Inspiring Incentives

Incentive Programs Could Be The Answer You've Been Searching For

IncentivesLooking for a door opener with prospects? Want to earn more business from current clients? Find out why offering incentive programs could be the answer you've been searching for.

Providing incentives is not only a wise strategy for distributors, but it's also a smart investment for clients. Data from the Incentive Research Foundation shows that incentive programs can increase employee performance by as much as 44%. That's why U.S. companies spend about $40 billion on incentives annually, the equivalent of 1% or 2% of total payrolls nationwide, according to Forbes magazine.

How can you get in on the action? Below are four examples of successful incentive programs you can emulate.

Wellness Boost
Mike Emoff's approach to selling wellness incentive programs has been to target smaller companies – those with 500 or fewer employees – and make it easy for their workers to keep track of their progress toward better heath.

"We believe foundationally in wellness programs and the value they bring. That's an underlying passion of ours," says Emoff, CEO of Shumsky (asi/326300). "You get a return on your investment if your insurance premiums go down, or you see an increase in work energy."

Several years ago, Shumsky created a separate division specifically for recognition programs called Boost Rewards. "We developed Boost on Demand, and that was a genesis for wellness on demand," Emoff says. "We built a platform so that any organization can sign up and keep score of a wellness program."

Employers can log onto and click "Start a Wellness Program," where they can enter their own parameters for a specific program. Goals might include losing weight, exercising, smoking cessation – whatever employers believe is best for their company. The tangible aspects of each Boost program are called Wellness Cogz – collectible tokens that employees accumulate for reaching certain wellness feats.

Emoff says the Cogz have a two-pronged purpose. "They can be assembled together to create a visible wellness trophy on the work space of the employee, and each one carries a code that provides points that go into employees' accounts, and they can spend them on wellness-based items," Emoff says. "We'll narrow it down to things like music downloads, blenders, smoothies – all those things that employers believe employees feel match up with the program."

The wellness program also gives Shumsky the opportunity to upsell clients on additional incentives. "Once they adopt that system, we can add on things like years of service and productivity to the Boost program they're currently using," Emoff says.

That was the case for CompuNet Clinical Laboratories, which began a wellness health and prevention program for all 650 of its employees through Boost Rewards three years ago.

"We worked with Boost to put together a program where if employees did certain prevention-type activities like get a yearly checkup or a mammogram, you'd get 40 Boost points, which amounts to almost ten dollars," says Carolyn Thaman, CompuNet's vice president of performance excellence. "The other part is based on activities, so we have a tracking record where employees get Boost points if they do walking in their own neighborhood, or do any kind of classes like yoga or exercise classes."

CompuNet has been so satisfied with the results that it decided to integrate its other recognition program into the Boost system. "We've always had a recognition program where if somebody sees you do something above and beyond, you'll receive recognition for that, and we just combined that with our wellness program," Thaman says. "So now, an employee can get Boost points for wellness, prevention, or any type of recognition."

Expert's Take: "It's brilliant – a reward program that is both visible and redeemable," says Marsha Londe, CEO of industry consultancy Tango Partners. "What a winning combo – an incentive program that is self-driven, designed by the employee to fit personal goals, while ultimately benefiting the overall corporate wellness program. Uniformity is achieved in using the specially designed Cogz, so program costs are limited until redemption time, and through accomplished goals, everyone wins – especially the corporate insurance budget."

Londe was previously vice president of Summit Atlanta PPD (asi/339116), where she was presented with a program challenge. She had to create an incentive plan that would encourage employees of Kroger, one of North America's largest supermarket chains, to go above and beyond for their customers as part of its Customer First initiative.

Londe, who was focused on the client directive for a program with add-on designations, ultimately decided to go with an incremental reward plan that featured creative lapel pins for Kroger's Atlanta-based stores. "Employees like pins, and pins work well on a budget," she says.

The bar-shaped pins contain multiple loops to place up to five possible keys. The idea helps remind customer service reps that outstanding service is always the "key" to Kroger's success.

"Associates who are complimented by customers, managers or peers for an action that ties back to the Customer First strategy are now recognized through an add-a-key pin program," Londe says. "The initial pin is silver, and they receive the pin with one blue key attached. Each time they're recognized for outstanding customer service, they receive another blue key to add to their pin."

After Londe launched the campaign and departed to start Tango, her partner at Summit, Carolyn Unger, continued to develop and grow the program.

"Once they have earned five blue keys, they receive the next level pin, which is gold, and they strive to add five gold keys to that pin. The next two levels are platinum and diamond," Unger says.

Within the first 10 months of the program, nearly 2,500 employees qualified for a key. "Associates respond positively – and sometimes enviously – when seeing another with a pin or new key, and ask the reason for the recognition," Unger says. "Management now stops staff to inquire why they received a key. Customers ask questions about the keys."

Last year, Summit added a fifth-level lapel pin called the "I am the Key/Persistence" pin. The program, which is now in its ninth year, has been implemented for upper management employees, along with checkers and courtesy clerks. While the program has expanded within stores, it's also expanded geographically to multiple Kroger divisions in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Texas and Ohio. As of 2012, Kroger has spent about $56,000 on the program.

"Even the president of the Atlanta division proudly wears his pins," Unger says. "Employees feel rewarded and recognized. They wear the pins proudly on uniforms – and management on their ties and collars – and continue to work above and beyond to earn additional keys."

Expert's Take: "The idea of increasing customer service with multiple levels is a great idea for this program. One does not simply reach a level of customer service, but builds toward higher levels," says Ken Thoreson, president of Acumen Management Group. "Ongoing education and reinforcement by the management become critical success factors."

License to Serve
Verizon became so enamored with the years of service recognition program that Axis Promotions (asi/128263) created for Zappos that it decided it had to adopt the program for its own staff. Six years ago, Axis began providing Zappos employees with personalized license plates – real metal plates employees can display at their workstations, instead of standard nameplates.

Axis sales executive Sandy Poster says the plates were designed to look just like vanity state license plates. "If you look at a license plate, in one of the corners it shows the years of service, just like you put a little decal over each year when you renew your vehicle registration," she says. "So, for each year of service, employees get a paper decal that peels off, and they put it over the previous years."

The promotion with Zappos is ongoing, as is the promotion with Verizon that began two years ago. "Verizon did a tour of Zappos and saw the impact it made, and they copied it," Poster says. "Verizon wanted to get its company core values prominent and repeated in the art, and also to recognize all the employees and their years of service. Instead of having a simple bar on your cubicle area or some other type of nameplate, they thought it was something that spoke to their culture."

The plates are also an interesting way to showcase experience. "There's a mentoring type of concept," Poster says. "If you're walking around and you see the years of service that your fellow employees have, and if you're a new employee and you have a question, it gives it a little more validity to the person giving you the answer. You don't need to go to a supervisor. You can go to a fellow employee."

The Verizon program includes additional license plate artwork for milestone years as well. For example, at 10 years of service, employees get to pick "location art" for their license plates, which may depict the region in which they work or where they're from.

"The bottom line is pretty much the emphasis of the employee culture," Poster says. "Recognition is important, but I think the main reason they're using them is to support the employee culture and emphasizing it within the company."

Expert's Take: "That Verizon visited, observed and copied the Zappos program validates how simple incentives can affect workplace attitudes. Visibility is the key to this successful program," Londe says. "The casual identification creates a comfortable environment – a sense of togetherness rather than work. The years of work decal not only instills pride in the staff members, but is reassuring to prospective employees. The license plate program proves that recognition need not be costly to make a difference."

Cruising Toward Sales Success
Rain for Rent, an oil company that provides water to farms across the U.S. that desperately need it, wanted to incentivize its sales reps in a special way. This particular incentive package didn't just include high-end promotional gear, but the possibility of a four-day cruise to the Bahamas.

Fun Incentives, a division of Power Business Associates Inc., took care of every program detail.

"We'd done similar promotions with other companies, but for this one, we got a lead and presented a proposal to the board. It took six months or longer to get done, but finally the board said yes," says Zigmund Sepanski, president of Fun Incentives. "We arranged everything – the hotel, the transportation, and the gifts."

Since a top-notch vacation package requires high-end giveaways, Fun Incentives came up with a promotional product package that included logoed Swiss backpacks, cameras, shirts and luggage tags for all 40 sales reps who were invited on the cruise.

"We also created banner-type flags, so on one of the islands they visited, they stuck the flag in the sand on beaches, and everyone congregated around them for their activities," Sepanski says. "They also collected all the cameras at the end of the cruise and put up everyone's photos on a special motivational site for their internal company."

Sepanski believes it wasn't just the suggested promotional items that earned Fun Incentives the order with Rain for Rent; it was also the company's willingness and ability to plan each element of the event.

"Everybody just loved it," Sepanski says. "Our job is to make it as easy for them as possible, so we really try to package everything so they don't have to worry."

Expert's Take: "I firmly believe these kinds of team-building, year-long incentive trips are important aspects of building a company culture of performance," Thoreson says. "Taking pictures, making memories, and creating company-wide programs keep the program active."