Brad Callahan
Vice President, Business Solutions Group
June 21, 2013

Take a Lesson From Sales for Employee Incentives That Work

Too often, when many of us think of incentives, we think of “sales.” And why not? Sales incentives have proven to be effective, the results are pretty easy to track, and they’re popular. But employee incentives have a major role to play in rewards and recognition across the board, outside of the “sales” silo, especially when we’re talking about the middle performer.

We all know who the middle performers are: they’re the employees who are doing a “good enough” job, but could do a whole lot better if……and here’s where some of us get stuck, trying to determine that magical “if.” But it isn”t magic, and it’s something we’re already doing with our sales incentives programs. We just need to inject some flexibility so the same principles that have proven so successful in sales can be applied to other areas of the organization.  When we apply these principles more broadly, we’ll be applying them to the middle performer as well, the organizational sweet spot for bottom line impact.

In sales incentive programs, rewards typically are based on progress toward goals and value-add activities, such as completing a call plan or implementing strategies learned in training. The incentive is the reward, usually dollars or points. Increasingly, sales incentive programs are gamified and recognition might take the form of progression bars on a leader board, or a clock when a program has specific time frame.

When applying employee incentives to rewards and recognition more broadly, consider shifting the focus to the program’s behavioral aspects, and adjust incentives to reflect this. For example:

  • Showcase examples of employees who apply and execute the kinds of contributions that your organization values. The intrinsic value of public recognition can be a strong incentive.
  • Ramp up coaching and mentoring. Create incentives for both the mentor and the mentee.
  • If your organization had adopted gamification, adjust game mechanics so if there is a group of employees you are targeting for your efforts, such as those middle performers, do something special. Consider an enhanced points structure for this group. Take a page from sales incentives by tracking progress toward goals.
  • Some people are vital because their behavior is elevating the organization. Examples: the employee, who becomes a subject matter expert, or the employee who generously collaborates, or the employee who has made a mark in community service. Similar to sales activities such as “completing a call plan” or “applying training” these are value-added activities.
  • Recognize and reward these “soft” behaviors. And create incentives—badges, management recognition on social media, for example—that encourage these behaviors.
  • Take the time to find out what really motivates your employees and key your incentives to it. Cash works in sales promotions, but lacks longevity as an incentive for motivating behaviors desired over the long term. For lasting impact, consider personalized, spot recognition.
  • Remember: People want to be part of something purposeful. They want to make a contribution to the organization. Find out what that contribution is, encourage it with appropriate incentives, recognize it and reward it.

At all times, communicate, communicate, and communicate with messages that are informative, encouraging, and motivating. Communications are the lifeblood of an organization, and are an incentive in themselves, especially an organization’s rewards and recognition programs.

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