Feature Article - July/August 2014

Spread the Word

How to Communicate Your Incentives Programs

By Brian Summerfield


If you wanted to ensure any kind of incentives program would fail before it ever got off the ground, there would be at least one surefire way to do it: spend absolutely no time or effort on communicating that program to anyone else in the organization.

Of course, managers of sales, compensation, HR, rewards and any other functions that are responsible for motivating people aren't in the business of developing bungled initiatives. Accordingly, virtually all of them put varying degrees of effort into communication around new sales incentives offerings. However, "varying" is the operative word here. For some, a simple companywide e-mail might seem sufficient. Others believe in leveraging social media and mobile methodologies to appear more "with it."

What exactly is the right approach? The shortest answer is that there isn't one. When communicating a new incentives program around any change initiative—whether it be improved sales, employee wellness or workforce buy-in on a new company policy—the strategies and platforms you use depend on a number of factors. Here's a review of the most important ones to consider as you figure out the best methods for communicating your next incentives program.

The Message

When it comes to purposeful communications, the message is everything. And when it comes to new incentives programs, there are essentially two points you want to get across above all else:

  • Why the program was created.
  • How the program works.

The first point is critical to getting buy-in from participants. If they don't understand why something needs to be increased or somehow changed, they will be less likely to engage with the program, said Barbara Hendrickson, president of Visible Marketing and author of the book It's NOT About the Money!: 10 Steps to Designing Effective Non-Cash Incentive Programs That Retain Employees, Engage Customers and Improve Business.

If you wanted to ensure any kind of incentives program would fail before it ever got off the ground, there would be at least one surefire way to do it: spend absolutely no time or effort on communicating that program to anyone else in the organization.

"Employees can be inherently skeptical," she said. "They need to understand the goal: Here's where we're going, and here's how we're going to get there together."

"I think there is a direct correlation between communication [of purpose] and the success of the program," said Rick Blabolil, president of Marketing Innovators International Inc. "The more transparency regarding the purpose and objectives of the program, the more employees will align their activities to their company's tactics and strategies. Keep the message to the program participant as simple as possible—make it honest, compelling and heartfelt. If you want to rally the troops, help them understand what is going on and why you need them."

With regard to messages about how the program works, much of it depends on the complexity of the actions that are to be taken by employees and their connection to the organization's goals. The more multifaceted the program, the more communication will be needed to explain its features and processes.