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Incentive Success – It’s All In The Plan

It is proven that incentive reward programs are a great way to encourage employees to put forward their best effort in the work place, which in turn, creates an overall benefit for the company. The best intentions; however, can backfire if certain key aspects of an incentive program are overlooked. Let’s take, for example, the annual holiday bonus. It seems innocent enough and if used correctly can be a fantastic employee motivator. But what happens when you give the same bonus to every employee regardless of their performance?  Your performance based reward, or bonus, has really become a gesture of appreciation, not an incentive. By failing to call your holiday “bonus” what it actually is you are not motivating your employees to perform but instead are demotivating your top performers. After all, why should your top performers strive to put in the extra effort if they will get the same “bonus” as their co-workers who may do less in the workplace? In this case it’s all in the naming and scope of this incentive.

While it can be frustrating to see your attempts at employee motivation and retention fail to take off, with focus on a few key aspects you can create a successful program that will only motivate but also add to your company culture.

Ten Tips for Building an Incentive Plan

Establish your commitment. Ideally, you should be able to put in a little investment and leverage that investment for a larger ROI. That is the beauty of incentives; they don’t have to be costly to be successful. But even the smallest incentive plans do require time and funding to create and manage. If you are not prepared or equipped to commit resources to an incentive program it is best to not even start one. Perception is everything. A perception that your company is not fully committed will show through and potentially damage the chances of success.

Listen Deeply. It can be a bit insulated at the top and at times it’s difficult to know what’s really going on deep into your organization if you don’t intentionally listen. In order for your incentive plan to truly be successful, you will need buy in from your entire staff. The best way to do this is to appoint several employees (your top performers) to be on a consultative committee. Your top performers will be motivated and appreciate that you identified them for this opportunity and the other employees will have a great buy-in because their peers are helping design the program.

Find your opportunities. Leverage the use of your consultative committee as well all your own knowledge, and make a list of goals based on improvement opportunities.   These may be qualitative or quantitative. The idea is simply to get them down on paper. Then from there identify 5 goals you’d like your team to focus on first. As goals are met new goals can be moved into their place. This will keep things fresh and momentum high.

What is the win? Goals are great, but what does success look like?  For each of the five goals or objectives you have identified, define what the desired outcome looks like. Be sure that each objective has a defined end point and is measurable, specific and attainable. If you find that your identified objectives are not attainable, time bound, specific or measurable then adjust that objective. Success starts with good goals.

Determine Responsibility. It is very important to identify who will be responsible for achieving which objective as well has who will receive the reward if that objective is achieved.

Establish the Reward. The goals have been set are and it’s been identified who is responsible for achieving them now it’s time to decide on what the reward is. When establishing the rewards for achieving goals, keep in mind that the level of effort and reward should be in direct proportion to one another. The higher the level of effort, the bigger the payoff should be. You stand to demotivate if this ratio is off.

Communication is Key. Launching an incentive program requires good communication and transparency. Put your incentive plan in writing and be prepared to provide the goals and how/why they were selected; the responsibility of each person for achievement; and then the payoff. What’s in it for them?  Present this plan in group setting, making it easier to gauge reception but also this will encourage overall buy in. Be sure to recognize those (including the consultative committee) for their hard work to help put this plan into place. Make this information available in multiple places so it is always top of mind.

Communication is STILL key. Now that the plan has been presented in the collective, take the opportunity to communicate the plan on a one on one basis. This allows those for those at the top to hear those deep within into the organization. Specifically, listen for activities in achieving said objectives that have unintended consequences.

Nothing is final. It’s critical that as your goals change over time your incentive program does too. The best way to make course corrections in this manner is to review your program once a year. Identify what’s working and what needs tweaking. And then tweak it. It’s that simple. The purpose of an incentive program is to motivate if it’s not doing that go back and review your objectives and rewards.

Report, Engage and Celebrate. It’s important to make success visible think in terms of visual reminders of what the progress is on a specific goal. This visual reminder of working towards a goal will encourage others to remain engaged in achievement of their goals. At the end of an achievement goal period (remember that goals need finite end points) be sure to celebrate the goals achieved with everyone who achieved them.

Incentives work. If done correctly they are a fantastic tool for employee motivation, increasing revenue; and even lowering expenditures, all of which contribute to a better bottom line. Staying attuned to the ten tips above will help you create and grow a successful program.



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