Seven Simple Slip-Ups

By Malcolm Fleschner

Anyone with experience in the incentive field has a store of incentive horror stories – the Omaha steaks sent to the devout vegetarian, the contest winner’s tickets that arrive a week after the big game, the under funded program that runs out of prizes but not winners, etc. As recognition guru and bestselling author of 1001 Ways To Reward Employees Bob Nelson ( points out, in addition to the obvious ways to ruin an incentive program, there are also more subtle design and execution problems that can turn a contest into a grade-A demotivator. They include:

1. Too many rules
Sometimes incentive programs can become so laden with extra guidelines and complexities that salespeople need a team of lawyers to figure out what they’re supposed to be doing. As a result the program comes to be viewed as “just more bureaucracy” and winds up ignored by the sales team.

2. Broken promises
When salespeople are led to believe one set of expectations – and perform accordingly – but then find out they’d been misled or did not understand everything correctly, they don’t blame themselves, they blame you. Make sure that you only promise what you can deliver on and then make good.

3. Shifting sands
Like most people, salespeople are often suspicious of change. When you alter a recognition or reward program, make sure to explain the changes clearly to participants, and highlight how you’re creating new opportunities for success. Don’t change things merely to make it more difficult for participants to attain existing recognition levels.

4. Fair or foul?It’s critical that employees across an organization and in different departments believe the company’s recognition program is fair and equitable to all. And don’t kid yourself into thinking they won’t notice – determine whether there is a perception of unfairness among employees and if so, attempt to eliminate any disparities.

5. Hip or hypocritical?
Frequently, without even realizing it, managers will look hypocritical in their charges’ eyes because they say one thing and do another. This is death to a recognition program. Stay on the alert for your own or others’ inconsistencies.

6. All recognition earned
Do not reward poor performance, no matter what the reason might be. When poor performers are recognized, the entire concept of recognition is devalued across the organization.

7. Vanishing act
Senior managers are often trotted out for the initial launch of a program, but then disappear until it’s time to hand out awards. Employees rightly see this as a token measure. Instead, incorporate constant management visibility – plan specific roles for senior managers and then follow through during the entire contest.