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ECPs share the most important days in the history of their business

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Life often presents us with definitive, formative and hairpin moments that shape all our experiences — the good and bad — from that point on. Marriage, the birth of a child, the death of a parent, a graduation, the loss of a job, can all drastically change the direction of our lives in a near instant. The same sorts of seminal events can happen in a business. We asked ECPs to share the most single most important day in the history of their business and how it affected things to come. Read on to hear their stories.

D’Ambrosio Eye Care | Lancaster, MA

THE DATE: October 2004

The day D’Ambrosio Eye Care moved out of a hospital suite and into its own, free-standing facility was the practice’s very own big bang.

“We exploded,” is the still-vivid recollection of director of optical services Jocelyn Mylott.

There are all kinds of innovations, from the incremental to the dramatic, that you can apply to your business to boost growth, but few changes have as much potential to instantly turbocharge your performance as a change of address. In D’Ambrosio’s case it was a matter of recognizing that they had reached the limits, in terms of growth potential, of their existing site, tucked away as it was in a larger building.

“We had rented a suite in the hospital and we had outgrown the space. Thinking back we had about three ODs and the MD owner; and now we have at least double the capacity,” Mylott says. And the growth didn’t stop there — now that they can accommodate more patient traffic, they have added new computer software and HR, and brought in a large number of new staff. “This was all back in 2004. It was the start of our growth in general.” It wasn’t long after their move that D’Ambrosio expanded to three locations — soon they’ll be at six and counting.

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Kenneth D. Boltz, OD | Dublin, OH

THE DATE: MAY 16, 2016

Ask Ken Boltz, OD, why the day he opened his solo business after three decades in group practice was the most important day in the history of his business and he’ll rattle off three reasons: “Much simpler, more enjoyable and much more fulfilling.”

“Opening a brand new office allowed me to get back to what I enjoy most,” Boltz says. “Helping patients see their best while getting to know them personally, forming a stronger long-term bond with them.”

As he was preparing to open, Boltz visited a number of offices, looking for ways to improve upon methods, equipment, floorplans, etc. “Opening a new office allowed me to take all that I had learned and do it even better. New equipment — a computerized phoropter, improved retinal imaging, new OCT and more. We attended both VEW and VEE to select the frame vendors we wanted to do business with. That allowed us to focus more on independent frame vendors that were unique and that our patients love.”

And, freed from the constraints of design by committee, Boltz seized the opportunity to design his waiting room to look more like a living room than a doctor’s office. “My new office is much more enjoyable, simpler and easier.”

But for Boltz, reflecting on a key turning point doesn’t mean he’s content: “We continue to look for ways to improve every day. I love what I do and hope to continue to practice for many more years.”

 

Eye Care Pavilion | Davenport, IA

THE DATE: March 1, 2015

An office move is enough to make an impact on a business, but what happens when that move coincides with a major staff overhaul? Jason Stamper, assistant manager at the Eye Care Pavilion, can tell you. The most important day in your business becomes “when our office moved to the opposite side of town. Our clientele changed, as well as 75 percent of our owners/doctors. Two decided to retire when we moved, and another retired just six months later.”

A change like that could seriously handicap a business, but Eye Care Pavilion saw it as an opportunity. “We had been at the previous location for almost 30 years. It was a beautiful older building, but was in bad need of an update. While our new location is smaller, we’re much more efficient with the space.” Now each doctor has two exam lanes and because they relocated close to a lot of medical practices, they’ve seen a noticeable rise in their medical visits.

But what about the patients? “Overall the reaction was good,” says Stamper. The move was only 6 miles but some didn’t migrate at first. “Now in our third year, we are starting to see many who left come back.” And the practice is building on that momentum: “We started advertising on TV again…and we also partnered with a local pro sports team as their official eyecare provider.”

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Hudson River Eye Care | Tarrytown, NY

THE DATE: August 7, 2013

“My most important day was the first day we opened our first private practice,” says Larah Alami, OD. “It’s like the day your first child is born, you can never go back to your previous self.”

In fact, Alami remembers that time well. “For six years, I worked in a variety of private and commercial practices.” But as an employed OD, she didn’t see much of the optical and business sides. “As a business owner, I’ve come to love frame-buying, learning about…lenses and coatings, learning how to bill, and generally being the office manager of our practice.”

She loves the things other business owners may not be so fond of. “Every day, I wake up excited to go to work. Beyond the typical patient care, I spend…hours in the optical and working on the managerial side of things, and I love it,” she shares.

That’s not the only place she is bucking the trend. “One of the things that drove me to go into practice for myself was working in too many mediocre practices where the owner was solely concerned with profit,” she explains. “The employees didn’t care, the equipment was broken or missing, the office hadn’t been renovated in 20 years, there was no focus on quality products or service, and the general atmosphere was depressing. I take pride in creating a happy, modern workplace that serves both employees and patients.”

 

Dr. Texas Smith and Associates | Citrus Heights, TX

THE DATE: SUMMER OF 1980

Texas Smith, OD, at Dr. Texas Smith and Associates likes to keep things simple so he can focus on what he does best — using his more than 50 years of experience to provide top-quality eyecare. And there’s one day in the long history of his practice that stands out; a day when things got dramatically simpler: “The day we went all cash. Exam and half on products prior to any orders. I have no accounts receivable.”

When patients ask whether he accepts credit, Dr. Tex explains his agreement with Bank of America, “We don’t do credit and the bank won’t fit glasses or contacts.”

Dr. Tex says that many years ago he had an employee that had worked for a local dentist. One afternoon she asked why he had accounts receivable, since his fees were much lower than dental charges, half of which were collected on the first visit and the balance upon completion of the dental work. “That day I changed my office policy to payment for exam and one half optical fees prior to ordering Rx,” says Smith. “The majority of our patients pay the whole bill on the day of exam.”

“I have no accounts receivable, no employee time spent billing, no patients sent to collection,” says Smith, adding: “By the way, you lose the money and the patient when they go to collection.”

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HD Optical Express | Lansing, MI

THE DATE: November 5, 2014

Here’s a “greatest day in my business” recollection that generously recognizes the heart and soul of any successful practice — the staff. When Dr. Daniel Nash, OD, purchased HD Optical Express in 2014, things got off on the wrong foot when he discovered unpaid bills left behind by the previous owner. However, says Cassie Nash, “With hard work and sacrifice, it only took a few months to start generating enough income to be able to hire Elizabeth Nagy, an ABO-certified optician.”

Things started looking up almost immediately.

“Elizabeth,” Cassie says, “is intelligent, positive, courteous, and responsible; she delivers quality customer service that significantly contributes to the HD Optical reputation and legacy. Dr. Nash is a wonderful optometrist who cares greatly about his patients, and finally the optical side of our business matches the quality of his eye exams.” In particular she cites Nagy’s ability to educate patients on lens options, which has boosted upgrades and sales, and led to an increase in overall patient satisfaction. “Hiring her taught us that having a well-rounded and educated optician on the front lines is just as important as having a great doctor,” Cassie says.

 

Rockford Family Eyecare | Rockford, MI

THE DATE: Mid-February 2016

Here’s one to warm any OD’s heart. The greatest day in the life of Rockford Family Eyecare? That’s easy, says owner Dr. Theodore Sees: “The first day we had a full day of appointments and they all showed up! As a new office [the practice is less than four years old], I still remember that day and it feels like it has stayed that busy since then,” says Sees.

Basically, this was the day the team at Rockford exhaled and started to think of themselves as having arrived. Adds office manager Melanie Turos: “We felt that this was the most important day because it meant so much to both the doctors and the staff, both those who worked at the office from opening and those who had joined the company as we grew. It changed the way we approached business because we started looking at our office as an established office rather than a new office.” Rockford Family Eyecare, she says, had always tried to schedule both new and established patients, “but now we needed to brainstorm new ideas for growth within the office.”

Sees reports that growth remains rapid and staff is trying to keep up the best it can. “It has been so wonderful to watch our business’s growth from the very beginning!” he says.

 

Eye to Eye Optometry | Mexico, MO

THE DATE: Thanksgiving 1999

On that day Jim Williams and his wife, Dr. Kristi Williams, drove by a building for rent. “The owner met us and we signed a provisional lease,” shares Jim. “That was the start of our own business.” Most surprising about the Williams’ story is that they hadn’t been planning it. “We hadn’t been actively thinking about opening our own business, but the cards all fell into place,” he says.

“I was working as an independent contractor for an optician office,” adds Kristi. “The owner was getting older and wasn’t interested in investing in the space. He suggested if I wanted changes, I should buy the office and do it myself. It sounded great but scary as well. So, we bought the practice, but not the real estate. We outgrew that space in about five years but made do until the right opportunity presented itself.” Which it did that fateful Thanksgiving.

Last year brought a further evolution. “We moved into a larger space that we own, designed and did a lot of the work ourselves,” says Jim. “I’d like to say we would have done this sooner. Or should have. But we were really fortunate to have been offered this opportunity. It was worth the wait. We have a great staff, business, and patients. We are living the dream!”

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Visualeyes Optometry | Sherman Oaks, CA

THE DATE: April 20, 2017

“Moving into my new office space a year ago was my most important day,” says Visualeyes Optometry’s Lee Dodge, OD. “It marks the success we have had and moving into a larger space that we can grow into represents the success that is yet to come.”

The new address is less than a mile from the space they had occupied since 2006, but it is light years away from how they used to practice. “I have double the space, so I have more room to expand and the optical is larger, so we have more frames,” explains Dodge. He also has more exam rooms, doctors, patients and staff. And his patients? “They love the new space, except for one. There is always one,” he laughs. “I’d say all of them migrated. Maybe 99 percent? We even got a few old patients back that stopped going to our old place because of the parking.” Win!

 

Bright Eyes Vision | Hartsville, PA

THE DATE: August 2016

Sometimes it’s the bad days that shape your business. That was the case at Bright Eyes Vision when they were faced with a patient who did not understand her insurance and tried to blackmail them to give her contact lenses for free or face a negative Yelp review.

Dr. Sue Miller explains: “This patient had an insurance plan where their contact lens benefits were different if the lenses qualified as “selection” or “non-selection”…she needed astigmatic lenses, ‘non-selection’ at that time.” After Bright Eyes put her lenses in she refused to pay and made the threat. “We are a cold startup and reviews are even more important to us, but so is not being blackmailed,” explains Dr. Sue, who practices with her daughter Dr. Heather. The patient had a friend put a negative review on the business’ Facebook page and Yelp.

Bright Eyes responded to both reviews at length and now has a contact lens agreement that everyone who wants contacts must sign. A hard lesson learned but “we have not had an incident since,” says Dr. Sue.

 

Eye Candy Optical Center | McMurray, PA

THE DATE: June 19, 2009

“The day I found out the business was for sale, I said “I would like to buy it,” says Dr. Monika Marczak. That was followed by a cold sweat and a cry in her car. But she knew she wanted to preserve her team and that everything would fall into place. She purchased what is now Eye Candy Optical Center in August 2009 and has had the same team since — there has been zero turnover!

The previous owners were already negotiating with more experienced ODs. “Because I came into the game late, I only had two weeks to present a Letter of Intent. I went to all the banks, I begged, I pleaded, and they all said no,” she explains. “A patient knew the president of S&T Bank, who…took a chance. It was because of people’s trust in me and my vision that I was able to obtain the loan.”

“It was the scariest decision but the ride has been nothing but exciting,” she exclaims. And she has the support of that long time staff. “They know that my first instinct was to save their jobs, not own my own business.” But she is also quite pragmatic when it comes to their longevity. “My payroll is higher than industry standard and I provide medical insurance and 401K match so it’s difficult to leave me!”

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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Best of Eyecare

25 ECPs Share Their Elevator Pitches

25 ECPs put who they are and what they do for a living in a sentence or two… or three.

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OK… You’ve slipped into the elevator just as the doors are closing. The woman on your left is wearing poorly fitting frames that are totally wrong for her. The gentleman to your right is squinting as he tries to find the button for his floor. You sense a golden opportunity, but the floors are already ticking by. You’ve got until those doors open again to tell these potential clients what you do and how you can help them. It’s time to dust off your “elevator pitch.” Our Brain Squad members are rarely at a loss for a few well-chosen words, so we asked them their best pitches. Here’s what they had to say to those future customers and patients on the subject of… you.

Hi, My name is Diana Canto Sims. I am an eyeball doctor turned eyewear designer for the diverse and the bold. What do you do? — Diana Sims, Buena Vista Optical, Chicago, IL

We help you create a look that is as unique as you are. — Doreen Erbe, Snyder Eye Group, Ship Bottom, NJ

I create complete custom eyewear by hand in Glenview. This includes the frames as well as the lenses. — Kevin Count, Prentice Lab, Glenview, IL

I am the owner and doctor at an eyecare office focused on pampering our patients.  — Nytarsha Thomas, OD, Visionelle Eyecare, Zionsville, IN

I can easily knock 10 years off your look and I promise people will notice! — Jennifer Leuzzi, Mill Creek Optical, Dansville, NY

We sell unique eyewear from all over the world.” (Then give a few specific examples of exotic materials. However, never oversell or seem pushy. Just plant the seed!!!)”  — Scott Keating, OD, Vision Trends, Dover, OH

You know the eyes are the windows to the soul right? Sometimes the windows cannot see; I help with that. I am an optometrist.” — Selina McGee, OD, Precision Vision, Edmond, OK

I refine one of your five senses. I give you vision and insight into your health, with a twist of style, all while having a good time in the process. — Cynthia Sayers, OD, EyeShop Optical Center, Lewis Center, OH

I explain that I run a practice for an eye doctor and that our goal is to make sure each patient sees well and is educated on the products and materials we wear ourselves. — Amy Pelak, Proview Eyecare Optometry, Corona, CA

I help people love their new eyewear, and owning 31 pairs of glasses and sunwear, I know I can find the right pair for you. — Kathy Maren Comb EyeCare & Eyewear, Western Springs, IL

I talk about the unique things our practice offers like sensory and vision therapy. We carry a variety of frames for the whole family. From durable kids, to the fun and funky for mom and dad. We’re not your average eye doctor.” Heather Nagucki, Brodie Optometry, Perrysburg, OH

I compliment someone on their glasses. I may ask them where they got them and always say something nice about their doctor or optician. I know everyone in town after 50 years in Sacramento. If the patient discusses a bad experience then I drop a business card.”  — Texas L. Smith, OD, Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associates, Citrus Heights, CA

I help people see and look better.  — Jason Stamper Eye Care Pavilion, Davenport, IA

I tell them I try not to look like an optometrist! — Dave Schultz, OD, Urban Optics, San Luis Obispo, CA

When I meet people I always try to tell them I’m like a pharmacist for your eyeglasses. — Bob Schmittou, New Eyes Optical, Wyandotte, MI

I’m an optician. Once the eye doctor is done with you I will help you with any optical needs whether glasses or contacts. Basically, I make you look good! — Scott Felten, Fox Valley Family Eye Care, Little Chute, WI

We get to help people see to their fullest potential. It’s the best job in the world! — Caitlin Bruno, Binyon Vision Center, Bellingham, WA

I’m like a pharmacist. I fill the prescription written by the doctor. But in Michigan, your optician doesn’t have to have a license the way your pharmacist does. That’s why there are so many people walking around in ugly glasses that can’t see.  — Dave Goodrich, Goodrich Optical, Lansing, MI

I bend light for a living. — Jon LaShorne, Kirkpatrick Eye Care, Madison, IN

I frame the windows to your soul with beauty. — Frances Ann Layton, Eye Associates of South Georgia, Valdosta, GA

I have no elevator pitch. I just let people know why I love doing what I do.” — Pablo E. Mercado, Mount Vernon Eyecare, Dunwoody, GA

Nice glasses! I bet they cost you a fortune. I’m an optician. Here’s my card. Next time you’re in the market for a new pair, give me a call and I’ll save you money.” — Mitchell Kaufman, Marine Park Family Vision, Brooklyn, NY

Everyone knows what a pharmacist does … so I equate my career as a licensed optician to that. I take a prescription from a doctor and I interpret that prescription. I advise and educate the patient on how to use the prescription written. I generate a product from that prescription and then dispense that prescription as a piece of medical equipment.”  — William Chancellor, Eye Can See Eyewear, McDonough, GA

We help people see the important things in life.” — John Marvin, Texas State Optical Inc., Houston, TX

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Cover Stories

18 Ways to Make Your Team the Happiest on the Planet

Sell more, produce more, be more creative, satisfy more customers… through happiness.

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Traditional management theory has a lot to answer for. Don’t tolerate failure, keep workers emotionally at arm’s distance, discourage individualism, focus on remedying weakness as opposed to playing up strengths, frown at play, motivate workers by throwing money at them, or failing that, wielding a big stick … The list of prohibitions and negativity goes on.


It is perhaps surprising, then, that the realization happy workers also tend to be more productive workers was one of management theory’s earlier discoveries. As part of the famous Harvard study of the Hawthorne Works factory in Chicago in the mid-1920s, researchers observed that employee performance could be greatly boosted by influencing not only the physical environment but the social context within which they toiled. A worker was more than an input. He or she also had feelings. And when employees were in a positive state of mind, they did more, better work.

That finding set off decades of experiments in which bosses sought to boost productivity by trying to make workers more joyful. Yet the results were ambiguous. This was partly because they were measuring the wrong indicator of happiness — job satisfaction (something that can be guaranteed by a paycheck, but which doesn’t translate into improved performance over time) — and partly because happiness itself is such an elusive, mercurial target.

More recently, however, a consensus has started to form on what constitutes the kind of positive mindset that drives performance —and it’s not simply sensory pleasure that comes from a bowl of free M&Ms in the kitchen. It’s about inner well-being.

“Happiness isn’t just about feeling good every moment of the day, and it’s not just about pleasure,” says Dr. Annie McKee, director of the PennCLO Executive Doctoral Program and a co-author of Primal Leadership. “Happiness at work is a deep and abiding pleasure that is fueled by a sense of meaningful purpose, hope and friendships.”

McKee’s list reflects much of the PERMA acronym developed by Martin Seligman, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and one of the foremost experts on the study of happiness.
The acronym, which he sets out in his bestseller Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding Of Happiness And Well-Being, stands for just about everything you need to know about fostering happiness:

  • Positive emotion (optimism)5 Engagement (feeling in the flow at work, when workers are using their strengths)
  • Good Relationships (the importance of friends and feeling a part of the tribe)
  • Meaning (feeling that the work being done matters, including to the bottom line)
  • Accomplishment (the sense of making progress)

Seligman’s research suggests workers are happiest when they’re lost in a meaningful project, working toward a higher goal, or being helpful. Those factors also happen to be aligned with a productive workplace.
Happiness, then, should be light but not trivial. Get such a workplace ethos right, and the benefits are significant.

In a meta-analysis of 225 academic studies, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Laura King, Ed Diener and the Gallup Organization found that happy employees have, on average, 31 percent higher productivity; their sales are 37 percent higher; their creativity is three times higher. Other research has shown happy workers take one-tenth the sick leave, are more loyal, more likely to satisfy customers (who is not drawn to a happy worker?), and more likely to engage in safe workplace conduct. They deal with stress better, manage complexity better, are more engaged, motivated, resilient, energetic, and make smarter decisions.

“Every business outcome shows improvement when the brain is positive. I call this the ‘happiness advantage,’” says Shawn Achor, a Harvard researcher, in his book of the same name (The Happiness Advantage).

“It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive,” Achor says.

The reason is because unlike fear or anger or anxiety, which cause our nervous systems to close down and inhibit rational functioning, positive emotions that go along with being happy, like enthusiasm and excitement, joy, and pleasure, actually help us to think better. “Our minds open up; we can take in more information; we can process it more quickly. Ultimately, we can make better decisions. Those conditions allow us to be more successful at work,” says McKee.

With such a strong case for happiness, it is perhaps surprising that most workplaces are anything but joyful. According to surveys done by the Gallup Organization, upwards of two-thirds of employees are either neutral, which means they don’t care about their work, or are actively disengaged, which suggests they are hurting the interests of their employer.

In many instances, the lack of cheer in the office, on the factory floor or in the shop is because of an entrenched suspicion of levity, that it somehow signals a lack of professionalism. Or in the case of high-end retailers, a lack of sophistication (rich people don’t need to please anyone, so why smile?).

Even in cases where companies try hard to boost happiness levels by investing in happiness coaches, team-building exercises, gameplays, funsultants, or Chief Happiness Officers, the record is not great.
As such programs have found, the frustrating thing about positive emotions — happiness, but also awe, wonder and love as well — is that they can’t be forced. It doesn’t work when you tell yourself to be happy — and when the pressure comes from others, especially when it is top down, as in a business setting, it’s worse. There’s something in the makeup of happiness that requires it arise freely; indeed, focusing on happiness can actually make people feel less happy.

There is also a problem with workers themselves, actually with all humans; it’s as if we are wired to resist lasting happiness.

Pay someone more money or celebrate the completion of a big project and after a fairly brief period, their level of happiness returns to its less-than-satisfactory base. Psychologists refer to this as the hedonic treadmill — no matter the effort applied, we end up in the same place.

Evolutionary scientists theorize this tendency serves as protection against complacency in a world of risk, but for a manager in 2018, it’s just really annoying. (Interestingly, research shows that the one time money does make people happy on a lasting basis is when it improves their social rank (i.e., makes them richer than their friends and work colleagues). But that’s not a sustainable remuneration strategy.

So what to do? How to build an army of happy worker bees?

The first step is to hire for attitude. The idea that a happy demeanor is to a large extent genetically determined is one of psychology’s most firmly held beliefs. Harvard social psychologist Dan Gilbert estimates genetics account for about 50 percent of your workers’ disposition.

That leaves a lot that you can work with.
“The goals you set, the culture you foster, the habits you cultivate, the way you interact with workers, how you think about stress—all these can be managed to increase your staff’s happiness and your chances of success,” says Achor.

The good news is that the No. 1 factor that will lift spirits is progress in meaningful work. Help your workers do their jobs better and they become happier, thereby laying the foundation for even better business results. It’s called the progress loop.

“Understand that people matter, feelings matter, and it’s the No. 1 job of a manager to create a climate where people feel good about what they’re doing, where they’re happy, engaged and ready to share their talents,” says McKee.

Too fuzzy and warm for you?

Consider that even workers participating in the most serious work — from finance to nuclear submarine crews to firefighters — perform better when they are in a good mood.

Developing new habits, nurturing your employees, and thinking positively about stress are good ways to start (and next up we’ll provide more ways you can support a culture of happiness among your team).

But perhaps the best part about building a happiness culture is that managers needn’t fret about trying to read the psyches of their workers, or manipulate complicated incentive schemes.

Ultimately, happiness can be cultivated by setting a clear direction, giving people what they need to do the job, nourishing a spirit of positivity … and getting out of their way.

 

27 Ways to Make Your Business Happier

Research suggests we have a happiness set point we soon revert to after most events, happy or sad. So, aside from plying your staff with wine, is there anything that can be done to make them more content? It turns out quite a lot. We get you started with several here, but be sure to check out our online extras at invisionmag.com/extras.

1. Set a positive morning routine

Employees’ moods when they clock in tend to affect how they feel for the rest of the day as well as their perceptions of customers and how they interact with them. “We saw that employees could get into these negative spirals where they started the day in a bad mood and just got worse over the course of the day,” says Ohio State University’s Steffanie Wilk. “That’s why it is so important for companies to find ways to help their workers start off the day on the right foot.” Get them anticipating something positive is one good way. Casa De Oro Eyecare in Spring Valley, CA, does this by getting to the office early every day, turning up the music loud and rocking out until it’s time to open the door. Dr. Selina McGee at Precision Vision in Edmond, OK, opts for something more digital. “We do fun quotes, pictures, etc., in a group text to start the day. Adding fun to our workday consists of what is authentic to us, we laugh, don’t take ourselves too seriously, we pop a champagne cork to celebrate when cool things happen.”

2. Deliver progress

In their book The Progress Principle, Harvard researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer make a strong case that of all the things that can boost motivation during a workday, the single most important is making progress on meaningful work. And the wins don’t have to be big. “Many of the progress events our research participants reported represented only minor steps forward. Yet they often evoked outsize positive reactions,” they write. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. Amabile and Kramer say the best managers know how to activate two forces that enable progress: 1) catalysts: events that directly drive work, such as clear goals and autonomy, providing sufficient resources and time, helping with the work, using problems and successes as learning points, and allowing a free exchange of ideas — and 2) nourishers: interpersonal events that uplift workers, including encouragement and demonstrations of respect and collegiality and opportunities for affiliation.

3. Write a two-minute email

Achor recommends insisting employees take two minutes every morning to send a friend, family member or co-worker an email to say thanks for something. “We’ve done this at Facebook, at U.S. Foods, at Microsoft… What we find is this dramatically increases their social connection, which is the greatest predictor of happiness we have in organizations.” Texts work fine, too.

4. Count your blessings

The old saying is true: “What you have makes you happy. What you want makes you unhappy.” Yes, it can sound corny, but it’s hard to emphasize how powerful gratitude is. “Showing gratitude for the good things in life is the most powerful happiness boosting activity there is,” says Barker. And according to Seligman, the best way to build it is the “Three Blessings” exercise. Urge your workers to set aside 10 minutes before they go to sleep to write down three things that went well in the day, and — this is important — why they went well. “Your brain will be forced to scan the last 24 hours for potential positives,” says Achor. “This trains the brain to be more skilled at noticing and focusing on possibilities for … growth, and seizing opportunities to act on them.” Vision Solutions in Lamar, MO, does something similar with its end of day meetings. “We incorporate any funny or odd things from the day into our end of the day huddle, recognize staff who went above and beyond, and recognize any team members for outstanding work,” says Bryan Hartgrave.

5. Exercise

What makes people happiest? Sex, socializing and exercise, says Eric Barker, author of the Barking Up the Wrong Tree blog. As a business owner, it’s the last of these you can promote. A Finnish study of 3,403 people in 1999 showed that those who exercise at least two to three times a week experience significantly less depression, anger, stress, and “cynical distrust” than those who exercise less or not at all. Being in good shape also increases learning ability. Enter your store in a fun run, give staff 10 minutes at lunch to fit in a CrossFit class, or play in a social softball league.

6. Do fun things often

Here’s an interesting fact about happiness: frequency beats intensity. Lots of little good things make people happier than a handful of big things because they give people frequent, regular boosts. Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker says the findings lead to a really simple conclusion: The things that make you happy? Do them more often. “Focus on increasing the amount of good stuff in your life vs. reducing the amount of bad stuff,” she says.

7. Hire for a positive attitude

The “war for talent” is a myth, says marketing guru Seth Godin. It’s actually a war for attitude. “There are a few jobs where straight up skills are all we ask for. But in fact, even there, what actually separates winners from losers isn’t talent, it’s attitude,” he writes on his widely followed blog. And Achor’s research backs this up. “Seventy-five percent of long-term job success is predicted not by intelligence and technical skills, which is normally how we hire,” Achor says. Instead, it’s predicted by three categories: optimism, social connections, and the way people handle stress. In The Happiness Advantage, he recounts an experiment he ran with MET Life to hire people based on optimism. The optimistic group outsold their more pessimistic counterparts by 19 percent in year one and 57 percent in year two. They were also much less likely to quit.

8. Focus on strengths

Workers gain a boost in positive emotions the more they use their signature strengths — those qualities they are uniquely best at. “The more hours per day adults believe they use their strengths, the more likely they are to report having ample energy, feeling well-rested, being happy, smiling or laughing a lot, learning something interesting, and being treated with respect,” write the Gallup Organization’s Brandon Rigoni and Jim Asplund in a blog. As their manager, you’re probably aware who does what well. But UPenn happiness expert Martin Seligman says you should ask them anyway. “Identify their signature strengths and then make room to allow them to use their strengths more often,” he writes in Authentic Happiness. For workers, there is intrinsic satisfaction. For employers, a much higher state of performance.

9. Savor the Good Stuff

Old clichés like “stopping to smell the roses” and “it’s the little things in life” are actually profound and effective. Happiness researchers call such strategies “savoring” and have even put a hard figure on it — people who regularly take notice of things that are positive were 12 percent more likely to say they were satisfied with their lives. The point, says behavioral scientist Winifred Gallagher in her book RAPT, is that “you see what you look for. And you can train yourself to attend to the joy out there waiting to be had, instead of passively waiting for it to come to you.”

10. Hold happy meetings

Most managers are wary of allowing too much good cheer in meetings, apparently out of fear it will derail the agenda or distract the participants. But according to a study by psychologists from VU University Amsterdam and the University of Nebraska, humor can greatly boost the effectiveness of meetings, leading to long-term productivity gains. “Humor patterns triggered problem-solving behaviors (e.g., what do you think about this approach?), procedural suggestions (e.g., let’s talk about our next step), and goal orientation (e.g., we should target this issue),” reports Scientific American. “Humor patterns also promoted supportive behaviors like praise and encouragement, and led to new ideas and solutions.” Such humor works best when it is positive, as opposed to sarcastic, when it supports group rapport (joke, laughter, another joke) and when the workers have a certain level of job security. Jessica Brundidge at Clarity Vision in Clayton, NC, adds levity to their weekly meetings with “shout outs” and memes. “We do a weekly “shout out” that is a positive reinforcement to our staff. We go over any new items that may need to be discussed or reviewed and if a patient or another co-worker has complimented an employee we like to “shout it out,’” she says. “We also make some personal things in there such as a birthday or work anniversary etc. and then we always end the shout out with a funny meme of some sort.”

11. Encourage ‘me’ time

Allow workers to really clock off. Their weekends and evenings should enable them to recharge. And besides, people focused on nothing but work tend to be boring and lack common ground with customers.

12. Set them free

Why do business owners outrank just about every other occupation in overall well-being despite working longer hours and earning slightly less, on average, than many professionals? A lot of it has to do with autonomy. People are happier when they aren’t being told what to do. “Once employees have been trained, allow them, whenever possible, to manage people and execute projects in their own way,” says Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist at San Diego State University. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, he cites a 2014 Citigroup and LinkedIn survey that found nearly half of employees would give up a 20 percent raise for greater control over how they work. “Autonomy also promotes innovation, because different people try different approaches. Often, younger or less experienced employees — those you trust the least — will be your chief innovators, because they’re less constrained by what ‘usually’ works,” Zak says.

13. Create a fun environment

The traditional business environment isn’t often conducive to good cheer. Don Gibson, dean of management at Fairfield University’s Dolan School of Business, found that working professionals from multiple organizations felt more comfortable expressing anger than joy on the job (they reported expressing anger three times as often). Office décor and furnishings, too, may suggest what’s expected emotionally. Signs with lists of rules and consequences for breaking them reflect a culture of fear. Photos of employees laughing at social events or action figures perched on cubicle walls, Kleenexes stapled to potentially stressful memos, or chocolate kisses taped to boring ones signal a culture of joy.

14. Be a model

A long line of research on emotional contagion shows that people in groups “catch” feelings from others through behavioral mimicry and subsequent changes in brain function. “If you regularly walk into a room smiling with high energy, you’re much more likely to create a culture of joy than if you wear a neutral expression. Your employees will smile back and start to mean it. So consciously model the emotions you want to cultivate in your company,” says the HBR’s guide to Everyday Emotional Intelligence.

15. Celebrate with rituals

Sharing and celebrating successes is a time-honored way to drive performance, define best practice, boost team solidarity — and elevate pleasant emotions. Recognition has the largest effect on emotion when it occurs immediately after a goal has been met, when it comes from peers, and when it’s tangible, unexpected, personal, and public, says Zak. Be sure to celebrate small wins with almost the same fervor as the big accomplishments. Visionelle Eyecare in Zionsville, IN, does that with little competitions. “My squad loves competition so I will have a small competition once a month to see who can get the most reviews, or sell a second pair and they win a small prize like a gift card or movie tickets. We also have a daily and monthly goal,” says owner Nytarsha Thomas, OD. “We have a tradition of doing a happy dance at the end of the day when we make our daily goal and if we make our monthly goal, we’ll treat them to something more sought after like a massage or nice dinner.”

16. Ask for help

Realize that you can’t and shouldn’t be Superman. In fact, a boss willing to show vulnerability makes for a happier workplace. “My research team has found that this stimulates oxytocin production in others, increasing their trust and cooperation. Asking for help is a sign of a secure leader—one who engages everyone to reach goals,” says Zak.

17. Find meaning

Experiments show that having a sense of higher purpose — a sense that your work has meaning and is helping someone — stimulates production of oxytocin, the “hug hormone.” Meaning can be as simple as making a useful and high-quality product for a customer or providing a genuine service for the local community. It can be supporting a colleague or boosting an organization’s profits by reducing inefficiencies in a production process. It’s not hard for managers to infuse meaning into the work of their employees’ lives, but it’s also incredibly easy for them to undermine it. For example, Duke psychology professor Dan Ariely and colleagues conducted a study in which participants were paid to build Lego models, some of which were dismantled in front of them upon completion. People whose creations were preserved made, on average, 50 percent more Lego models than those whose models were destroyed, despite identical monetary incentives. Trust and purpose are as fragile as they are important.

18. Manage in micromoments

A mission statement is one thing; day-to-day work life is another. “It’s not enough to codify emotional culture; it must also be managed and enacted in the ‘micromoments’ of daily organizational life,” writes Andy Westmoreland on the productivity blog Elevator Up. “Small gestures rather than bold declarations of feeling; little acts of kindness and support adding up to an emotional culture characterized by caring and compassion,” he says.

19. Hug more

In the post-Harvey Weinstein era, this may be dangerous advice, but try to touch your workers more (handshakes and back pats work just fine). Research shows getting five hugs a day for four weeks “increases happiness big time,” says Barker. “Touching is incredibly powerful. We just don’t give it enough credit. It makes you more persuasive, increases team performance, improves your flirting … heck, it even boosts math skills,” he writes on his blog. Don’t want to risk it? Offer a massage as a spiff for good work. According to a review of studies by the University of Miami School of Medicine, massage appears to increase your brain and body’s levels of serotonin.

20. Get a light box

If you live in the north of the continent, get a light box. According to research from UBC Hospital in Vancouver, Canada, light therapy — it provides the kind of bright rays that elevate levels of happiness-boosting serotonin in your brain — is effective at combating seasonal affective disorder. If you live in other parts of the country, be sure your employees get outside regularly. A study from McGill University in Montreal has shown that by spending at least 30 minutes a day outdoors should be enough to offset your seasonal drops in serotonin.

21. Stress people the right way

People are happier when they are active. Don’t be afraid to push your people hard. “Frankly, a little bit of stress is a good thing. It pushes us to be innovative and to do things differently and to push harder,” says Annie McKee, director of the PennCLO Executive Doctoral Program and a co-author of PRIMAL LEADERSHIP. One of the most famous longevity studies conducted, the ongoing Terman Study, found those who work hard are healthier and happier.

22. Tough guys finish last

Gen. George S. Patton more your idea of an effective leader? Consider this: researchers found annual prizes for efficiency and preparedness in the US Navy are far more frequently awarded to units whose commanding officers are openly encouraging. On the other hand, the squadrons receiving the lowest marks in performance are generally led by commanders with a negative, controlling, and aloof demeanor. Psychologist Barbara Frederickson says her research into fostering a state of flow in workers has shown a critical three-to-one ratio is required; we need to have three positive interactions for every negative one in order to thrive.

23. Foster friendships

The brain networks that light up in response to social contact are evolutionarily old, implying that such behavior is deeply embedded in our nature. Yet at work, we often get the message that we should focus on completing tasks, not on making friends, even though science has shown repeatedly that when employees intentionally build social ties, their performance improves. People who care for one another give generously of time, talent, and resources. Gallup found that close work relationships boost employee satisfaction by 50 percent and that people with a best friend at work are seven times as likely as others to engage fully in their work. You can help people build social connections by sponsoring lunches, after-work parties, and team-building activities. It may sound like forced fun, but when people care about one another, they perform better because they don’t want to let their teammates down. “We love to blow off steam late in the day, that’s why our fridge is always well stocked,” says Jim Williams, owner of Eye to Eye in Mexico, MO. “On a recent Tuesday, we hung a sign in the window, and announced on Facebook that we had an ‘offsite staff meeting.’ We rented a big pontoon boat and spent the day on the lake with food drinks and fun. A day well spent!!”

24. Encourage staff to leave

Allow workers to really clock off. Their weekends and evenings should enable them to recharge. And besides, people focused on nothing but work tend to be boring and share no common ground with customers.

25. Remove hassles

While it’s true happiness comes from the small pleasures in life, it’s also the little hassles that are most apt to get people down. The same is true in the workplace where little hassles are a reliable predictor of job satisfaction. Make it a habit to ask your staff for tweaks than can be made to the way things are done around the store.

26. Set goals

Have staff set written goals. Writing about goals makes people happier and more likely to follow through with them.

27. Institutionalize fun

According to a case study of Vail Resorts in HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW, the culture of joy has been incorporated into the annual review, which indicates how well each employee integrates fun into the work environment and rates everyone on supporting behaviors, such as being inclusive, welcoming, approachable and positive. Management tactics, special outings, celebrations and rewards all support the emotional culture. Rather than asking people to follow standardized customer service scripts, they tell everyone to “go out there and have fun.” Resort managers consistently model joy and prescribe it for their teams. At an annual ceremony, a Have Fun award goes to whoever led that year’s best initiative promoting fun at work.

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Cover Stories

An Eyecare Pro’s Visual Guide to Making Better Choices in 5 Critical Categories

Making decisions is hard, we’ve made it easy.

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RUNNING OR MANAGING a business means you are constantly making decisions. Some are easy, many are hard, and others are just plain messy. We thought we’d help you take a little bit of the work and stress out of it by creating some very scientific* decision trees for a few of the most common questions you may face running an optical business. By INVISION Staff

* By “scientific” we mean not scientific at all.

 

 

 

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