Why I think staff incentive payments are a waste of time and what to do instead

Before I start, just a heads up to watch out for the latest edition of the “Two Reds are Better than One” podcast, recorded yesterday afternoon with Ashley Latter.

Our guest was Dr Chris Bowman from Charlotte, North Carolina and it is a masterclass in patient communication skills – you don’t want to miss it and can subscribe to the podcast in the Apple store.

I’ll also be featuring the podcast in this blog and on social media as soon as it is ready for release – it’s a cracker.

Moving on, I’ve had a few conversations recently on the same subject – incentive payments to team members.

Questions vary from “should we” to “how much” and “to whom”?

So let me share with you my opinion. You may not like it – but it’s only my opinion (and my blog).

Starting with what doesn’t work – any kind of mathematical formula.

I’ve seen them all:

  • Percentage of overall sales
  • Percentage of profit
  • Number of units of sale (if we sign up X members, you get Y bonus; if we sell X STO cases, you get Y bonus)
  • Percentage of individual items of treatment
  • Payments to the whole team
  • Payments to TCOs

The list goes on.

The trouble with formulas is – people.

There seems to be an inevitability that someone is going to be unhappy with the distribution rules:

“Why is that person getting a bonus when:

  • we are all involved in the patient experience
  • they don’t work as hard as I do
  • they haven’t been here as long as I have
  • just because I’m a freelancer you are excluding me
  • I did the dentistry
  • I know our payments were all confidential but I’ve found out what everybody else was paid and it’s not fair
  • We got more than this last year. and he’s bought himself a new car.”

The complaints are rarely directed at the owners, it’s more usual that the staff room tittle tattle is rampant for a while and morale sinks, especially when co-ordinated by the resident well-poisoner.

Is there anything more debilitating for a Principal than paying bonuses and then seeing moody team members with long faces?

So what does work?

I’ll give you two suggestions.

If you want to pay any money at all, make it a discretionary payment, entirely at the whim of the owner – no guarantees, no timing and manage your expectations – somebody will always BMW (bitch, moan and whine).

However, my preference is that you stop paying any performance related incentives, preferring instead to have two brand standards:

  1. Our basic pay is top quartile for the skill set in our post code. Basic pay should be a set of golden handcuffs that dissuade the right people from leaving when the going gets tough. You will gain more effort and loyalty from an extra couple of pounds an hour on basic, then you will by throwing some beer money in an envelope every now and then;
  2. Periodically, we deliver unforgettable team/individual experiences. That can be a day at a local spa, a visit to a cookery school or a team outing to a national or international dental conference. It can be 100% fun or combine some eCPD

In December, one of my clients paid for the team and their families to attend a Christmas Pantomime at a major provincial theatre.

Another client recently took her new marketing manager/TCO on a full DSD conference to meet with and hear Christian Coachman & co as well as the other delegates.

Over 100 practices recently took a day out and attended the Practice Plan Workshop Tour – reporting back overwhelmingly that it was a smashing day out.

Making memories is far more important than making loose change.


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Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. In 2014 he appeared as a “castaway” in the first season of the popular reality TV show “The Island with Bear Grylls”. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry.

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