As an engagement agency, we’re hired by clients to design strategies that drive employee and channel partner performance. There are a lot of ways to do that, but one tool that many companies have at their disposal is the incentive program. You know the one I mean — the one where the top performers jet off to Paris or the Maldives for an all-inclusive trip for themselves and a guest.
Our agency produces many of these events all across the globe for companies large and small. Because we’re often brought in to Fortune 500 companies to revamp and reinvigorate their engagement strategies, I will share with you the one secret I’ve learned: Most of these incentive programs have been operating the same way for the past 10, 15 or even 20 years.
Let that sink in. Think about how drastically business and technology have changed in that span of time. Think about how your audience’s behaviors, wants and needs have changed, and yet many of these programs haven’t.
If you have a hand in managing these programs at your company, don’t panic. You don’t need to throw out the concept of the incentive program altogether. But if your incentive program hasn’t evolved recently and isn’t connected to your larger engagement strategy, you may want to consider re-evaluating it.
Here are five steps you can take.
1. Evaluate Your Objectives
What are you really trying to do with your incentive program? Drive sales? Retain talent? These are typical goals, but look more closely at your specific business initiatives. For example, companies often live and die by their growth rate, and growth opportunity is often found in specific market segments or product classes. If growth is the key to achieving your goals, target those areas specifically.
Let’s say that you’re a life sciences company with a new diagnostic product launching in Europe that’s critical to your success. Instead of treating all sales made by your European team the same, you may want to give more weight to the sale of this particular product. Your channel partners or employees will be more likely to sell it if they know it will give them a boost in the rankings and help them qualify for the annual incentive award.
2. Consider A Tiered Approach
Many traditional incentive programs reward the very top performers and ignore others. This might check the “retain top talent” box, but it doesn’t accomplish much else. If you’re really trying to drive performance within a broader range of your workforce or channel base, create more opportunities for them to achieve. Reward them with something that’s in line with their intrinsic values as well as the achievement.
For example, you could reward your top performers with luxury travel experiences but offer another award for mid-level performers who achieve meaningful growth targets. This could be something like box seats at a sporting event or an evening party at a theme park where they’re encouraged to bring their families. This is significantly less expensive than luxury travel, but it still allows mid-level performers to bond with one another, be recognized by executives and share their success with their families.
3. Be Inclusive
Don’t be afraid to make your incentive program inclusive. It often takes more than a sales force to keep customers happy. What about your customer service team? Your marketers? Your engineers? They may appreciate the inclusion. Also, the cross-pollination of ideas that can come from a top salesperson connecting with a top engineer over drinks at the pool can be priceless.
4. Focus On Communicating About Your Program
If you’re not communicating about your incentive program properly, it can quickly become a waste of your time, money and resources. The purpose is not necessarily to reward the few who achieve with glamorous trips. The purpose is usually to drive behaviors across your entire field force.
To do this, make your communication plan the focal point of your entire strategy. Get personal — and specific. Help employees and channel partners understand the parameters of your program, and enable them to transparently monitor their progress and understand what they need to do to move the needle. Make communications personalized and one-to-one. Map their journey through the qualification period just as you would map a customer journey.
5. Connect Your Incentive Program To Your Engagement Ecosystem
This is perhaps the most important step. The philosophy behind engagement is that you’re breaking down silos and working across departments to leverage the human capital inside your organization. Make sure you’re giving employees the tools they need to achieve and feel professionally fulfilled. What key knowledge do they need? What selling skills? How can you make it easier for them to access marketing resources and competitive business intelligence? How can you help them connect with the work they’re doing and their own personal motivations?
At our agency, we always say that the reward is just the carrot to pique your audience’s interest. Now that you have their attention with an all-expenses-paid trip to Bora Bora, what do you really want them to know?
Don’t allow your incentive program to become a waste of valuable time and resources. Evolve your program with a sound strategy, a personalized communication campaign and a commitment to provide the tools your employees and channel partners need to succeed. With these actionable steps, you can turn a stale incentive program into a dynamic engagement program that gets results.