Resurrecting that Forgotten Incentive Program: It’s All About Communication

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Mar 14, 2011

It is a story told and re-told all across the country when it comes to a corporate incentive and rewards programs.

The company decides that they need to start a program that will reward employees and spends a lot of time and money setting it up. They roll it out with a big company-wide announcement and employees seem excited about it and things move along nicely for a while.

Then, gradually, the day-to-day activities take priority, people start missing their rewards goals, the prizes and incentives get pushed aside and, before long, the entire program is stale and abandoned.

Running an incentive program takes time and some effort and if it isn’t nurtured it will die on the vine. An employee rewards and incentives program that no one cultivates is worse than one that never gets off the ground. Basically, it’s all about the communication. How do you keep your rewards and incentive program relevant and successful?

Tips for keeping it successful

  • Keep it coming — Just having that one company-wide meeting and expecting everyone to remember will not work. Employees have too much on their plate already without worrying about where they stand within the rewards and incentives program. So, you need to take the initiative and keep the information coming at a steady, regularly scheduled pace. It keeps the employees engaged and involved.
  • Change it up — It is tempting to just send out e-mail after e-mail reminding employees about the incentives program. That just gets lost in the shuffle. Try changing it up from time to time. Send an e-mail one month and then, the next month, send out a memo or letter. Put up a poster or two where everyone can see it and be reminded. E-mails often get looked over and deleted without even being read.
  • Explain it all — If your incentives program is taking the form of a sales contest, then you really need to explain it all so there is no confusion. You don’t want to crush someone who thinks they have it all figured out and are on the way to winning some great award, only to find out that they aren’t even close. But, no matter how your incentives program works, make sure all of the affected employees understand the ins and outs.
  • Think unique — Many companies like to give out cash rewards and they think that cash is the only incentive. That isn’t the case. Since the cash just gets absorbed into the bank account where their paychecks already go and then gets used for day-to-day payments and bill paying, the reward can end up lost and forgotten. Creating something unique, different, special and personalized goes a long way towards being remembered and appreciated.
  • Transparency works wonders — Let employees know where they stand. Make a public spectacle of it by posting the contest leaders and let the other employees know what they can do to catch up. Something like that could inspire an employee who is lagging behind to step things up a notch.
  • Be encouraging — If you threaten employees and demand that they participate in incentives and reward programs, you are unlikely to generate much excitement. Encourage them. Use pep talks and humor, if you can. Remind them of why participating in the program is so great. Employees are already worried about their jobs, don’t make them worry about participating in their incentives program, too.
  • Don’t let go — Remember that if you give up on the program, then your employees are unlikely to keep it going on their own. You took the time to do the research and get it off the ground, so take the time to keep it going and to keep encouraging employees to participate. Keep the communication coming and try to keep the excitement level up. Maybe you should have rewards for a whole variety of things and different levels so you can hand them out at varying times throughout the year.
  • Celebrate — If you just quietly hand an employee a check, it hardly resonates with the rest of the employees. This is another reason cash may not be the best incentive. Have an awards presentation party and make the entire occasion a reason to celebrate.
  • Measure everything — In order to understand if your incentives program is working, you have to measure it. Are sales up since you implemented the program? What are your objectives in the first place? Is morale up? How can you be sure? Is your retention rate better?

There’s more, of course. And, with any of this, if it truly feels like you are losing control or are unable to keep tabs on things, seek some help. There are plenty of qualified people out there who can help you manage the entire program, from conception to choosing the rewards to communications. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel, but you do have to keep it moving.

If your current program is dead, maybe there are ways to revive it. Maybe employees just need regular reminders that it even exists. Maybe you just need to make it more exciting. Whatever you need, don’t give up. It’s too important to just let it die.

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