As president and CEO of Engagement Technology LLC, a newly-formed company founded to operate the Corporate Rewards Exchange and Incentive Business Exchange online reward and engagement services, Mike Hadlow will face a host of new challenges – good thing he has a lot of experience in the incentive industry to call upon for insight and perspective.
Hadlow began his career as a consultant for Hickling-Johnston Ltd. (later Mercer Consulting), then moving to travel industry consulting firm Sontag, Annis & Associates as VP. In 1987 he helped found USTravel, a spin-off of SA&A that became the third-largest travel distribution company in the U.S. In 1994, Hadlow and a partner acquired Atlanta-based USMotivation and turned it into one of the top ten incentive and people performance management companies in the U.S.
Even after leaving USMotivation to pursue other interests, Hadlow remained active in the incentive industry as a trustee of the Incentive Research Foundation, chairing the Research committee, serving two terms as President and currently heading the IRF’s Marketing Communications committee, as well as serving on the Executive committee. He was also a founding trustee of the Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement and served on its board from 2000-2007.
The emerging field of engagement provides a significant opportunity for the incentive business,” he says, “and technology will play a critical role by helping organizations of all sizes build closer relationships with their key customers, distribution partners and employees.”
One of the challenges, of course, will be to convince others that “engagement is where the incentive marketplace should be headed,” explains Hadlow. “There are going to be skeptics out there, and it will be a challenge for us to overcome that skepticism, particularly in the early stages.”
Part of that job will be overcoming traditional thinking about how incentives are used. “Many practitioners in the industry think about incentives and operate as if they are standalone strategies rather than as one tool or tactic in the kit – part of an integrated engagement, performance improvement, recognition strategy,” Hadlow says. “That means some folks are going to have to rethink their businesses.”
He notes that lingering perception issues facing the incentive industry might actually aid in that effort. “The industry is still in the process of overcoming the ‘AIG effect’ – that whole situation highlighted the industry’s generally poor job of educating business leaders, government and the media about the positive impact that incentives have, both on business performance at the micro level and the economy at the macro level,” says Hadlow. “When all that negative press came out, the industry wasn’t prepared for a rapid response. We hadn’t put together solid research and data showing the positive economic impact of a travel incentive program on local communities and service businesses, for instance.”
Hadlow suggests that the growing body of research supporting the emerging field of engagement offers the industry an opportunity to rebrand itself and move away from a lot of the negative perceptions associated with incentives right now. “Incentives are an important tool, an important component of any engagement strategy,” he says. “But the focus should be on demonstrating how incentives are an effective tool to help build an engaged workforce and an engaged customer base.”
He adds that Engagement Technology will no doubt face the challenges of any new or early-stage business – “trying to anticipate the adoption rate for our services so we can ensure that we’re scaling our technology and our organization to most effectively meet customer needs and customer demand.”
The company’s technology platform – what Hadlow calls “the backbone of what we’re providing” – is well past the development stage. “So at this point it’s more a case of refining as we go, listening to customer feedback on what they’re using, what they would like to see and determining which of those requested features are important enough and appealing enough to incorporate.”
This technology should help to bring more people into the tent as well, he says. “We know there are organizations out there that would be doing incentive programs, but they don’t because they’re relatively small and don’t appear on anyone’s radar. This technology will allow incentive companies to serve that market – to implement customized programs for small companies. We want to enable companies of all sizes to be able to achieve one-to-one engagement.”