As a writer and editor who is mostly on the outside looking in to this business of incentives and rewards, I have a different—and perhaps skewed—perspective. Having worked for mostly small businesses, I've never participated in a points-based incentive program myself, though I have earned several excellent awards from PIP—much needed sunglasses and luggage, as well as a beautiful watch.
But, having covered this business for some years now, I find myself drawn to certain ideas: the idea that rewards can (and should) be earned, the idea of amassing points through correct behaviors to earn those rewards, the idea that the rewards should be, well, rewarding to the individual achieving them, the idea of a need for continual motivation throughout the process of earning a reward, the idea that people can (and should) be engaged in what they do.
My question is this: As people approach their goals, as they get closer and closer to having enough points to trade for the coveted reward, do you think the idea that the reward can be earned if you just get this much farther provides an extra dose of motivation and inspiration?
It's a hypothetical question. But let me back up a second. Here's where I'm coming from with this.
If you know me, you know that I knit. A lot. I knit when I wake up in the morning. I knit while watching "Game of Thrones" or "Downton Abbey" or reruns of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Dr. Who" at night. I knit through my daughter's dance class, and while waiting for airplanes. I knit at the doctor's office and at school concerts. But I don't just knit. I also spin my own yarn. And, well, let's just say I have a lot of it. Yarn, that is. And even more wool, which can be turned into yarn. More than any other kind of merchandise, wool that I can spin into yarn is the thing that really makes me giddy.
Now, I have some personal goals that have been really hard to achieve. (Don't we all?) And one day, as I was berating myself for not doing better, I started thinking about this business of motivation and incentives, and I thought, "What if you designed a personal incentive program for yourself?"
I mulled it over for a while. I thought about my goals, long and short term, and how they could be translated into desirable behaviors that could earn points. (Take the stairs for half a point! Clean out the sinks for a point! Do your physical therapy for a point! Five whole points if you can go a day without snacking between meals!) The reward was easy to figure out. Wool, of course.
I sat down and designed my program. For starters, I figured that once I earn 100 points, I can get a bit of wool. A half-pound, let's say. And then I got started.
After almost three weeks of this, I've just about hit 65 points, and let me tell you something. As the goal seems more and more achievable, I find myself wanting to kick in and do the extra things to get me there a little bit faster. (In fact, I can look back over the past few weeks and see that my daily tallies are getting higher. And I can't even remember the last time I rode in the elevator.)
It's a motivational boost to realize that you're close to your goal. I remember this from days when I was running longer distances. On a 10-mile run, I'd keep a nice, steady pace, but in that last half-mile? Zoom!
So now I find myself wondering if something similar happens in incentive programs in the real world. As people approach their goals, do they pick up the pace? Does their motivation get that little extra boost from knowing they're nearly there? Or from knowing that they might earn an even better reward if they can just keep it up? If they do, what are some ways to introduce that boost of motivation throughout the program, so that people who are struggling can get the extra oomph they need?
When the program is well designed, rewards work. They work to get people engaged in the behaviors you want them to adopt. They work to motivate people to higher levels of effectiveness and productivity. And when the program is expertly designed, I'm willing to bet that people get a great jumpstart, along with extra bursts of motivation all along the way—right up until the reward is achieved and the whole thing can begin again.