Incentivize Me

By Tim Slapnicher, ABOC

Release Date: May 1, 2013

Expiration Date: March 18, 2018

Learning Objectives:

Upon completion of this course, the participant should be able to:

  1. Understand the pros and cons of incentivizing for lens sales.
  2. Create an intrinsic motivation for team members to sell.
  3. Increase sales by developing product knowledge and improving communication with your team.

Faculty/Editorial Board:

Tim SlapnicherTim Slapnicher, ABOC, CPO is currently the practice coordinator at Rivertown Eye Care in Hastings, Minn., where he lives with his family. He uses his experience of teaching kindergarten to bring a fresh perspective to management in the optical industry.

Credit Statement:

This course is approved for one (1) hour of CE credit by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO). Course SJHI095

img1I often hear both sides of this scenario: Should you incentivize your staff for sales performance? I have been to seminars where speakers from both trains of thought have made solid points on why you should or shouldn't incentivize employees. There are endless opinions on this subject matter. Let's break down both views.


If you have a goal of selling more digital PALs, you should definitely reward your team if they meet and exceed the goal you come up with. What's the harm? Your practice will make more of a profit selling luxury products, and your team could earn: gift cards, a bonus, profit sharing, extra time off, etc. The staff is extra motivated to earn a reward important to them. You are excited if they meet the goal because you make more money. It's a no-brainer.


Why incentivize something that should be a requirement? Your optical team should be selling luxury; that's what they have been hired to do. If you pay them a fair wage with good benefits, there is no reason to reward. Besides, if you ever have to remove the incentive, what's their motivation then? They will be upset that you eliminated the program, and they will go back to selling low cost products. It is unnecessary and will backfire.


When I was teaching elementary kids, I chose not to give incentives to my students. I didn't believe in rewarding them for walking quietly in the hallway or completing all of their assigned work. Those were expectations I had for them. It didn't make sense for me to give out a sticker for every time they followed directions or made a good choice. That's what's expected of them. My philosophy is if they had ownership in their learning and their actions, they will choose to make good decisions because it's the right thing to do. I wanted it to be intrinsic. Once in a while I would hear a student say they wanted a sticker because of their behavior. I would tell them to grab one of the "pretend" floating stickers above them in the air and stick it on their heart. They loved it, especially when Mr. S grabbed a Dora the Explorer or Cinderella sticker to put on his heart.

In the optical realm, I have the same philosophy, but it gets tricky sometimes. It is especially difficult when reps and vendors enter the picture. You have all been there. A lens rep comes in to the office and tells you they have an exciting new lens and for every pair you sell, a $10 gift card will be given to the optician. Sounds nice, doesn't it?

It didn't feel right to me. What happens if an optician puts a patient in the lens that they shouldn't be in just so they can receive the reward? What happens once the lens company pulls their gift card reward away? Are we "trained" to keep selling that lens once the motivation is gone? What happens if our noncommissioned opticians start stealing patients away from one another so they can get the sale? If I stop giving students a popcorn party for walking down the hall like they should, will they start sprinting the halls once I take it away? Chaos. This was sounding familiar to me.

I caved. Against my moral fiber, I told them that I didn't want to hold any opportunities from them, and we would participate in a lens sale reward for six months. They were pumped. I was wary. I swallowed my pride and philosophical views, and allowed them to go for it. I am writing this exactly two years later.


There was a buzz in the air. Our opticians kicked it in gear and had that look in their eyes. Our patients were going to be wearing this new luxury lens. It started slowly but our numbers started creeping up. What started as eight to 15 lenses per month soon grew to over 30 per month. Yikes... We were selling premium lenses. Along with that, we were putting patients in high-end frames to complement their investment. Why didn't we do this earlier?

Our opticians started loving the incentives but they wanted more. They felt that our doctors could start doing a better hand off for them so they called a meeting with the doctors, and they came up with a better flow from doctor to optician including "the golden recommendation" from the docs. We soon discovered that if the doctors hand-delivered the patient to the optician while telling the patient how they would benefit from the lens, we increased the number even more. The doctor's word was golden, and our whole team knew these lenses like the back of their hand. We were lens experts and now selling more than 70 luxury lenses per month. Why didn't I do this before? Our bottom line was very healthy, and we were the experts of selling luxury products. This is what experts would've considered a "no-brainer." Everyone wins. Maybe I should have given out more stickers to my poor kindergarteners. Maybe they would be doing double-digit multiplication by the end of the year.

Based on our sales growth and ability to now sell luxury products, you might ask, how could there be any kind of negative to this incentive program? Going from eight to 75 premium lenses is insane. Any optical would drool over that improvement. But there's always more to the bottom line, right? Let's dig deeper.


The six month test was completed, and I was relieved. I hated it. I liked our results, but I was honestly ready to skip the country at the end. As a manager, this was a nightmare. Here are the things that drove me bonkers.

Our opticians became the most competitive people and not in a good way. They were stealing patients from one another and when I pooled the money for them, they resented me when one optician would sell 30 and another would sell seven. However, I would find that an optician with huge sales was taking patients away from the others, and it would irk the rest of the team.

The opticians were putting patients in these luxury lenses that should not have been in them. They put their incentive in front of what was right for the patient. This affected our perceived brand as a trusted optical. Most of the patients benefited from these luxury lenses, but some were quite peeved with us for selling them optical snake oil. They paid a premium price for a lemon in their eyes. To this day, I still get negative feedback from a handful of patients that made a huge investment and literally saw no benefit. They were pressured by their trusted optician to get these lenses. Good luck selling them anything ever again. The trust is gone for these patients.

After a while, the doctors (and even the paras) wanted in on the action. If the doctor's word was golden, that means they were basically selling the lenses. Why wouldn't they get a big cut of the action? And if the patient care coordinators were making the appointment for these patients to come and the techs were talking these lenses up, why wouldn't they receive a reward? After all, if there is no patient there, how would you sell them a lens? Experts on this side of the argument would tell me that this would be considered a backfire.


After six months, I pulled the program. I resented the lens company. I had a toxic environment of employees that would be whispering about who got what, who stole a patient and who was getting nothing. I was the one who had to deal with patients that were pressured into buying a failed product in their eyes. We made more money but it contributed to an unhealthy culture in our clinic.


I really like how the incentive program forced us to re-examine our hand off. We truly became better at this skill. I'm also thankful for it because we learned how to sell luxury lenses and frames in our optical. Going from eight to 75 lenses was a proud accomplishment for our team. We are still selling premium lenses, and we are selling way more high-end frames. We were a bit scared of selling this kind of product to our patient base in the past. We were protecting their pocketbook without offering them the best.

I do love the lenses we sell. We are selling more of a variety of lenses and frames, and our take-away from this experience is we now understand that we need to know all of our products like the back of our hands. If we become the experts, and the doctors reinforce that, we are in good shape.


I still hold the belief that the reward of being an optician needs to be intrinsic. If an optician has some ownership in their career path with our practice, then it becomes more important to them. As a manager, I need to pay them fairly, provide important benefits and give them an environment that allows them to flourish.

I find that taking a team member out to lunch to celebrate with them or focus on their goals does much more for both of us compared to a gift card. When I know their hopes and dreams, I can give them the tools to succeed, and I can stand back and be a cheerleader for them and guide them toward their goals.

Like my experiences as a teacher, education and knowledge is king. If my optical team has the resources to understand products and best practices, they will care more, and we will all make more money. If we are attending conferences and reading professional journals, and learning best practices online, then we are feeding our knowledge base. That in turn leads to a healthy culture of lifelong learners and a pretty cool place to work.


Several years ago, when I first started managing our optical, my brother encouraged me to watch at least one TED video per week. I had never heard of these videos, and when I checked them out I was a bit confused. They had nothing to do with the optical industry. How would this benefit me? Nonetheless, I followed his advice and started watching these videos on a regular basis. Now I'm here to encourage you to do this.

When you visit, you will be inspired by their tagline: Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world... TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. Their countless videos are organized by the following adjectives: persuasive, courageous, ingenious, fascinating, inspiring, beautiful, funny, informative and jaw-dropping. If you're looking for topics, they are arranged as follows: technology, entertainment, design, business, science and global issues.

I have seen a ton of these videos. I often watch them on Mondays when I need to refocus my energies and goals for the week. I might watch them on Wednesdays when I need a touch of inspiration to get me through the last few days. Or maybe I will catch them on Friday to make sure I've made the most of my week. Whenever you decide to view a TED video is up to you, but I must warn, they become addicting... for all the right reasons.

img4This past week, I chose to organize the videos by "most popular" and ended up on Dan Pink's "The Puzzle of Motivation." Over 4.5 million people have viewed his TED Talk on this subject. He gives us a scientific viewpoint on how people are motivated at work.

He suggests that "if-then" rewards don't work, they are outdated. We can't continue to do more of the same thing we have been doing (offering a sweeter carrot or threatening with a sharper stick) if we want a dynamic work environment with greater results. The formula has changed. This method dulls thinking and destroys creativity. And it's not a philosophy; it's a fact.

So how do we boost worker engagement, satisfaction and productivity? How do we sell our high-end/luxury product without the promise of a gift card? The demands of our work are not the same as the typical "going-through-the-motions" assembly line. We are required to problem solve using math and science applications and formulas. We are also using our brains to appreciate the art of fashion and style. Gift cards do not fulfill all parts of our brain's desires for this type of work. They stunt them.

Dan Pink shows individuals are motivated by three things: autonomy (urge to direct our own lives), mastery (desire to get better at something that matters) and purpose (yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves). The type of reinforcement programs set up by our labs and office cultures are therefore insulting.

Do you want better results and a better work culture? Train your team. Provide all necessary tools and resources to encourage mastery. Create ownership and autonomy in the journey of your employees by supporting their hopes, dreams and visions in their career path. Give them a purpose. How are they contributing to the bigger picture in life? Send them to a conference or a mission trip to see how what they do helps millions of people. Save those gift cards for your in-laws.

In the meantime, check out a TED video. Go and be inspired. And by the way, you may just find a video or two directly related to the optical industry.