Feature Article - September/October 2009

Powerful Connections

Tapping Web 2.0 to Improve Engagement

By Catherine Eberlein Pfister


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s recently as 10 years ago, tech-based incentive programs were most often created by large corporations with abundant budgets. In the past five years, the costs have decreased while their functionality has become more feature-rich. Today, cost-effective platforms are available to all. Regardless of company size, management is recognizing that the constantly changing business environment—and the need for an updated model for motivation—requires integrated, enterprise-wide solutions supported by technology.

"The traditional incentive model looked first at the awards and then asked 'How are we going to deliver them?' Now companies look at their initiative and the technology needed to support it, as the primary means for communication, engagement and motivation," explained Rick Blabolil, president of Marketing Innovators, a Rosemont, Ill.-based full-service performance management organization that provides programs for employees, channel partners and customers.

Today's motivation landscape is complex. As a result, there are several factors driving the change from a traditional incentive model to one that meets 21st century needs:

  • Companies use multiple reward applications ranging from employee recognition and wellness programs to sales incentives, dealer/distributor (channel) sales programs and consumer promotions.
  • There is an increased focus on developing an internal brand that integrates with a company's external brand.
  • There's an increased emphasis on reward management and administration, driven by cost containment, program control, enhanced communications and legal or regulatory compliance.
  • The management and administrative environment is more complex and dynamic, with ever-changing rule structures and increased concerns about privacy and data security.
  • There are multiple participant demographics—millennials, generation X, baby boomers, or culturally diverse participants—across all reward applications. Programs of all types need broad demographic appeal and reach.

"In terms of incentive application and administration, technology has reduced the costs and elevated the impact. Has it led to greater levels of employee engagement? I think it has," said Mike Ryan, senior vice president of Marketing & Client Strategy at Madison Performance Group, a New York-based company that maintains three distinct practices in sales channel performance, workforce engagement and recognition, and customer acquisition and retention. "From my perspective, employee engagement is a product of culture. An organization that creates a cooperative culture, as opposed to an aggressive or passive culture, is the one that will get the maximum amount of information sharing and the maximum amount of teamwork. It helps employees feel that they are in the right place and that the organization's values reflect their values."

Both Ryan and Blabolil describe technology as a "strategic enabler" that allows people to manage relationships, to extract more value from their interactions, to leverage information in new ways and to tap into a world of talent.