Incentives in Your Company – Doing “With” vs. Doing “To”…

Paul Hebert Engagement and Satisfaction, Paul Hebert, Performance, Recognition, Retention, Total Rewards

The typical process for developing and launching an incentive and recognition strategy at a company goes like this:

BOSS:  “We need to motivate the troops.  We need to provide an incentive to do ‘X.’  Let’s put somePuzzlestogether  incentives in place – and while we’re at it – create a recognition program that changes the culture around here.  We need a culture of innovation and we have a culture of doing the same thing each time.”

ALMOST THE BOSS:  “Sure Boss.  I’ll get with a couple of the other ATBs (Almost The Bosses) and we’ll put something together.  We’ll show it to you on Friday.”

BOSS: “Great.  Let’s launch it next Monday.  I’ll do a quick email announcing it and how I support it and yadda, yadda, yadda.  It’ll be great.”

Fast forward – three months – results are terrible, the BOSS is mad, the ATBs are scratching their heads and can’t understand how their great ideas didn’t work.

Here’s the AHA for you all – you can’t do motivation to” someone.  You have to do motivation “with” someone.


Talk to your audience.  Take the goals and objectives from the Boss and meet with those folks that most likely can impact the results.  Find out what they think.  Find out if they think there are other audiences that should be included.  Many times you will find that the group you think has the most impact isn’t the right group.  Your goal should be to find the behaviors that drive the results – regardless of where those behaviors reside.


Don’t just phone it in.  Take the time to really communicate what you want your program to do.  Many times, the simple act of communicating objectives will influence behavior more than the award.  You’d be surprised how many times I’ve heard employees say, “Is that all they want?  No problem.  That’s easy.”

And communicate often.  One email at the beginning and no follow-up communicates you just don’t care.  Continually communicate results – and ask for feedback.  The scenario played out at the start of this post could probably have been avoided if they simply asked if the program was working soon after the launch.  Your audience will tell you if you’re off track.  Don’t worry if you are.  You’ll get more props from your folks, if you admit you were wrong and correct it than if you were right in the first place.  Recovery is a great tool for getting people on your side.


(Cue Kool & the Gang music) Don’t forget the point of the process is to reward and recognize behaviors that changed and results that were achieved.  Make darn sure you celebrate the success!  Make it public and make is proud!  Don’t shy away from letting everyone in the organization know who did what and what they got.  Don’t think it doesn’t happen.

I once had a client that awarded about 100 people in the organization for going above and beyond when they converted their enterprise accounting system.  I asked about how they would do the announcement and was shocked to hear this… “We don’t want to announce it.  Actually, we’re telling each recipient to keep it quiet.  We don’t want anyone to know about it because then everyone will want to be recognized.”  I put this into my list of programs as the “stealth recognition program.”

Recognition requires an audience.  Without public participation – you don’t have recognition.  Celebrate!

Remember – don’t do it “TO” someone – do it “WITH” someone!