Staff Management

What the Ritz-Carlton Teaches Us About Motivating Staff

By Jennifer Jabaley, OD

March 30, 2016

Recently, an OD friend asked me and another colleague what we did for staff birthdays. This led to the topic of staff bonuses and incentives, and the question: What is the best way to keep your staff motivated?

In optometry, the office staff sets a crucial tone for the entire business. The front desk offers the first impression of the practice, the technicians communicate professionalism and collect important data and the optical staff are responsible for sales and leaving a final, positive tone for future experiences. The importance of hiring the correct people can’t be stressed enough, but after building the team and training them well, what can practices do to ensure the staff stays inspired?

Practice Revenue-Based Incentives

The first response from the optometrists I talked to was to offer practice revenue-based incentive programs. Mostly, these include goal setting of sales and revenue per patient and monetary rewards to the staff when the numbers are achieved. However, a common response was that often these types of incentives based on total practice revenue dilutethe motivation for an employee because those metrics correlate weakly with individual effort. For example, the optical team may feel that they directly impact office profits more than, say, the technicians. This kind of thinking can lead to a toxic environment.

Individual Employee Bonuses and Team Building

In order to combat incentive programs that could create office resentment, some practice owners said they utilized bonus programs that rewarded individual employee effort. Gift cards, days off and free lunches were just a few of the bonuses mentioned by several practice owners. Others said they rewarded the office staff with team building activities like group baseball games, bowling night, and even zip lining.

While this out-of-the-box thinking is impressive, the problem with these types of surprise bonuses is that once they are given, it can easily become an entitlement, and your employees might begin wondering, why haven’t I received another gift card this month? Or a free lunch lately? I’ve been working just as hard.

Employee motivation strategies are complex. I was curious to research a formula that would encourage the staff without creating internal competition, or resentment, while also increasing sales and profits through stellar customer service. In studying the theory behind employee motivation, I happened upon an article on about successful strategies the Ritz Carlton Hotel chain uses to incentivize its employees.

Employee Motivation the Ritz Carlton Way

The Ritz-Carlton, known for its top-notch customer service, claims that if a company strives to engage staff to increase employee satisfaction, it will also improve customer service. But how do they create such a culture that routinely engages their staff? Interestingly, it’s not with gift cards and days off, monetary bonuses or zip lining.

Share Inspiring Stories
Each day at the Ritz Carlton, employees gather for 15-minute staff meetings to share true stories of exceptional customer service. These pep talks accomplish two goals. First, they reinforcea customer service skill the hotel is trying to encourage. Second, they givethe employee “local fame.”Everyone wants validation, wants to be recognized in front of their peers. Public recognition is a powerful motivator.

If we can identify a time when one of our employees performs outstanding service to a patient and publicly commend them in front of the rest of the staff, it will go a long way to boost their self-esteem, as well as motivate the rest of the team.

Demonstrate Passion
Moods are contagious. The Ritz Carlton encourages managers to be positive and passionate about their job. If we approach our day with a smile on our face and exhibit a passion for helping our patients, it will have an uplifting effect on others. Enthusiasm starts at the top.

Likewise, managers at the Ritz Carlton are encouraged to dress impeccably and speak to their staff enthusiastically, greeting employees by name. If a leader shows interest in his team, the staff in return will show their commitment through hard work.

Go the Extra Mile
One of the Ritz Carlton service values is to be responsive to unexpressed wishes and needs of their guests. It’s easy to respond to a need when the customer asks for it. But what the Ritz Carlton expects its employees to do is to notice the unexpressed needs and meet them without being asked. This offers a personal touch that shows you care.

In our offices, if demonstrated from the top down, if the doctor notices that the front desk needs more comfortable chairs, notices the computers have slowed down, recognizes the break room needs a bigger refrigerator before anyone asks for these upgrades, it clearly demonstrates initiative. Employees can mimic this resourcefulness by meeting the unexpressed needs of the patients. Doctors’ daily actions impact employees and employees daily actions impact the patients. There is a trickle-down theory of good service.

Praise Effectively
The Ritz Carlton’s model uses staff meetings to publicly praise employees. Criticism is done in private. All people want validation and reassurance that a job was well done. According to the report “The Impact of Recognition on Employee Retention” from Globoforce Workplace mood tracker, 39 percentof employees feel underappreciated at work and 72 percentadmit they would work harder if they felt better recognized.

Author Stephen R. Covey notesin his bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival – to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated and appreciated.”

Recognition programs are a great way to showcase outstanding efforts, but don’t immediately jump to monetary incentives, gift cards and days off. Don’t discount a simple thank you or job well done. An office culture filled with passion and praise can boost employee engagement and make the work day happier, the customer service better, and ultimately, the revenue sky-rocket.

How do you motivate your employees? What rewards and recognition have you found work best?

Jennifer Jabaley, OD, is a partner with Jabaley Eye Care in Blue Ridge, Ga. To contact her:

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