Many organizations use both monetary and non-monetary incentives to increase performance. What do good incentive programs look like and are they really useful? First of all, when we talk about incentives, we are talking about the application of something desired by the employee that increases the likelihood that they will perform at a higher level. The objective is to motivate the employee to perform a task/skill for which they are already competent at a faster, more frequent or more reliable level than they have been doing. Incentives, as defined here are not used to teach, but rather to motivate behavior. Good incentive programs have three primary characteristics that lead to success. 1. The behavior required for success is clearly understood. People can only be expected to achieve a result in a particular manner if they understand the standard against which they are being measured. I remember once I told my then 10-year old son to “clean up his mess” after a group of his friends had been at our house for a party. When I came back to evaluate his work, I couldn’t see anything different than before. When I questioned him about his “failure”, he said he did “clean up his mess”; all that other mess was made by his friends. I obviously had not defined the standard against which I was measuring his performance.
2. The measure of success is quantifiable and achievable. The result must be quantitative so that it can be precisely measured. Qualitative measures (e.g. high quality) are too ambiguous and leave room for differences of opinion. Leaving no soda cans or chip bags in the family room after you have cleaned up your mess would have allowed me to have a defendable measure of my sons success in the cleaning task.
3. The incentive is something that is desired by the employees and is clearly tied to success. The incentive that is applied should be something that is seen as worth the effort by employees (or children, as the case may be). If it is not, then it will not serve as a motivator and cannot be expected to improve results. Money is not always required as an incentive. In the example with my son, I told him that as soon as he met our agreed upon standard he could go outside and play basketball with his friends. That non-monetary incentive increased the quantity of items that he picked up and the speed at which he did it. Make sure that you have accurately determined the desirousness of your incentives.