Reinforce and Reward If You Expect Change

By Daniel L. Mannen, OD, FAAO November 15, 2013

My dog, Maggie, has to be the greatest dog in the world. She is a beautiful four-year-old silver and gray wire-haired dachshund who has never met a stranger.

Now, don't get me wrong, other dogs may know more tricks, but Maggie knows what is most important to me! In fact, her tail starts wagging even before she turns to see if I have noticed that she has done one of the big three (asked to go outside to potty, gone to her crate when she thinks we're leaving, or refrains from barking).

How has Maggie learned? She has learned via continuous reinforcement and reward. I love Maggie!

So what does this have to do with optometric practice? I would submit that you and I learn in exactly the same way that Maggie learns. In fact, when the principles of reinforcement and reward are properly applied, they can make a big difference in the adoption of new strategies or directives in our practices.

Let's consider the challenge of changing preferred vendors in our dispensaries. As we all know, everyone forms habits, and it is hard to change and do something different. And yet, it is critical that we carefully select our vendors to achieve not only the best acquisition cost, but that we choose vendors who support rather than compete with us.

For most of us, that means we need to make some changes. In the dispensary, this also means that our staff must overcome longstanding habits and relationships to support this change.

Over the past couple of years, our staff has successfully achieved a change in preferred vendors in support of our new competitive strategy. As you might guess, it was not easy for them to change but it was critical that we all commit to the new directive if our practice was to maximize both profitability and long term success. How did we do it?

You guessed it—we initiated a program of continuous positive reinforcement and reward. First, we clearly stated the new policy and the reasons for the change. We then made a commitment to acknowledge each and every time that desired vendor products were utilized.

But that wasn't enough. It was only when we tangibly rewarded our staff for the desired behavior that everyone committed to the change. Over time, the new vendor selections became the norm and we were on our way.

These are my recommended steps in implementing change:

  1. Make a decision and clearly communicate your strategy.
  2. You must make everyone know that you are serious and committed.
  3. Be sure to follow up and evaluate the degree of adoption.
  4. Commit to continuous reinforcement until the change is fully implemented.
  5. Tangibly reward your team and let them share in the benefits which accrue.
  6. Periodically monitor going forward and watch for additional needed tweaks.

As I See It, change is hard. Old habits are hard to break. And yet, it is critical that we are able to successfully implement new strategies and policies. We must be committed to changing and our optometric staff must be committed as well. Proper application of both reinforcement and reward is key in achieving full adoption.

So, while I am not recommending belly rubbing and dried chicken strips, be sure you don't forget to both acknowledge and reward changed behavior. Thanks for the insight, Maggie!


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