Six Tips to a Successful Incentive Program

It is a staple of crime shows: the autopsy scene, where detectives gather evidence but cannot do much for the victim. "Autopsy" is the word that comes to mind when describing traditional employee incentives programs. Many companies reward people for results achieved weeks or months ago - long after leads or accounts are stone-cold.

If you want to achieve exceptional results, then you must create a program that rewards your team's performance on a daily basis. It is more effective than the traditional approach and best of all it will provide an early indication whether your team is going to live, live fabulously, or die.

Tip 1: Identify your top performers . Most incentives programs begin and end here simply with rewards for the superstars. But there is only so much you can do by motivating the top tier of employees. To get real results, you need to find a way to improve everyone else -- the middle 80 percent of employees who are steady but unremarkable performers.

Tip 2: Figure out top performers best practices. Get in the game and ask questions like: How is it going? What is contributing to your success? What are your obstacles? If you could wave a magic wand and change anything today, what would it be? Use the answers the top performers give to identify the best practices they're using that could help average employees move to the superstar level.

Tip 3: Define what you need in terms of behaviors and results. To make it simple, I often use two best-practice behaviors and one result. That way, you are rewarding the behaviors that lead to success, while keeping your program grounded in reality so people do not spend endless hours executing the behaviors perfectly.

For example, suppose you are monitoring activities for the sales for ABC product/service. You might establish an incentive program where reps are rewarded for validating their knowledge of the service (behavior #1), asking open-ended questions and recording the answer (behavior #2), and increasing the amount of call/talk time with those customers a most likely to purchase ABC product/service A. It is all about knowing the right things to do - and then doing them.

Tip 4: Reward people on the spot for achieving the behaviors. Every time someone performs the behavior you desire, reward it. Do not wait for the end of the program. Rewarding at the end of the incentive program is like trying to solve the crime with an autopsy - and no crime scene evidence.

Tip 5: Determine how you are going to reward people. Cash may seem obvious and easy to disburse. But it has also been proven in studies to be the worst incentive there is for changing behavior. I will not go into all the reasons here, but look at it this way: Would you be more motivated by cash that you would probably put toward bills, or a new top of the line DVD player? Find out how people want to be rewarded to change their behavior, as it may not be cash.

Tip 6: Make it short. Usually a few days is enough to see if the program is working and to make adjustments as necessary. Once 60 to 80 percent of participants are achieving the desired behaviors, stop. The total length of a program might be as short as one month or as long as one year. It may even be an ongoing program focusing on tougher issues such as culture, learning and other corporate objectives. Publicly recognize the people who improved the most, and identify the best practices that contributed.

Many companies already have the team they need in order to increase productivity and profitability. Give your people the right tools and the right motivation, and you can achieve dramatic change and live fabulously - not next year or next quarter, but today.

Source: -- Louise Anderson is president and CEO of Anderson Performance Improvement Company, or 651-438-9825. She is author of Cream of the Corp., a step-by-step guide to performance improvement.