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Designing Incentives for Crisis Recovery

Incentive designers can help their companies rebuild after the pandemic with a back-to-basics approach to strong, effective programs, says a new paper from the Incentive Research Foundation.

Organizations across the globe have been challenged by the pandemic, with many having to cut costs, lay off employees, and move to a remote work model. But as the economy gets stronger and companies looking for ways to accelerate the recovery, incentive programs can be an especially effective tool for communicating revised corporate goals, reinvigorating sales teams, improving performance, and building trust.

That’s the underlying message of a new back-to-basics report just out from the Incentive Research Foundation. The 19-page white paper, “Incentive Program Design for Crisis Recovery,” is broken into three parts: an overview of the core principles of incentive program design, seven baseline questions critical to setting up an incentive program; and eight effective incentive-design practices.

That last section, most of which is discussed in the framework of the pandemic, is culled from industry experts and is useful reading for anyone in the incentive business. While the IRF report goes into much greater depth, the eight design practices it outlines are:

• Develop measurable and realistic program objectives. With employees facing more uncertainty than normal, stability in their reward program will be welcome relief.

• Specify the program period. The authors suggest that the present disruption may call for shorter, finite performance periods which are engaging and also give executives a chance to assess the program’s success and make adjustments for the next period.

• Carefully select participants and aim high. During a crisis period, err on the side of inclusivity where possible, the report suggests.

• Approach participants with empathy. Now more than ever, use surveys, focus groups, interviews, and other tools to understand the values, expectations, and attitudes of the people targeted by your incentive program.

• Consider how sales incentive programs should be treated. This design question relates to how a program should reward outside salespeople versus inside salespeople; salespeople versus other employees; and salespeople versus sales-support personnel.

• Leverage technology. With employees working remotely, engagement and recognition platforms and technologies that automate the selection and delivery of rewards are more important than ever.

• Determine your budget. Hard times might limit budgets, but reward programs are often funded through the revenues and profits that come with improved performance.

• Measure performance and report results. Make sure your program is tracking and reporting on metrics tied to the behaviors you want to change.

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