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The Big Story: Risky Business

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Eyecare Pros Share Their Boldest Moves

There’s no time like a brand new year to start dreaming big and daring greatly for your business — especially when the biggest risk in business today is not taking a risk. As eyecare entrepreneurs, we perpetually feel caught between information overload and infinite opportunity. But stand still, and your competitors will blow past you before you can blink. That’s especially true in an industry seeing as much disruption as vision care. As author Seth Godin says, “How would you do it differently if the building were burning down? Because it is.”


Change is scary. It will make you feel uneasy and vulnerable. But sometimes, change is exactly you need. Best-selling author Brené Brown says, “For years, I drew courage from the question, ‘What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?’“ Eventually, she adds, “I pushed that question out of my head to make room for a new question: ‘What’s worth doing even if you fail?’” Failure is nothing to fear. Brown notes that if we spend our lives waiting to act, “we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.” Godin adds: “Bravery means a willingness to fail, coupled with the knowledge that failure isn’t always a bad thing. We need a lot more failures, I think. Failures that don’t kill us make us bolder, and teach us one more way that won’t work, while opening the door to things that might.”

We asked INVISION readers to tell us about their boldest risks. Here’s what some of you had to say. We hope you’ll share other stories of risks taken, rewards gained and lessons learned with us in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

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Steve Nelson and Anton Syzdykov wanted a new adventure. They’ve found it selling fine eyewear.

DELIVERING EYECARE EVERYWHERE

Eye Candy Optical, Westlake, OH

Steve Nelson and Anton Syzdykov both had well-paying, jet-setting corporate jobs, but they left their cushy gigs behind to open a high-end eyewear boutique despite having no experience in the industry.

THE RISK: For years, Nelson and Syzdykov worked and traveled together in global marketing and retail development within the paint industry. Along the way, they had the chance to visit optical outfits from all over the world, which inspired them to embark on an entrepreneurial journey. In 2013 the duo opened Eye Candy Optical in Westlake, OH, putting their own twist on optical retailing while breaking free from the “golden handcuffs,” as Nelson calls his former career. “When you’re guaranteed a paycheck and you make a very good living … walking away from that is about as risky as it gets,” he says.

THE REWARDS: Nelson is proud to report that Eye Candy has developed into a business that is viable, growing and “fulfilling from a financial perspective.” Recalling an epiphany about six months into the operation, Nelson says it was a “big amazing moment” when he realized that “this thing is going to work … the risk is going to pay off.” (It has paid off in industry cred, too: Eye Candy placed second in INVISION’s 2015 America’s Finest Optical Retailers competition.)

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But dollars and cents aren’t the only way to measure the boutique’s success. Nelson says that he and his partner succeeded in bringing to life their personal vision of what the optical experience should look and feel like. “We’ve really done something that I truly believe is totally different in optical for our geographic area,” he says. “We were able to create an eyewear buying experience where people not only rave about (Eye Candy), but they’re two inches taller when they walk out of the shop.”

THE TAKEAWAY: If possible, find a willing business partner and split the risk in launching your enterprise, Nelson says. It’s also critical to make well informed decisions backed by data and anecdotal research, which is why he and Syzdykov studied the industry for three years before diving into it. However, he cautions against getting caught up in “paralysis by analysis,” as only a businessman with an MBA who once wore the “golden handcuffs” can explain.

“What we’ve found in business, and the way we make most decisions, is it’s a process of triangulation,” Nelson says. “You do need some data points to make a decision and take a risk, but you’ll never know all the information. … At some point, it goes from writing a business plan to saying, ‘We can do this.’ So that’s what we did — we basically jumped off a cliff.”

Sabina Krasnov  of i2i Optique

Sabina Krasnov moved her family and her career across the continent. She isn’t looking back.

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GO WEST, OPTICIAN

i2i Optique, Scottsdale, AZ

Sabina Krasnov took not one but two big risks two years ago: She moved across the continent from New York City to Arizona — and when she got there, she opened a new boutique from scratch.

THE RISK: Krasnov is the first to agree she made a bold move by leaving a familiar job in a familiar location to open an optical shop on the other side of the country. But it was a necessary risk, she says. Her gig in New York City — where she’d worked as an optician for 19 years — was a stressful, “dead-end job,” and she wanted a change for herself and her family. So along with her mother, children and husband, she moved to Scottsdale, AZ, where she opened i2i Optique in September 2014.

THE REWARDS: At first, i2i Optique’s biggest challenge was just “getting people in the door,” Krasnov recalls. After a few unsuccessful marketing initiatives, she began making monthly appointments with several assisted-living facilities where she does adjustments and other services at no cost, both to get her name out there and to give something back to her new community. Word began to spread and she’s beginning to see repeat customers.

“It takes time and patience,” she says. “I’ve met some amazing people that really needed someone like me in Arizona — someone that cares. (My customers) call me the eyewear fashionista. … I pick their eyewear, they sit in my chair and they just trust me.”

THE TAKEAWAY: Of course, launching a retail business of any kind requires the financial discipline to sock away enough money to sustain your operation during slow times. Beyond that, Krasnov recommends having a crystal-clear plan for what you want your business to look like.

“Most of all, have a vision. I wanted my optical to be like the Apple customer experience — that was my vision,” she says. “Service is key. When somebody comes in, smile, educate them and see what you can improve. My vision is treating everyone like they’re my mother.”

Krasnov has had ups and downs as a new entrepreneur, but she’s living her dream. “Work hard, show people that you really do care, and they’ll feel it,” she says.

3 MORE WAYS TO WIN AT RISK

1. SECURE YOUR NET

We’re here to tell you that most risks work out … when you eventually get the courage to make the leap. But Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, says she’d like to change the business bromide, “Leap and the net will appear” to “Leap and the net might appear.” After all, as scientist Louis Pasteur once said, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” So do your due diligence.

2. TRY A POWER POSE

When it’s time to make your move, whether it’s going to the bank to finance a new location or appearing on a local TV show, set aside a few minutes to psych yourself up for the occasion. Harvard Business School faculty member Amy Cuddy is the author of the new book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges, and she found that when people privately practice “power poses” (arms on hips, or feet on the table, or even draping an arm over a nearby chair), their risk tolerance and confidence soar. See her describe this phenomenon in a TED Talk that has nearly 30 million views at invmag.us/cuddy.

3. ENGAGE YOUR TEAM

Your employees may not have the exact skill set necessary to run your business, but they do understand your patients and customers. Tom Peters gives us four tips for sparking in-house innovation: 1) Hold an idea fair to encourage the revolutionaries within your company to share their inspirations. 2) Start a monthly new economy seminar series with your own staff as speakers. 3) Create a “Weird Fund,” a pool of money that your people can draw upon in small doses to pursue wild, one-off projects. 4) Encourage research through a “scholarship” that gives winning applicants time away from the office to network with a top customer, an interesting supplier, or even inside a high-performing eyecare business in another city.

Tiffany Satterly of Optique in Austin, TX

“One big difference is that the frames are a lot more spread out, so each brand gets its own area and you get more of a brand experience.” — Tiffany Satterly


TIME TO MOVE AHEAD

Optique, Austin, TX

Business was good at Optique Austin. So good, in fact, that the Austin, TX, optometry clinic and eyeglass store was ultimately compelled to leave its old digs behind for a bigger location two blocks away — and open yet another new location in the same year.

THE RISK: There’s no such thing as having too many patients. But when you have more patients than your physical space can comfortably accommodate, it’s a problem. Optique Austin’s previous location had just one exam room with minimal space for a lab, and there was “such a flow of patients that we couldn’t physically fit enough people into the office sometimes,” says optician Tiffany Satterly. So the business relocated a couple of blocks away into a bigger office that has three exam lanes, a full-sized lab and more space for employees to work.

THE REWARDS: More space means more room for frames and overstock, which has led to higher sales, Satterly says. The extra real estate also helps make frame styling easier. “One big difference is that the frames are a lot more spread out, so each brand gets its own area and you get more of a brand experience,” she adds.

Beyond increased sales, higher patient volume and an improved customer buying experience, the new location better suits clinic staff, who now enjoy a more spacious, better equipped work environment. Satterly says employees were given the opportunity to offer input on the interior design, including how frames would be displayed as well as what the lab dimensions need to be. The result, she says, is a space that’s “just a lot bigger and more comfortable.” Patients and frame reps compliment the fresh design, too.

THE TAKEAWAY: If you plan a relocation or expansion, prepare to spend a lot of time contacting your patients and customers so they aren’t surprised by the change, Satterly says. And when you’re speaking with them, “get them excited” about your new or expanded space by explaining how the move will benefit them.

Also, it’s a lot of work to pack up an entire business and move it somewhere else, even if it’s just two blocks away. It was even more work than Satterly thought it would be. “You have to have a lot of patience with learning new equipment and organizing the space, and there are a lot of after-hours working together with the whole team,” she says. “But it’s worth it because we have more patients, and we’re selling more than we were before.” In fact, business is so strong that Optique Austin added another location, this one in a new South Austin development with two red-hot business successes (Shake Shack and Austin’s own Alamo Drafthouse) as neighbors. It opened in December.

Steve Whitaker of Whitaker Eye Works, Southeastern PA

Confused over which insuance plans are working for you? Steve Whitaker advises a scientific approach.

BE AN EXPERIMENTER

Whitaker Eye Works, Southeastern PA

After careful analysis, Steve Whitaker took a gamble when he stopped accepting vision plans for two years. The experience gave him new perspective on how to run his business.

THE RISK: Whitaker says that when he opened his first location in Wayne, PA, in 1993, he chased as many patients as he could by accepting seven different insurance plans. After crunching the numbers, he discovered that he was losing money on one plan and spending more time discussing insurance with his patients than addressing their needs. He eventually dropped all vision plans for two years to refocus on the sales aspect of his business.

THE REWARDS: By eliminating vision plans, Whitaker and his staff were able to stop performing administrative gymnastics and focus on customers’ needs. Dropping insurance helped him get his “mojo back” as an eyewear professional.

“Don’t forget why you’re here,” he says. When people pull out insurance cards, Whitaker says it can pull you away from your true purpose: showing people how to get superior vision via your best eyewear.

Two years into the experiment, Whitaker increased doctor hours and added three vision plans. The result was added profitability and a new sense of control over his business, which now has three locations. He advises other ECPs to avoid being merely “ambassadors for insurance companies.” Instead, he says, think of your business as “for-profit centers that sell eyeglasses and provide better eyewear and the best progressive lenses.”

THE TAKEAWAY: Of course, launching a retail business of any kind requires the financial discipline to sock away enough money to sustain your operation during slow times. Beyond that, Krasnov recommends having a crystal-clear plan for what you want your business to look like.

“Most of all, have a vision. I wanted my optical to be like the Apple customer experience — that was my vision,” she says. “Service is key. When somebody comes in, smile, educate them and see what you can improve. My vision is treating everyone like they’re my mother.”

Krasnov has had ups and downs as a new entrepreneur, but she’s living her dream. “Work hard, show people that you really do care, and they’ll feel it,” she says.

Dr. Scott Keating of Vision Trends, Dover, OH

Dr. Scott Keating has discovered that offbeat frames can be a hit in small-town America, too.

UNCOVER A NICHE

Vision Trends, Dover, OH

Dr. Scott Keating opened an optometry office that sells obscure frame brands, suspecting there was a hidden demand for them even in his small town.

THE RISK: Keating has always had a love for fun, unique frames — a passion that’s stoked every time he attends the Vision Expo trade shows. As the owner of a practice with two locations in a “semi-rural” Ohio county, he wasn’t sure if his clientele wanted anything other than traditional frames. But he had a hunch they might, so he opened Vision Trends in Dover, OH, and is finding success with a savvy formula that strikes “the right mix of frames, and the right customer service.”

THE REWARDS: Keating says Vision Trends has grown so well since it opened almost four years ago that he opted to sell one of his practice locations so he could spend more time on the new venture. A large selection of offbeat frames at different price ranges has given his niche strategy a broader appeal. “You can’t be everything to everybody, but at the same time you have to be careful to not pigeon hole yourself into too narrow of a thing,” he says. With a selection of unique styles, colors and shapes, customers are “more willing than you think to spend the money.”

He also credits strong customer service focused on “doing the small things” — such as presenting eyewear on a velvet tray — for distinguishing his business and attracting a more eclectic, higher-end shopper.

THE TAKEAWAY: If you want to run an upscale eyecare business, go all in. “You do have to jump in — you can’t just have one unique line,” says Keating. “If you know that your competition doesn’t carry unique stuff, you will thrive, and (your business) will grow fast once you get the right people to come in your door.”

To help entice those “right people,” Vision Trends holds an annual sales event that offers discounts large enough to persuade hesitant shoppers to take a chance on a unique frame style. Be conscious of your shop’s look, too. “If you want to sell unique style eyewear, you also need your optical interior look to be fashion-forward,” Keating says. “This ties into the overall experience and definitely puts the customer in the right buying mood.”

9 MORE TALES OF DERRING-DO

WORKED WELL

Here are more examples of risks INVISION readers have taken and how they worked out … or didn’t. Either way, you had the guts to try!

1 We stopped seeing all medical patients. It worked out great. Seeing all optical allows me to make much more income in way less time and makes ICD-10 of no consequence in my office. Dr. Texas Smith, Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associates, Citrus Heights, CA

2 Moving to a new location. It seemed like a horrible idea because we were doing well at our existing location, but we were renting and the landlord increased rent by 80 percent. (That’s right: eight zero!) We bought a retail condo in a new location, so it was a huge commitment without any sense of whether the new location would draw customers. It’s been a great decision! Dr. Sarah Jerome, Look + See Eye Care, St. Paul, MN

3 Two years ago, I entered a partnership with a practice that originated in 1965, where the optometrist’s last name was always McQuaig. Though the practice was called Family Vision Care, the locals knew it as “Dr. McQuaig’s” for the father and son duo. In order to change the community’s perspective of the practice moving forward, we decided to rebrand. New logo, designs, cards, signs, shirts, etc. went into effect and we waited with significant anxiousness. Our largest risk is now our largest success. People recognize our brand, and even know us by our logo alone. Dr. Blake Hutto, Family Vision Care, Alma, GA

4 We opened a larger location after two years in business. Visibility is better and business is up 800 percent. Terri Focht, Eyes All Over, St. Paul, MN

5 Money was tight, but I had a marketing idea that would cost us $2,500 a month. I did all the market research and recommended to the doctor that we do the idea all year long. It was a mailer to try and get a specific clientele to come in as new patients. The first month was a huge success, so we kept doing the mailers and increased our new patient base by 100 percent from the previous year. We stopped doing the mailers the next year, but we were able to retain about 70 percent of the patients that came in previously, as well as have a steady stream of new patients. It was scary at the time because it was my first big idea that the doc would have to invest in, but it worked out. Josh Bladh, Dr. Taylor Bladh, Diamond Bar, CA

6 We made the decision to not take insurance when we opened. It’s turned out fantastic! Kira Connally, Spectacles West, Weatherford, TX

7 I am an optician now, but I previously owned and operated a flooring business. The scariest thing I ever did was decide to stop advertising and start asking relentlessly and shamelessly for referrals for six months! It sharpened my customer service skills, gave us a chance to revisit/refine installation/quality issues and was a huge, very successful business builder. At the end of the year, almost every single customer who came through the door was a referral. Brandy Patrick, DePoe Eye Center, Macon, GA

NOT SO MUCH

8 I put in a fashion line of frames with a 50-piece minimum. Despite our best efforts, the fashion-forward appearance of this line was not a wow for our clients. Kate Giroux, MacPherson Opticians, Arlington, VA

9 We switched from a local lab to an out-of-town one that had unbelievably low prices. The quality and turn-around time were horrible with way too many re-dos. It was a nightmare. We gave up and went back to our previous lab. The savings were not worth all of the headaches. Don’t give up quality to save a few bucks! Susan Kantor, Central Phoenix Eyecare, Phoenix, AZ

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Profitability with Managed Care: It’s Real

In the first of this three-part series, Dr. Eric White, Complete Family Vision Care, talks about managed care, and how to put your practice on the path to profitability.

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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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