Purpose Policy makers are applying market-inspired competition and financial incentives to drive efficiency in healthcare. However, a lack of knowledge exists about the process whereby incentives are filtered through organizations to influence staff motivation, and the key role of managers is often overlooked. The purpose of this paper is to explore the strategies managers use as intermediaries between financial incentives and the individual motivation of staff. The authors use empirical data from a local case in Swedish specialized care. Design/methodology/approach The authors conducted an exploratory qualitative case study of a patient-choice reform, including financial incentives, in specialized orthopedics in Sweden. In total, 17 interviews were conducted with professionals in managerial positions, representing six healthcare providers. A hypo-deductive, thematic approach was used to analyze the data. Findings The results show that managers applied alignment strategies to make the incentive model motivating for staff. The managers' strategies are characterized by attempts to align external rewards with professional values based on their contextual and practical knowledge. Managers occasionally overruled the financial logic of the model to safeguard patient needs and expressed an interest in having a closer dialogue with policy makers about improvements. Originality/value Externally imposed incentives do not automatically motivate healthcare staff. Managers in healthcare play key roles as intermediaries by aligning external rewards with professional values. Managers' multiple perspectives on healthcare practices and professional culture can also be utilized to improve policy and as a source of knowledge in partnership with policy makers.
Keywords: Financial incentives; Health policy; Motivation; Patient-choice reform; Professionalism.