I'm often intrigued and a bit amused by incentive program guides occasionally published in the incentive industry. Filled with useful information such as how to establish a budget and selecting appropriate rewards, they often seem to overlook what are to me critical elements to obtaining lasting success with any incentive program. Let me highlight just a few often overlooked steps that can make your incentive programs a bit more effective.
Involve your target group. As soon as you have identified the specific goal to be achieved, involve members of your target group in the design and implementation of any incentive program. By involving employees, you are obtaining their buy-in that it is their program, not something created by management and forced upon them. Group involvement makes the program administration easier as well. Involvement should extend to the individual level as well. Managers need to learn the individual goals and aspirations of each employee to better be able to tie employees into incentive programs. If individuals are learning or applying skills that will personally benefit them as well as the company, the incentive program will be more likely to be a success.
Link informal and formal rewards. Ideally, all aspects of your rewards program should work together to obtain the goals you have set for your employees and to encourage the behaviors you desire. With some thought, simple rewards can "roll up" into more substantial rewards, eventually to include salary increases, bonuses and promotions whenever possible. For example, in improving customer service in a retail store, customer response cards (a spontaneous reward) can be collected each week and shared at group meetings (a social reward), with the person each week who receives the greatest number of customer cards getting $25 cash (a tangible reward).
At the end of the month, everyone who received a positive customer response card could be entered into a drawing with the winner receiving a lunch with the manager (a social and tangible reward) and a store gift certificate (a flexible, tangible reward). The individuals who receive the highest number of positive response cards for the year could be honored at a luncheon of all employees (a formal, social reward) with the recipient of the greatest number of response cards to be presented an engraved plaque by the store manager (a personal tangible reward, presented as a formal reward). Such an overlapping system of rewards and recognition will have the greatest impact on obtaining the overall goals and behaviors you desire.
Find ways to perpetuate your progress. At the height of interest and behavior change achieved through your incentive program, you need to find ways to perpetuate the behavioral progress that has been made. For example, to integrate customer service as an ongoing value, you could make sure that a service attitude was a criterion for all future hiring decisions, that the topic was emphasized in new employee orientation, that policies and procedures were in place to encourage customer service, and that employees were promoted or advanced in salary in part for their skill and track record in providing customer service.
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