Juice Up Your Meetings

By Malcolm Fleschner

Sales incentives tend to be associated with big goals and big prizes: fabulous trips to exotic locations, high-end electronics and the like. But incentives can be used just as effectively to achieve results on a smaller scale, a point motivation guru Bob Nelson (www.nelson-motivation.com) likes to highlight with his clients. Take, for example, the seemingly mundane topic of business meetings. In his work with hundreds of business professionals over the years, Nelson has picked up a number of tips for working incentives and other recognition into the meeting mix. A few include the following:

1. Presence Poker
Getting meeting participants back from breaks in a timely fashion can be a real challenge, particularly in the midst of a daylong training program. But, Nelson says, the folks at the Knoxville, Tennessee-based System Improvements have developed a unique and fun solution to give people incentives to be in their seats promptly. Here’s what they do:

For every meeting that runs at least an hour, participants are given a 10-minute break. At the end of the break, everyone who has returned on time receives a playing card. At day’s end, attendees, who might have accumulated as many as five to seven cards each, play a hand of poker, discarding cards to better their hands. Small prizes such as T-shirts, pocketknives, watches, etc., are awarded for the highest and lowest hand, which gives everyone a chance to win.

For larger meetings and conferences, raffle tickets that qualify participants for a prize lottery replace the playing cards. The more tickets, the more chances to win! System Improvements executives say that since instituting this incentive, it’s common for everyone to be back from a break and in their seat well before the break has finished.

"When you want to change people’s behavior, you have to train them by showing them what you want," says Mark Paradies, the company president.

2. Well Done
Nelson also cites the example of James Sweeney, the founder of Mom’s Landscaping & Design in Chanhassen, MN, who likes to conclude every meeting by giving employees the chance to share either a "Well Done" for another team member who has been particularly helpful or to explain an area where they are trying to improve and to ask for others’ assistance. Employee response has been overwhelmingly positive, Nelson says, while the exercise has also proven effective at building team cohesiveness.

3. The Break In
Praise is most effective when it’s specific and timely. Once an accomplishment is reached or the desired behavior is observed, you want to let the person or people involved know that you noticed. Nelson even recommends that managers go ahead and interrupt someone in a meeting, if necessary, to offer a quick word of appreciation. You can always elaborate later in private.

4. Change the Scenery
Is it written in your company manifesto that all meetings must be conducted in sterile, fluorescent-lit conference rooms? If not, switch things up a bit by holding the occasional meeting at a picnic table on the company grounds, in a local restaurant or at a nearby park. "Finding a picnic table to talk shop may not seem like a huge reward–and it isn’t, necessarily–but every little thing counts," Nelson says. The change of scenery may add a level of spark to your otherwise moribund meetings.