Are You Selling Out Your Incentive and Recognition Programs?

Paul Hebert Paul Hebert, Performance, Recognition, Total Rewards

Wrestle Do you "own" your incentive and recognition programs? I ask because it seems that many companies have abdicated their responsibility to surveys and experts who continually say that employees want "X" so in order to engage them give them "X."

A smattering of examples from a quick Google search include:

Cash and international travel are the most motivating incentives for employees in automotive, financial, insurance, medical, pharmaceutical, and IT — those business sectors that most often use incentive travel as a motivator."

The survey reported 44 percent of employees wanting cash as their company’s gift, followed by time off (17 percent) and gift cards (15 percent)."

"…There is an emphasis on tangible benefits like preference for cash in hand as against facilities and provisions, and most employees and potential recruits are more interested in their ‘take home’ salary. Employees want more and more rewards for their hard work in tangible terms. Also, in line with the preference to have cash in hand is the greater emphasis on performance-based variable pay. Limited yearly salary raises aremaking people look for more cash rewards."

I have a real problem with companies taking the easy way out. It’s easy to say – "give them cash, that’s what they want." And then blame the employees for not hitting goals or leaving the company for more money. Hey – you’re the one that taught them that.

Incentive and recognition programs are designed to accomplish your company’s objectives. No one conducts a program unless there is a business reason. If they do – then I have a bridge to sell them.

Your company has a need – a need to direct behavior toward a goal. You also have a responsibility for the future programs and future challenges your company will encounter. Getting and keeping control of your incentive and recognition program has to be one of your critical objectives. Your initial program sets the tone for all the rest and you don’t want to start off teaching your folks that it’s all about the Benjamins.

In addition people do and say different things. Surveys tell you what people "think" they should say in most cases, they don’t tell you what really happens.

The point being is companies own the program, and the results. Simply giving employees what they say they want is irresponsible. Ask any employee – what would you rather have a crystal trophy or $100 in cash. I’m betting the cash wins. Of course it does. It would be insane to say otherwise. However, the trophy drives a much different response than the cash. The response you want. It binds the employee on a social level. The cash (or near cash in the case of debit cards and gift cards) binds them at a transactional level. These types of awards create mercenary behavior. Plus recognition and non-cash awards don’t have the same inflationary constraints that cash and cash-like awards have. Being appreciative and showing it isn’t indexed to the CPI.

Too many surveys tell us what employees want. I get that we should look at those surveys, take the information in, bounce it against our objectives and our goals and then decide if there is a connection. This is more direct in the world of benefits and compensation. You can add a benefit, increase salaries and add bonuses based on surveys and employee desires because you need to keep current with the market and attract talent.

Employees are said to join companies based on an intellectual decision process. But by and large the decision to leave is an emotional one.

Keeping your retention and reward efforts in the emotional zone of an employee is best for all. Employee loyalty is most affected by whether the company cares about the employee, provides training and advancement opportunities, the companies social reputation and trust. All emotional triggers.

By owning your incentive and recognition programs and looking at the surveys and the experts who simply say "give them what they want" with a jaundiced eye…you will find a better way to engage, influence and ultimately retain your employees.