8 Steps to Implement a Successful Surgery Center Bonus Program

A bonus program can incentivize good behavior and reward employees for meeting targets critical to a surgery center's profitability. Here are eight tips from MedHQ's John Merski Jr. on how to implement a successful bonus program that improves employee performance without breaking your budget.

1. Determine whether you can afford a bonus program. The existence of your bonus program should largely depend on whether you can afford one, Mr. Merski says. A substantial bonus will tell employees they are appreciated, but a very small bonus may well have the opposite effect: Instead of appreciating the money, they may be more dissatisfied than if you had given out nothing.

"If you're going to give out a few dollars, I'd suggest you reconsider even having a bonus program," Mr. Merski says.

2. Determine how much money should be set aside for bonuses. Look at your budget and set aside a reasonable amount of money to give bonuses to the whole center for the year. You may not end up giving out all this money if employees don't meet the targets you set, so don't be overly budget limited. The money should apply to every employee in the facility — "If you are exclusive with anyone," he says, "you will have weakened your program."

3. Divide your center's staff into groups. To build this type of bonus program, you'll need to divide your center into groups of people and then reward them based on specific metrics suitable for each group. For example, you may want to break the center into: business office staff, clinical staff and management, or management, non-management and management supervisors. This will depend on the make-up of your center; choose groups that can logically work together towards a certain goal.

4. Assign a certain percentage of the bonus pool to each group. Take the bonus pool that you determined in step two, and split it among the groups in your center. You will probably want to allocate more money for certain groups — for instance, management — than others. For example, one group might receive 40 percent of the pool, while the other two receive 30 percent.

Again, this doesn't necessarily mean that you'll give out 100 percent of the money you allocate for bonuses. It simply means that the management group, for example, has the chance to get 40 percent of the bonus pool, but could end up getting only 30 percent or 20 percent.

5. Create "clear" targets for each group and share them. You should create targets for each group based on meeting (or not meeting) a particular goal. For example, perhaps you want to decrease turnover times by two minutes in the OR. In this case, you would gather your clinical staff and explain the goal of reducing turnover times by two minutes. You would make it clear that the goal is set at two minutes — if the team accomplishes the goal, they will receive that portion of the bonus; if they do not meet the goal, they won't.

Mr. Merski says this philosophy differs from some other surgery centers, where staff are rewarded even if they meet a certain percentage of the goal. But in such instances the problem becomes: Where do you draw the line? Will you still reward your staff members with 50 percent of the money if they only meet 50 percent of the goal, and so on?

He says you should set a clear target and tie a specific dollar amount to that target. Make sure that the goal is realistic — Mr. Merski says your staff should be able attain goals set.  Unachievable goals have quite the opposite impact of their intended purpose. A success rate of around 80% is achievable yet duty-bound.

6. Give staff members input on targets. Let your employees know that you're setting up a bonus program, and ask them for ideas for targets. If they say, "We all get the full amount if we come to work every day," you may want to ignore that idea. But most of the time, staff members will have great ideas for goals for the surgery center, and they may notice areas of inefficiency or failure that you didn't know about.

"The bonus plan should be made with input by the same people who are going to get the bonus," Mr. Merski says. "When they're invested in the design of the bonus program and they know that they have set achievable goals, they are their own worst enemy if they don't meet the goals."

7. Give out bonuses on a quarterly basis. You don't have to wait until the end of the year to give out bonuses, Mr. Merski says. "For the most part people have short attention spans," he says. Employees are no different. "If you want a bonus program to work for you, you have to reward people in a systematic and consistent frequency basis."

This means regularly updating staff members on how well they're doing and how close they are to meeting the goal — and giving out money on a quarterly basis. If you base your bonus in December on the employee's performance the previous January, they're unlikely to remember what they did or how to replicate the behavior.

8. Bring together staff members to announce bonus results. You should not keep the results of your bonus program a secret, Mr. Merski says. Meet with each group individually, and let them know that you achieved goals in sections one, three, five and seven, for example. "Make a big thing of their success," he says. If you make the results public, employees will be more likely to work hard to impress their peers.

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