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Employees: Types of Programs

Incentive programs are used to drive behaviors conducive to practically any business objective. Recognition programs are used to recognize individuals whose accomplishments were particularly noteworthy. The following provides an overview and key planning considerations for the most common types of non-sales employee incentive and recognition programs.

Internal Branding Programs

Even the smallest company stands for something: It has a market proposition and an implied promise, whether conveyed through marketing, over the phone, or face-to-face. That brand can stand for high quality, quick response, friendliness, dedication to customer satisfaction, or any combination of the above and more. Organizations that want to make sure their employees put a face on their brands use internal marketing to educate employees on the brand; they use communication and training to inspire and make employees capable of delivering the brand promise; and they use rewards and recognition to reinforce those behaviors and promote them throughout the organization.

Today, an important application for non-sales incentive or recognition programs is to connect the dots between promises made in marketing and sales and the actual experience encountered by customers – either via customer service or their use of the product or service. As more organizations discover the economics of customer retention, the focus on internal branding becomes greater.

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Lead Referral Programs

Many organizations have large numbers of employees, at least some of whom might be in a position to promote your company’s products or services to friends, neighbors, and through community events. Ironically, many companies hire special outside product promotion companies when many of their own employees might eagerly want to help out – if given good reasons to do so.

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Idea (Suggestion) Systems

Idea or suggestion systems empower and motivate people who are closest to the job to offer improvement ideas. Ideas to solve a business problem, improve efficiency or quality, or reduce costs are submitted to Web sites, telephone hotlines, within employee meetings, and more. Following submittal, ideas are evaluated, and then accepted or rejected. If accepted, and an action plan to implement the idea is requested, the submitter(s) are rewarded and recognized based on the value of the idea. Typical uses for idea or suggestion systems are to:

  • Improve the quality of working conditions
  • Eliminate inefficiencies, waste, or duplication
  • Save money, resources, or time
  • Streamline administrative procedure methods
  • Increase safety, promote health, or improve morale.

Special planning considerations. Management must convince employees that the suggestion system is an invitation to get involved in charting the course of the company. If management commits to the idea through staffing, equipment, and funding, a suggestion system can turn into a profit center. Ask yourself:

  1. How can we create a unified strategy – i.e., a centralized system communicated from the top down?
  2. Are we prepared to implement a process of idea solicitation, judgment, implementation, and rewards to the extent that our employees believe we’re serious and will thus learn how to contribute?
  3. Are we prepared to fund rewards for usable ideas and to appropriate funds needed to implement them, including training investments necessary to train administrators and end users?
  4. Does your organization provide feedback on all suggestions, regardless of whether or not they are implemented?

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Customer Retention Programs

Customer retention is influenced significantly by employee attitudes. Many companies provide incentives and recognition to frontline sales employees, and rightfully so – there is clear evidence that incentive and recognition plans engage frontline sales personnel to provide better customer service and enhance performance not only in the immediate time frame, but also in the future.

Special planning considerations. Incentive programs directed at customer-centric behaviors have a role in motivating employees to establish personal relationships with customers that enhances customer satisfaction and thus future sales. Trust plays a major role in marketing environments where consumers and service personnel interact. Fostering trust-building behaviors, training on customer service skills, customer relationship building, etc., are particularly important to service businesses.

Ask yourself:

  1. What specific employees are “front facing” in our organization or in the organizations of our channel partners (non-sales employees)?
  2. What specific behaviors are necessary to change or improve upon?
  3. What training should be applied to ensure these employees are able to demonstrate the desired behaviors?

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Safety Programs

Safety programs help reinforce a strong safety culture. Whether the goal is to improve a poor safety record or to maintain an already stellar one, incentive and recognition programs are an excellent vehicle to meet both goals. To achieve the best results, safety programs require the inclusion of safety committees, accident investigation teams, and training sessions for both program participants and administrators. Significant reductions in lost time injuries, workers’ compensation claims, and accidents in general have resulted. The most sustainable results occur when employees feel engaged to participate in the process of safety improvement, such as reporting broken equipment or workplace conditions that create risk.

Just as important is the fact that successful safety incentive programs raise awareness of safety issues, reduce injuries without causing workers to hide them, and instill proactive behaviors that create a safe working culture. The most successful safety programs incorporate idea systems in their processes. For example: Making safety suggestions, spotting close calls, achieving behavioral safety goals, attending safety meetings, assisting inspections, etc.

Special planning considerations. If the goal is a measurable reduction in accidents, workers’ compensation claims, etc., then you will be looking to maximize contributions to safety-related ideas and practices, participation in safety meetings, and so forth. That means there need to be systems in place to implement such programs, reward participants for their actions, as well as to perform administrative functions such as investigating accidents, providing guidance on procedural changes, etc.

Ask yourself:

  1. Are we prepared to fund and support an administrative infrastructure to affect measurable changes in our operations?
  2. What are the risks we face if we do not implement a safety program?

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Employee Recognition Programs

Surveys of employees and middlemen commonly reveal that people feel neglected – an attitude that is prevalent in the middle 60 percent of any work force. Time after time, respondents complain that they get little positive reinforcement for doing an exceptional job, claiming that they work hard solely as a matter of personal pride.

It should come as no surprise that companies with a reputation for enhanced customer service always put great emphasis on recognizing exceptional performance by employees at every level. A truly customer-driven company also goes out of its way to publicize this recognition so that exceptional performance will be remembered not only within the organization, but by the community at large. Top executives participate in banquets or other programs honoring individuals who, though not always among the highest achievers, have consistently shown improvement. Especially when awards are presented in a public forum, every effort is made to ensure that the event underlines the organization's ability to motivate employees in the cause of customer satisfaction.

First and foremost, goal alignment within the organization is critical. That means, even though your organization has the desire to recognize top performers – whether to increase retention, customer-centric behaviors, positive working conditions, productivity, length of service, or for other purposes – those who recognize and applaud the stars need to know how to do so. It’s not a mechanical process though. Sincerity is of paramount importance. After all, insincere praise can do more harm than good.

The National Association of Employee Recognition (NAER) has established a set of best practice standards for the design and implementation of recognition programs. These standards include the following:

  1. Management responsibility. The organization’s executives and management take responsibility for a well-defined recognition program and are committed to the program’s objectives.
  2. Recognition strategy. The organization has established and documented processes that promote employee recognition at all organizational levels, including day-to-day, informal, and formal recognition.
  3. Recognition program communication plan. The organization has established and utilizes an effective system to communicate all aspects of the recognition program.
  4. Recognition program goal alignment. The organization demonstrates alignment between the recognition program and organizational goals and values.
  5. Behavioral based programs. The organization has well defined business goals and organizational values, including employee behaviors that reflect those values.
  6. Recognition program measurement. The organization demonstrates how recognition programs are measured for effectiveness, using established measurement indicators or tools. These include statistics to validate employee participation and satisfaction levels in the recognition program.
  7. Recognition training. The organization describes its methods for training managers and employees at all levels on the principles of effective recognition, and it describes the methods of documenting the objectives of the training and curriculum.
  8. Recognition events and celebrations. The organization has processes in place for organizing celebrations and events, provides necessary resources for events, documents the event, and uses creativity and uniqueness in them.
  9. Recognition process/program change and flexibility. The organization’s recognition programs can be easily adjusted to meet new goals as the organization changes or as different needs arise.

Special planning considerations. The primary determinant of a highly successful recognition program versus one that is perceived by the employee population as “gifting” is the extent to which the recognition program is embraced from a cultural standpoint.

Ask yourself:

  1. Does our organization have the commitment to helping those who will be recognizing and rewarding others through training, guidelines, and other support in order to ensure the success of our program?
  2. Is our recognition strategy one of “gifting” or is it truly a behaviorally based initiative? Recognizing years of service (a gift) is different from recognition that is provided to recognize a specific performance. Recognition as part of a performance improvement strategy occurs when the employee whose performance is being recognized is held up as an example for all to see and aspire to.

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