Editor's Desk - January/February 2011

Do Two Negatives Make a Positive?

"Our desires always disappoint us; for though we meet with something that gives us satisfaction, yet it never thoroughly answers our expectation."

—Elbert Hubbard

Back in December, I read an Associated Press story about a sales team that failed to reach its goals.

The team, based in Pennsylvania, had been promised a trip to Hawaii if they achieved their goal, which was a 4 percent increase in sales. Unfortunately, they only made it to 2 percent.

It was still an improvement, if not the growth they were aiming for. And they still got to take a trip, though again, not necessarily the trip they were aiming for.

Instead of basking on the beach, around two dozen sales reps got to spend some time in Fargo, N.D., where, according to AP, there was about 2 feet of snow and the temperature was a not-so-balmy 7 degrees Fahrenheit.

The funny thing to me about the story was that while one of the company's sales managers was calling the trip a "punishment," you could see how it might be fun. They got to drink hot toddies around the fire. They got to go for a sleigh ride. They got to go to a spaghetti dinner at the local VFW. They got to watch the movie "Fargo" in Fargo.

OK, OK. I know. It's not really a reward. At least, not in the way we talk about rewards on these pages. And no, most people wouldn't volunteer for such a trip. But somehow, the folks in charge of that sales department took a disappointing sales situation and turned it into an event that just might have boosted engagement.

How? By taking a team that had not quite performed up to expectations and getting them together for the kind of trip they will never forget. Do you think they didn't spend some time on that trip talking about the things they could have done better? Sharing knowledge and ideas? Becoming a more cohesive team?

All of this got me thinking about "what happens if."

We talk a lot on these pages about the incredible benefits that come from well-run incentive and reward programs. We write about the ways these programs actually pay for themselves. We talk to experts about all the things you need to do to get it right and have a positive impact on engagement, retention, performance and so on.

But what if your team doesn't meet the goals set by your program?

Obviously, the first step you should take is to assess the program itself. Was it the team that failed? Or did you set the bar at an unreachable height? Did you offer a meaningful reward? Did the program participants have the tools they needed to get the job done?

There are all kinds of things that can go wrong. All kinds of ways to mess up your program design right from the start, ensuring it will never succeed.

This is why we always recommend—especially to those who are new to this whole incentives and rewards game—that you avoid going it alone. Instead, you should always look for industry insiders and knowledgeable experts to partner with. These folks have experience setting up successful programs. They know what to avoid. They know what not to avoid. And when you're ready to get your program off the ground, you need that expertise in your corner. (You can find these experts through the Incentive Marketing Association, www.incentivemarketing.org, and its many strategic industry groups.)

But let's just suppose for a minute that you got everything right, and your team still didn't achieve the kind of results that would net them the top reward. What happens next?

The concern here, of course, is that such an event might have a negative effect on engagement, leading to lowered expectation or decreased performance—and no one wants that.

But if you plan well, you can avoid this situation. That means offering a range of achievement levels, first and foremost. But on top of that, think about that team that went to Fargo. I would argue that some smart manager at that company found a way to turn a negative into a positive. You'd better believe that sales team is never going to forget its time in the frigid North Dakota winter.

Now, tell me, what do you do when your team doesn't quite meet expectations? Do you shrug it off and say, "Better luck next time"? Or, do you look for ways to turn the bad into something good?


Emily Tipping
Editorial Director,


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