Home Practice ManagementOperationsHiring Which Happens First: The Great Employee or the Bonus?

Which Happens First: The Great Employee or the Bonus?

by Paul Edwards

For the past eight years, I’ve been growing CEDR Solutions, a business that offers, among other key services, comprehensive, high-level expert support to employers who are trying to address and solve issues with employees. We do this through an extensive array of mechanisms, such as training and live support. Consequently, the insights we’ve gained and the solutions we’re able to share with our members and first-time callers are derived from having worked through real problems in real practices just like yours.

While many of the issues we help with are often technical or based on a policy or state law, and as such are relatively easy to address as HR experts, there are other problems that are less so.

For example, take the question, “How do we motivate employees to do their job?” The common answer among most practice management consultants is often, “Put in a bonus system and it will result in getting them motivated and going.”

How do I motivate people?

When talking about motivation as it applies in the modernday working world, Edward Deci said, “… [this] implies that motivation is something that is done to people rather than something that people do.”

If you had asked me 25 years ago about 200 of my own employees and what makes some employees great and others simply awful, I would have said something like, “Well, if a person likes what they do and they get paid decently, they do a good job.” But then you’d follow that up by asking, if being happy is a part of the equation, what makes some happy and others not? And I would answer, brutally honest, “I haven’t a clue what makes them happy.”

Nugget of Insight: Being happy or unhappy is a matter of choice for the person that chooses it. While external forces certainly play a role, the employer that continues to keep an employee that makes them unhappy, or vice versa, is choosing to be unhappy.

What I do know about “happy employees” is that engaged, motivated, smart, good-at-their-job people are less likely to play any part in the petty external and internal conversations that lead to mediocrity. In short, those are the people who make bonus systems work, not the other way around.

Your ability to hire better in the first place, and to discover and nurture people who decide on their own to continue to excel in service to your business, will give you a distinct advantage that your competitors cannot easily duplicate. It is, in fact, where the term “Human Resources” is derived from. Get a bunch of great human beings in a room, put them to work on a project with a common goal and watch what happens. It’s an equation for success. You need only look toward Congress to see the antithesis. When you remove the words “common goal” and inject “own self-interest” into the equation, the project’s chance of success drops dramatically.

Let’s talk bonus systems

Even though this article may at first seem to imply that bonus systems are futile, or that money does not matter, nothing could be further from the truth… or is it?

Let me give you an example. When I was 27 years old, I opened my very first business – a window cleaning business – and ran it for two years. During that time, I implemented a bonus system to encourage my employee to do great work. Yet, while my bonus system was actually paying my employee more to clean windows, it actually resulted in dirtier windows. I learned that while you could offer a three-dollar-per-hour raise “in order to get someone to do a better job,” you could still get the same, and in my case worse, results.

Good or bad, the bonus money I offered did little to motivate or change my employee, nor did it improve his performance. In fact, the employee stayed completely within what I would call his own personal integrity.

The person I hired was in the first place:

1) Happy to get a paycheck but not passionate about cleaning windows

2) Not really detail oriented

3) Not really affected by being sent back out to clean windows and face the scrutiny of the little old ladies that hired us

4) A good guy, but a slacker (which I knew when I hired him)

Nugget of Insight: While people may evolve or mature, and some may even appear to regress at times, they do not change.

Therefore, the missing component in your bonus system may be your understanding of what you are trying to accomplish in the first place. We are often taught that the cure for motivating employees is “the bonus.” Dangle a carrot and they’ll change who they are and suddenly become engaged and motivated.

However, I often imagine the average marginal employee who, when faced with getting more money in order to do their job, thinks, “Count me in! For now, that is.” Or, “Well, OK, if you are willing to pay me extra to do my job, I guess I can follow the script you forced me to learn from the Scheduling Institute.”

Of course, if the promise of a bonus doesn’t work, you can try the waving the consequence stick. “Look, if you don’t follow the script/show up on time/insert problem here, you can forget the bonus, AND you’ll be lucky to keep your job!” Whack! And this does work, in so far as you threaten and they respond.

Now, let me tell something that is often left out. Employees who do well inside of bonus systems would typically still knock it out the park, even without the bonus. You might be thinking, “Whaaaa?” But it’s true. Their internal conversation looks somewhat different than the others.

For example: “Show me your same-day treatment opportunity/your delta dental plan/your (insert challenge here), and I will convert them to satisfied patients, referrals and income. Just show me how. And, yes, I’ll accept any form of bonus you offer because I’m not stupid. I like extra money, too!”

If you’ve ever listened to some of the heavy hitters in dental management coaching, you’ll hear them refer to finding good people in the first place. Whether it’s Greg Stanley, Sandy Pardue, Dr. Anthony Feck and Linda O’Grady at SDS, or Woody Oakes, Michael Abernathy, Jay Geier and Jenny de St. Georges, the one thing you learn is that great systems allow great employees to do extraordinary things. Systems also enable business owners and managers to spot weak points, often human ones and either correct or replace.

Without a doubt, any well-thought-out “bonus system” that gets you and your staff thinking is a great step forward. It gets the juices flowing and we’ve all seen phenomenal results in practice production as a result. Eventually, though, it all comes back to the human factor and those who operate your systems.

Hiring better in the first place is the “system” that will serve you no matter where you are in your career. With that in mind, and as my thanks to Woody Oaks, I am offering CEDR’s Hiring Guide, which is something we normally charge for, as a complimentary download for a limited time for TPD readers. Visit www.cedrsolutions.com/pd-hiring-guide. The Hiring Guide will give you the tools for finding, interviewing, hiring and keeping great employees. It’s guaranteed to change the way you think about hiring and your relationship with employees.

Paul Edwards is the CEO and Co-Founder of The Center for Employment Dispute Resolution, LLC (CEDR). CEDR provides solutions and customized employee handbooks to practices with 1 to 100 employees in all 50 states. Find out more information at 866-414-6056 or www.cedrsolutions.com.

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