Which Incentives Work? Depends On Who's Incented

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HR consultants and professionals are known for preaching that money is a secondary motivator. In most instances they're correct. Even the best sales people will tell you that while they enjoy the money they make, the real incentive is the competition and the thrill of the chase.

When it comes to non-traditional selling roles, such as frontline staff for credit unions, incentives take on a whole new dynamic. Most tellers, member service reps, and even personal bankers don't see themselves as sales people. The idea of selling even has a negative connotation for many individuals in these positions. To offer them money in exchange for sales and leads may only increase they're apprehension towards selling activities.

Many times the use of non-monetary incentives can be a powerful alternative to cash rewards or a valuable enhancement to a sales-commission plan. Even credit unions with unionized employees can easily institute a plan along these lines for the entire staff. Here are some common non-monetary incentives that organizations have used successfully:

* Extra Vacation Time: Given that a 50-hour work week coupled with a one-hour commute is now more the norm than the exception, employees truly cherish the time they are able to spend away from the office. If that's the case in your organization, reward your best employees with extra time off to spend with friends and family. Of course if there is a large drop-off in talent between your best and your second-best employee, and you can't afford to have your star out of the game for too long; you may want to consider some of the other incentives on the list.

Travel: Similar to vacation time, people love to get away in order to regenerate themselves. Using vacation packages as an extra perk can be a powerful incentive for some. This can also be done in conjunction with a seminar or other learning opportunity, thus allowing your best staff to hone valuable skills as well.

* Food: Whether it's a free lunch or a box of meat, sometimes the fastest way to a person's heart is through his or her stomach. There are even providers, such as Omaha Steaks, that will arrange packages for your staff as needed. You may also want to set up a lunch between the employee of the month and the CEO. It may be a way to connect the frontline staff with management. Make sure the CEO is supportive of the idea, however. If an executive is going to participate begrudgingly, or is a less than personable individual that no one wants to be with, you may want to employ an alternative incentive.

* Tickets: Whether the tickets are for a sporting event, a play, or a movie, many people enjoy receiving this perk. If your budget allows, you can even have a variety on hand and give deserving employees a choice of venue. Make sure you give out at least two tickets per person. Getting a single ticket to go to the ballgame alone is hardly an incentive. Having a set of two tickets to take a significant other to the theater or a child to see Toy Story 16 is a nice way to get the employee's family involved.

* Merchandise: Many people see items in a catalog that they would never buy for themselves but wouldn't mind having if they were given as a gift or won as a prize. Many products offered by Sharper Image are great examples of out-of-the-ordinary merchandise that people would love to have but are uneasy about spending their own hard earned money on. To earn a reward that is seen as special or upscale can have a lasting effect. I still look at an item I won well over a decade ago and think back fondly on a fun experience during a sales contest.

* Gift Certificates: Rewarding employees with gift certificates can be a perfect alternative to commissions. Certificates to a store or restaurant are still basically money but are usually seen as a little warmer than cash. Some thought went into their purchase at least and employees are almost forced to enjoy the rewards, rather than use them to pay bills as they might do with extra money on their paychecks.

Regardless of what incentive mix you decide to employ, keep in mind that different people are motivated for different reasons. So having flexibility within your program will produce the best results. Also remember that the best incentive of all is usually respect and appreciation for a job well done. No amount of money or incentives could ever take the place of that.

Ken Bator is president of Bator Training & Consulting in Naperville, Ill. Mr. Bator can be reached at 630.854.6380 or www.btcinc.net.

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