Incentivizing your team the right way is a win-win that helps employees maximize their personal development and career satisfaction while at the same time stimulating overall practice growth.

By Kristen Jordan

EVEN IF YOUR TEAM loves their jobs, the practice and one another, work is still work. You invest so much to hire rock stars who go above and beyond for patients, but if you don’t have honest, straightforward strategies for keeping them engaged, you risk diminishing their productivity over the long haul. Tedium and burnout can affect anyone, but even more so when extra effort isn’t met with tangible rewards.

Incentivizing your team doesn’t mean throwing money at your practice’s human-resources challenges. Done well, it means structuring overall compensation so the people working hardest earn a bigger piece of the pie in exchange for the business reaping the yield of their labor. After all, incentivized employees can deliver increased output of 20 percent or more compared with those who aren’t. It’s a no-brainer to compensate them when the practice is earning more money in return.

The most effective incentive programs share two common traits. First, the rewards are more than just money, because being creative about incentives makes earning them more fun. Second, incentives must be consistent and predictable, so their distribution is fair and equitable as well as clearly understood.

At the most basic level, an incentive should be a motivator that entices someone to do something. You want to focus the “do something” part on goals that matter most to business growth. Where do you want to be? What should the time frame be to reach a desired goal and make it a cultural habit? Setting concrete and easily understood expectations is key to keeping employees engaged in the process. Likewise, regularly informing them about progress makes everyone a stakeholder. Don’t dictate, but rather encourage your team to actively share their ideas for meeting your goals.

Measure progress frequently, so those being incentivized are always in the know. This lets you intervene early if they end up needing to pivot from a certain behavior, say. Finally, when the incentive is reached, pay it out quickly. Not doing so can cost you in trust and turnover.

Appreciation and gratitude increase productivity, too. Engaging your team is essential, whether on merits, incentives or enthusiasm. The team’s buy-in to your goal setting is leveraged to motivate their output and feed a thriving culture. Praise and accolades are central to an individual’s positive work experience. The team should know and expect that you openly praise wins by your employees. It encourages others to repeat positive behaviors.

How many of your bosses have taken time to offer you hand­written thank-you notes? What would that have meant to you? Receiving praise alongside financial incentives adds an emotional connection that makes work more than just a job.

Being thoughtful and creative adds another dimension to incentives that makes their worth exceed the monetary value. For example, you might consider offering hard-to-get tickets to a hot concert or sporting event, or maybe a theme-park outing for team members and their families (along with a day off to enjoy it stress-free). People understandably forget the bonus money they used to buy a new water heater or pay a car repair bill, but they’re likely to remember the memories they made thanks to that special prize.

Smaller incentives can have the added benefit of acting as a marketing tool for the practice. Jackets, gym bags, shirts, mugs or anything useful aren’t an expense; they’re an affordable investment in advertising and brand promotion. Your team members will appreciate the gesture and remember what they did to earn it, while everyone they meet sees your brand proudly worn by your most professional team members—those who represent the practice best.

At their most effective, incentives are a two-way street. Team members work hard, overcome obstacles and go above and beyond to earn them. That’s why you need to be strategic, thoughtful and creative in designing a program that engages, motivates and inspires your best employees—and encourages retention.

KRISTEN JORDAN is Benco Dental’s Coaching and Education Manager and a specialist in revenue analysis. She has been an office manager, regional manager and operations executive for several large practices. Contact her at