Staff Incentives

Odoo • Image and Text

I have never favoured staff incentives. To me, it doesn’t make sense to pay a worker an incentive to do a job he or she was employed to do in the first place. The idea behind paying incentives can only be to motivate people to increase turnover by selling more items or selling more expensive items. Invariably, the reward is about the measure of up-selling and not entirely about the goodwill between patient and practice. I have never been able to unearth research that points to money being the chief motivator of employees. Yes, money is important, but there are many other factors such as self-esteem, sense of achievement, being appreciated, learning, advancing a career and so on. Long term success of an optometric practice is dependent on establishing long term relations with patients. If we don’t get them to return, we are not going to grow. Successful optometric practice is about generating repeat business. If an employee is only selling with the incentive in mind, it could pose a serious threat to relationships with patients. It is well recognised that word of mouth is the strongest marketing tool to promote any business and to this end we have to ensure that our patients will never suffer cognisant dissonance.

Moreover, I would never allow a supplier to offer a reward to my staff to promote a particular product. This can clearly become a perverse incentive. In my view, each patient interaction should have the primary goal of establishing that patient’s real need. This may well not match the product your staff are incentivised to sell. Short-term, clever, flavour of the month promotions to increase turnover, carry a substantial risk of a deleterious effect on the long-term growth of the business.

I believe the solutions lie elsewhere:


A poor leader is likely to have a poor team. The good leader will view every member of staff as a complete person and not just somebody who has to rock up at work with a big smile and cheerleader moves. A strategy I favoured was to have a kitty to sort out staff emergencies, such as unforeseen medical expenses, household disasters, legal fees. They must know they can come to the boss in time of need, but there obviously has to be parameters set here. Another function of this kitty is to surprise a member of staff on the quiet, in recognition of good performance. This must be done in strict confidence and may just be a dinner for two or a weekend away. Sometimes a little surprise of R500 in an envelope is just what is required. This engenders trust and goodwill. In my experience, if they know you are there for them, they will be there for you. Good leadership motivates employees to do the job they were employed for without having to dangle a carrot.

Key Result Areas

When appointing someone, it is important to align the expectations of both employer and employee. This is best done by spelling out the duties in the employment contract. What the employee thinks her job is and what the boss thinks her job is, must be one and the same thing. Performance appraisals should also be done at regular intervals to give feedback on how an employee is doing. This also presents the opportunity to bestow praise where deserved.

Set Targets

Your business should have a Business Plan which incorporates a strategy of how you are going to increase turnover and grow the business year on year. It is amazing how motivation can be fuelled by sharing monthly, weekly and even daily turnover targets with staff (See the Gap Model in the Vision Archives). When targets are met or beaten, everybody in the team, can share the sense of achievement.

Sales protocol

There should be clear sales protocols. “Sell to every patient the way you would sell to your own mother”. You have to sell from the heart and be sure to fulfil the patient’s real need. Above all, because expectations were exceeded, the patient must have every reason to return. The satisfaction of the patient should always super-cede the importance of any financial targets. To this end there should be a very friendly exchange policy. With every grief case, do not consider the cost of fixing the problem. Just make your patient happy. Happy patients will return, and you will unleash the potential of word of mouth.

Weekly staff meeting

This is the platform to motivate your team and set common goals for the ensuing week. Staff are encouraged to give their input and make suggestions how to improve the systems. This gives staff a sense of involvement and being respected.

Supervision over training

Often when there is a call for training, what is really required is supervision and support. Once training has taken place, it requires on-going supervision and support to get it ingrained to become habitual. It may take time to get everybody to greet patients with “Good morning, my name is Nancy” instead of “Can I help you” – ugh!!!

If you want to set your practice up on the path to long term success, there has to be more to it than putting your faith in financial incentives for your sales team.