Incentive Program Must-Haves

July 2022 |

Motivate your team while improving efficiency and profitability.

If you’re considering implementing an incentive plan for your team, know that there is no one-size-fits-all option for veterinary practices, says veterinary consultant Leslie Mamalis. “Incentive plans certainly should motivate your employees to engage in the behaviors you want them to do,” she says, “but they also need to energize your team, reflect your practice culture and protect your profitability.” Mamalis, who owns practice consultancy Summit Veterinary Advisors, suggests four must-haves for a successful incentive program:

1. Set a clearly defined goal. Start off your incentive plan on the right foot by setting a SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based). “Staff incentive plans should be based on small, easily defined and easily tracked goals,” Mamalis says. Consider the differences between these goals:

  • Not SMART: Increase senior pet appointments.
  • SMART: Increase the number of geriatric pets receiving senior blood panels by 5% in November 2022 versus November 2021.

The goal should be a stretch—requiring some effort but possible to achieve. “As soon as people figure out a goal is not reachable, they’ll stop trying,” Mamalis says.

2. Educate your team. Most staff members only see money coming into the practice. Very few have any exposure to vendor invoices, drug pricing, payroll, rent and the many other costs involved in running a veterinary practice. With a better understanding of practice finances comes the realization that each employee is integral to practice profitability. “Be as transparent as possible about revenues, the cost of goods sold, employee benefit and payroll costs, and overall practice profitability,” Mamalis says.

3. Track and share progress. Tracking the team’s progress during the incentive period will maintain motivation and ensure fairness. The calculation should be easy and transparent. “This shouldn’t be some mysterious measurement,” Mamalis says. “Anyone should be able to reproduce the numbers that are being shown on that progress tracking form.”

Be sure to share the team’s progress regularly. Mamalis recommends posting a chart in the breakroom that visually displays the progress (think giant thermometer). Daily or weekly, depending on your goal, have the same team member update whatever tool you’re using to communicate progress with your team.

“There should never be any surprises if the goal isn’t reached,” Mamalis says. “If the goal becomes seemingly out of reach, help the team identify ways to bring the numbers up. Don’t change the goal once it is set.”

4. Include individual performance. Mamalis says that this is where many incentive plans fall apart. “If the individual performance piece is missing, incentive plans become more like entitlement programs,” she says. “And nothing demotivates people more than seeing others who perform worse than themselves receive the same reward.” (Another no-no: paying someone bonus money after they quit the practice.)

Staff performance can be measured in a number of ways to determine eligibility to participate and/or total bonus amount. Off the bat, Mamalis recommends excluding anyone who received a verbal or written warning during the quarter. “Without accountability, these programs won’t achieve the goal you want to achieve,” she says.

Another measure could be a minimum score on quarterly 360-degree employee reviews, which are brief, anonymous peer reviews completed by staff on the clock. Whatever measure is used, be sure to apply it consistently for all employees.