids, to realize their
dream of opening an optical store. “We
dragged Chris back with us!” Adam says of
the man he met in L.A. 14 years ago. “He
has joined the ranks of the optical world.”


DO split responsibilities
so you can
excel at different things.

DON’T hold a
grudge when there’s
a disagreement … and
don’t take work home
with you.

Adam has been an optician for over 20 years and
his brother Jed has been one for 14. The two brothers
and Chris are co-owners of Ojo Optique, which they
opened in Santa Fe in 2013 and expanded to a second
location in Albuquerque last July. Adam and Jed had
previously worked in Santa Fe, where they knew
there was an opportunity for an optical shop that was
completely independent. Ojo Optique carries such
designers as Anne & Valentin, l.a.Eyeworks, Theo and
Oliver Goldsmith, and it uses only independent labs.

“Chris brings a great business background to our
partnership,” Adam says. Chris takes care of technology
and finance and works with Adam at the Santa
Fe location, while Jed runs the Albuquerque store.
“As a couple, working together can be challenging,
but for the most part it works,” Adam says. “We have
great communication skills with each other and we
have similar goals — in life and in business. We enjoy
spending time together, which is key.”


Dr. Kelly
onstage with
her husband
Dr. Michael
“Jules” Raies
singing her
song AC/
DC’s “Dirty
Deeds Done
Dirt Cheap.”
Photo by Julie


ancing by the Nile, the ladies
love his style … — Steve Martin,
King Tut

Even though (or maybe
because!) Michael Raies was
dressed like an Egyptian for a college talent
show, Kelly Carson agreed to go out with
him. Michael (aka “Jules”) was a freshman
and Kelly was a sophomore at the Ohio State
University College of Optometry when he
took the stage at a talent show to channel
Steve Martin’s Saturday Night Live skit —
and the rest is not-so-ancient history.


DO complement
each other in your
work duties.

DON’T let
things get
stale. Have
an exciting hobby
to keep things

College was where Michael’s band,
Bad Habits, the EyeDocs of Rock, came
together in 1987. “Kelly supports my
music habit,” Michael says. In fact,
she’s even joined the band onstage at its
eyecare conference gigs. But, he adds,
“I don’t think any of my patients know
we’re these closet rockers!”

Kelly and Michael married in 1990
and worked together for a year in Pittsburgh, PA,
before joining her dad in his Portsmouth, OH,
practice, which they bought in 1996. (Dr. Raymond
Carson still sees patients.) Kelly and Michael share
office space as well as their life outside the practice.
“A lot of people think it would be hard but it works
for us,” Kelly says. “It’s great and we enjoy it. I share
my time between administrative work and seeing
patients. Mike shares all the responsibilities with me.”

“We both complement each other well,” Michael
adds. “I can see how some people might butt heads
especially if they are both trying to run a practice
and not willing to compromise. But you have to
be open-minded and careful not to let business
disagreements have an effect on your personal

Over the years, Michael has worked
more hours at the practice than Kelly,
especially when they were raising
their three daughters (now ages 20,
18 and 16). The family travels together
when the band performs at shows.
“Our whole family loves music,” Kelly
says, “but we keep it separate from
the office.”


Dr. Cory
Partlow and
Dr. Jennifer
here with
their son
are balancing
life as



DO divide up office
between each spouse
so there are fewer
points of contention.

DON’T avoid taking
time off at
the same time to
go on vacation.

ory and Jennifer Partlow
met as optometry students,
though not at the same school.
In 2008, Jen was doing her ocular disease
residency at the VA Medical Center in
Huntington, WV, and Cory was an intern
at the same time. They continued to date
while he went through rotations at other
locations. After he graduated and she finished
her residency, they moved to the
same town in Virginia and worked at separate
optometry offices. They got married
in 2012.

Together they opened Black Mountain Family
Eyecare in Black Mountain, NC — near where Jen
grew up — in July 2013. “As far as opening a new
optometry office with your spouse, one of the biggest
positives is the support you get when things aren’t
going smoothly,” Cory says. “It is also great to be
able to talk about issues of the office with someone
who actually understands those issues.”

On the flip side, it’s sometimes hard to separate
your working life from your private life, and that
goes double when it comes to getting away from
the office for more than a few days to spend time
together. “It can be difficult to take time off at the
same time due to coverage issues,” Jennifer says. “But
it is extremely important to plan for it and to do it.”


t’s a family affair at Island
Opticians, where Bryan and
Amie Finley will mark their
second year in business on
April 2 — which is also their
wedding anniversary. How romantic is that?
“We met when Amie applied for a job at an
independent optical shop I worked at,” says
Bryan, who’s been in the vision care business
since 1999. “She didn’t have any optical experience,
but I could tell she was smart and was
comfortable in a sales role, so I told the boss
he’d be stupid not to hire her. Three years later,
after each going our separate ways, we reconnected
at another practice, and the next year
we were married.”


DO understand
and play off of
each other’s strengths
and weaknesses.

DON’T let it get
Always praise the
other’s efforts and

The Finleys bought a long-standing shop
in Palm Beach and have made it their own
over the past two years. “We find it hard to
not talk optical when away from work,” Bryan
says. “Between work, kids and grandbabies,
we always have something to talk about,
but I’d be lying if I said we leave work at the
office. On the good side, we do at least always
understand and can empathize with each
other when it comes to work topics.”

Both Bryan and Amie are licensed opticians,
though Bryan is at the shop more since Amie
has another job. “We try to both be involved in
frame buying and other large decisions,” Bryan
says. “I do all of the social media stuff and print
advertising, but when it comes to face-to-face
marketing, she does most of that. Let’s face it,
she’s easier on the eyes.”

an award
as Florida’s
OD of the
Decade last
year is Dr.
Ken Lawson
with his wife
Dr. Jamie


en got his future fatherin-
law’s seal of approval
before he ever met his wife.
Ken Lawson and Jamie
Wedel attended the same
large high school in Bradenton, FL, and
knew lots of the same people, but somehow,
their paths had never crossed.


DO use each
other for free
consultations on a
confusing case.

DON’T be upset with your spouse for not
always having the same opinion, especially
on major work decisions.

Taking a year off after college to decide between
medical school and optometry school, Ken was
working as a part-time high school science teacher.
That’s when he met Jamie’s father, Jim Wedel, who
also taught science. Ken decided to attend the University
of Houston College of Optometry in the fall
of 1989. Jamie had begun studies at UHCO at the
same time — and her dad made sure she met Ken
when she came home for winter break. The couple
hit it off, dated the rest of their time in optometry
school, became engaged just before graduation and
got married in 1994 after Ken finished his residency.

Like most young couples, the Lawsons had
multiple goals. Owning a private practice was one,
but paying student loans and buying a house were
on the list, too. So they both worked in commercial
optometry for a couple of years before taking the
plunge on their own business, Bayshore Eye Care.

“We finally purchased a free-standing office on
a busy corner at the end of 1995 and really got going
building the practice in 1996,” Ken says. He was
working at two places while trying to remodel the
new office and finish up their new home. Meanwhile,
Jamie was eight months pregnant with their first
child and working full time. “Whew! It makes me
tired just remembering that time in our lives,” she
recalls. They even opened a second location with
another OD, Dr. Glenn Altman, Ken’s college roommate.
“It did well, but we had little kids and wanted
more time with them,” Ken says. (Altman is still at
that practice, University Eye Care.)

One office suits Ken and Jamie well and they work
on opposite schedules. The couple’s daughter is now
19 and they have a 14-year-old son, too. The hardest
part of working together is trying to take time off.
“We want to take vacations together, but then no one
is at the office generating any income,” says Jamie.
But the best part of working together as a married
couple, she adds, is “100 percent trust in financial
and ethical decisions and complete empathy with
the other after a particularly draining day.”



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Cover Stories

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




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.


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?


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.


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.


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.”


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.”


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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Cover Stories

Get Your Mojo Back




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…


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.”


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.


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.”


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.”


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.


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.”


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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Cover Stories

21 Tips for Motivating Your Team




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.


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.”


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.”


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.’”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


9 There’s no shortage of apps to help your staff boost their productivity and stay motivated. One of our favorites is stickK (, 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,, 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?”


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.


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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