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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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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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