Too often, the rewards provided by incentive programs are disproportionately granted to a group of strong performers who don’t need incentives to maintain the status quo. If you imagine the team as athletes — runners, for example — these are the performers who were born with long legs and typically stride at a faster gait and cover more ground than their peers, without necessarily exerting more effort. They may enjoy receiving rewards and incentives, but at a certain point, these runners should be rewarded for growth, not for consistently maintaining the same above-average numbers.
At the same time, incentive programs should offer more rewards and focus more attention on the “B” players, the second-place achievers who contribute only slightly less, on average, but at a far greater cost to themselves. These runners with slightly shorter legs should be the primary beneficiaries of an incentive program since their contributions are directly linked to effort and active engagement. As you develop your program, keep these considerations in mind.
Before distributing an award, provide data that reveals the metrics used to make the decision. If the reward is non-competitive (for example, a recognition of a unique achievement), this data isn’t so important. But if multiple employees have been asked to compete for one award, be ready to show how and why the winner was chosen.
Keep recognition flowing
Rewards and recognition should happen on an almost-daily basis, and opportunities for success should be readily and constantly available to those who strive for them. An effort to excel, no matter how recent, sustained, or fruitful should be acknowledged in some capacity by the organization. Missing an opportunity for a reward should in no way justify giving up the effort; if one reward passes by, the next one should immediately appear on the horizon.
Rewards should be tailored
Again, faster runners and naturally high achievers should be rewarded for growth, not sustained high performance. Slightly slower runners should be rewarded for accomplishment and effort, and slower runners should be rewarded for improvement.
Rewards should be meaningful and proportional
Vast improvement merits a more impressive reward then mild improvement. Long term success merits a greater reward than a short burst of brilliance. As you distribute competitive rewards, don’t compare apples and oranges and recognize that not all victories take place within the same context.
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