The incentive industry is exciting, representing more than $30 billion worth of brand name merchandise and luxurious travel experiences sold annually to corporations as the awards for many types of incentive programs, including employee recognition, sales performance improvement, channel marketing and customer loyalty.

Unfortunately, many of these programs do not achieve their full potential, because only a small percentage of the target audience engages in the program and accomplishes the actions necessary to earn the awards. It is common that only the top 20% of the audience actively engages in a program, with the middle 60% not engaging fully and the bottom 20% disengaging and feeling cynical toward the program and the sponsoring company. This experience is consistent with employee engagement research that has been conducted for more than 20 years by major marketing research companies, including Gallup, Sirota Survey Intelligence and the Corporate Executive Board, among others, which concludes that for most companies only 27% of employees are engaged and 73% are disengaged to actively disengaged. We can change this participation pattern in incentive programs, by more effectively designing and administering them in accordance with the principles of intrinsic motivation.

Tangible awards are inspirational to be sure, but are not motivational. True motivation comes from within each of us as individuals – it is personal. Incentive programs will not work to their full potential unless people are first intrinsically motivated to take the required actions and make the behavior changes necessary to turn their desires for the award into reality.

Fundamentally, there are two types of motivators: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is defined as the enjoyment that a person feels by accomplishing the task itself and it is driven by factors that people perceive that they can control themselves, based on their level of commitment and amount of effort. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside of the person and can be either from positive influencers such as tangible incentives and recognition that is awarded if a task is achieved, or negative, such as the fear of punishment or ridicule if the task is not achieved. According to David Sirota and his associates at Sirota Survey Intelligence, an employee engagement research firm, many companies are managed by 33 myths that have been passed down for years that create negative work environments. This research is presented in the book, “The Enthusiastic Employee,” which was published in 2005 to critical acclaim and the basic myths that apply to motivation specifically are that:

• People don’t like work, especially non-professionals
• If they aren’t watched, people will steal from the company
• People are unhappy if they have too much to do
• People will never be happy with their amount of pay
• Cultural and generational differences exist

Sirota research concludes that people want and need respect, fair compensation and camaraderie and demonstrates that companies with high employee motivation indexes are more profitable than ones with low scores. These findings are also supported by other studies and papers, such as the article, “Putting the Service Profit Chain to Work,” published in the Harvard Business Review, which states that “people are a company’s greatest asset and that a 5 percent increase in employee retention can generate a 25 to 85 percent increase in profitability.”

The business world has changed quite significantly from the days when companies could manage with just an “iron fist.” We now have a more fast-paced competitive global marketplace, with consumers and channel partners armed with robust information on products, pricing and service levels, that create increased margin pressures, especially in these recessionary economic times. Companies need to work with fewer employees, who need to be more productive and since companies can no longer in-effect offer “jobs for life,” or even guarantee increasing compensation or benefits, we have a workforce of “free agents.” On top of this, all marketing initiatives must produce a measurable return on investment, including incentive and engagement programs, so that no dollars are wasted.

So, as corporate incentive program planners, we need to create an environment in which intrinsic motivation thrives, by understanding first that it is driven by two factors: Employee Engagement and Personal Motivation. Employee engagement consists of the things a company can do to create a positive and inspirational workplace, including cultural and process considerations, such mentoring, coaching, collaboration, innovation and the effective balance of compensation, incentives and recognition. Personal motivation consists of the things that each of us can do to motivate ourselves individually to take action and make our desires become realities. So to have fully engaged incentive program participants, it is necessary for companies to help encourage personal motivation and ensure that is aligned with corporate engagement objectives.

The principles of Personal Motivation have been explained for almost 100 years, by many behavioral psychologists, including Emile Couve in 1920 who taught about the need for positive affirmations, or “autosuggestion”, Abraham Maslow in 1954, who theorized about a “Hierarchy of Human Needs,” and Frederic Herzberg in 1959, who identified “Motivation Factors,” which influence job satisfaction and psychological growth and “Hygiene Factors,” which influence dissatisfaction. The first mass market book that identified the principles of personal motivation is generally attributed to Napoleon Hill, who wrote “Think and Grow Rich,” which is based on his research of Andrew Carnegie and other successful business and political leaders from 1908 – 1928. This is still a best-selling personal development book today and has sold millions of copies over the years.

The experts say that fundamentally, people are motivated by the emotions of fear and desire and have a need for Safety, or from the perspective of corporate engagement, Certainty; Love and Connection; Significance and Accomplishment; Challenge and Growth; Freedom and Choice. There are many factors that have an effect on our personal motivation levels and these need to be considered as well, such as age and “lifestage,” family issues, beliefs and values, career choice and level of achievement and our hobbies and interests.

There are many authors, speakers and trainers who are experts in the $11 Billion field of Personal Motivation and the number of principles and semantics vary, but here are 9 Fundamental principles that help to increase intrinsic motivation:

1. Positive Attitude – It is essential for people to have a positive attitude, with optimism and confidence. We can manage our states of mind, with many “psycho-somatic” (mind-body) techniques, including basic exercise and nutrition.

2. Belief – People need to believe that their actions will produce the desired result and have an expectation of winning to break through their perceived limitations.

3. Purpose – People need to have an overall purpose and goals both personally, as well as in a corporate sense, that are measurable and attainable.

4. Commitment – People need to make a commitment to their goals, create passion and have persistence until they accomplish them.

5. Mission – People need to have a “mission” for their particular goals that include specific tactics with ongoing measurement.

6. Action – It is most important to take action on our mission immediately, effectively and efficiently.

7. Revision – If the actions are not working then we must revise our plans and tactics realistically and honestly.

8. Reward Success – People need to celebrate and to be rewarded and recognized for their accomplishments, great and small, on an ongoing basis.

9. Help Others – To grow and be our best, people need to help others succeed through coaching, mentoring and contributing.

From a corporate engagement and incentive perspective, there are many things we can do to integrate these principles into our incentive programs which will create a positive environment, help people “create leverage” to change their behaviors and take the necessary actions to accomplish their challenging business goals, so that we can reward and recognize them. Here are some examples for each program component:

A. Program Design – Assess baseline performance to understand the participant attitudes, beliefs and values. Design the program so that it “moves the middle 60%” of the audience, not just the top performers who are already intrinsically motivated, by creating a tiered award structure with lower level awards, not just a top award, such as a trip. Consider creating several shorter earnings periods, instead of one annual campaign, which will allow participants to re-engage if their performance needs to improve. Whenever possible, include everyone who contributes to the desired result, such as support associates.

B. Communications – Involve people emotionally by creating an integrated campaign of personalized communications, delivered throughout the program that includes standings reports and positive, inspirational messaging, in addition to the program rules and an awards catalog. Create a “mission” for the program (not just a theme) that creates a genuine shared call to action for all participants. Use color and dimensional mailings to increase message retention by more than 50%. Use audio and video messaging and social media tools to reinforce the mission, as well as teach best practices in an engaging way and consider using experts from within the company to share their “tribal knowledge.” Consider creating an “engagement map” as developed by Root Learning, which describes business challenges in a visual way, thus “bridging the gap between people and possibilities.”

C. Training – Create an integrated Learning Management System, or at least basic training system within the incentive program that can provide the three types of training needed for participants to achieve the objectives: product, task (process) and motivation training. Provide incentive award bonuses for passing quizzes and consider implementing a full certification program which can improve job skills and professionalism on an ongoing basis. Consider using an online system such as CanDoGo, to provide participants with topical information they need in real-time, on-demand during their selling and management activities. Consider launching an incentive program that combines a top motivation trainer’s system with incentives, such as “Selling to VITO Rewards,” by top selling author and speaker, Tony Parinello, in conjunction with Harco Incentive Solutions.

D. Measurement – Provide progress reports to the individual participants regularly and show ranking reports to promote competition, if appropriate to the culture and program objectives. Consider including participant behavioral assessment surveys and related manager coaching tools, such as those provided by Spring Lake Technologies. Their behavioral scientists believe that “every company has a unique sales DNA” and with the correct information and manager tools, B and C players can be coached to become more like the A players at any company.

E. Rewards and Recognition – Use tangible awards that inspire each participant individually, by giving them a choice of “passionate wants” (not needs), and providing compelling aspirational imaging through the awards catalog and other integrated communications methods.

In conclusion, the effectiveness and results of incentive programs can be improved, if planners take into account the need to include intrinsic motivation, along with extrinsic rewards. Personal motivation training products and systems are available through Nightingale-Conant and many leading authors, trainers and motivational speakers.

Author's Bio: 

Ira Ozer, CPIM, President of Motivation Partners, Inc. and Engagement Partners, a motivation and incentive consulting and solutions representative company, that works with corporate clients and agencies to assess their needs for performance improvement programs and then recommends the best strategy, solution, services and supplier(s) to achieve their objectives. Ira has 27 years of incentive industry experience and is a frequent presenter of the Incentive Marketing Association’s curriculum about the “Principles of Results Based Incentive Program Design.” He is also the founder of the Motivation Professionals Association, which is comprised of leaders in the field of motivation and personal development.