Modernizing sales rewards

6 ways to motivate and engage employees to do their very best at work


Employee recognition programs have the power to motivate and inspire. Every time people succeed at something — anything — their nerve cells release a chemical called dopamine, which stimulates the reward centre of their brain. It feels good.

Here are six ways to modernize reward programs for the better:

Challenge the status quo

Create a program that defies the status quo, building a culture of recognition for every level of the organization — one that disrupts the norm, grabs employee attention and engages them long-term. This includes fresh programming, interactions, rewards and ways to earn.

However, people value losses more than they value equal-sized gains, and employees may be cynical about changes. So avoid replicating earning opportunities, measures or rewards common in the current program. Do something different. Make the new program a platform for a revitalized message, a fresh way of looking at life at the organization via updated branding and a new focus.

Be inclusive

A major reason individuals choose which incentive or loyalty program to join is based on whether or not they identify an idiosyncratic fit, according to behavioural economics professors Ran Kivetz and Itamar Simonson.

This is the feeling that people have when they enjoy a unique advantage in achieving a goal, making a sale, beating an opponent or completing a task.

Each time salespeople are offered a new incentive, they ask themselves two questions to determine if the opportunity “fits:”

•“Do I have an advantage over others in the program?”

•“Are the rewards worth the effort?”

When they answer yes to both, they are most likely to join — and succeed — in a specific program. When given the opportunity to choose their own goal, many will aim for the highest one.

Failure to find this idiosyncratic fit can result in reduced confidence and lack of engagement from a sales team. Managers who reward only top performers will find themselves frustrated in their efforts, wondering why people aren’t hitting their goals.

Companies that provide performance-based rewards to multiple segments of a salesforce enjoy better employee retention and sales.

Diversify the rewards

Offering various rewards can make for a healthy compensation plan. But what is the right blend?

The more incentives used, the greater the gains when it comes to sales volume, customer satisfaction and the retention of sales employees, according to a BI WORLDWIDE survey of 575 sales compensation experts about cash, gift cards, travel and non-cash or non-travel.

Travel, which is a comparatively more expensive option, can be used to reward top performers. Gift cards or non-cash items can be used as incentives when more salespersons earn based on achieving a shorter-term sales contest.

The field of positive psychology talks about a phenomenon called “hedonic adaptation,” where something that initially makes us happy and engages us becomes dull and trite after time. Companies that use various tools reduce this effect.

Promote choice

Effective recognition and rewards programs allow employees to choose their own award.

Personalized and segmented offerings and communication make people feel like the opportunity being presented is unique.

Not all rewards are equal. In looking at a “rewards efficacy continuum,” cash or gas and groceries have lower efficacy than luxury merchandise or experiences, including travel.

Cash is less effective at getting results, whereas travel, entertainment or luxury merchandise are more emotional in nature. The further away from the dollar sign, the more effective the rewards become at changing behaviour.

Use immersive technology

As technology evolves, e-commerce programs are taking precedence, such as web-based catalogues that feature a curated, international product offering.

Further, as technology evolves, digital experiences are becoming more sophisticated. Virtual reality (VR) technology can give top performers the opportunity to run through a virtual warehouse and “grab” as much sought-after luxury merchandise as possible in a virtual world, from whatever location they choose.

Go social

A social recognition platform:

•reinforces performance through social connectivity

•puts employees in the public eye

•enriches an organization’s culture as a whole

•allows for peer feedback and emphasizes the accomplishments of employees.

And take note: Millennials live for instant feedback and communication in their personal lives — and now they want it at work. By 2020, the millennial generation will make up more than half of the Canadian workforce.

Constant feedback, clear communication and collaborative work environments are key engagement drivers for this group.

Peadar Walsh is head of marketing and communications at BI WORLDWIDE Canada, a global leader in sales performance, employee engagement, and rewards and recognition solutions. For more information, visit

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