Feature Article - July/August 2017

Innovation Inspiration

Incentives, Rewards Help Incite New Ideas

By Deborah L. Vence


Being innovative across an organization is imperative in order to stay relevant in the marketplace. Employees need to be inspired to create new ideas and be made to feel that their input is vital to an organization.

Companies can help motivate creativity through the use of rewards and incentives, thus encouraging a positive work environment.

"Incentives and rewards are flexible tools that can be used across an organization to focus the workforce on any number of goals or priorities, including innovation," said Susan Adams, senior director of engagement for New Brunswick, N.J.-based Next Level Performance, a Dittman Company.

"When faced with a competitive marketplace, many companies—even those in established industries—must innovate to remain relevant," she said.

In this issue of Premium Incentive Products magazine, industry experts discuss the ways in which companies can use incentives and rewards to inspire innovation, how incentives and rewards can help in transitional times, as well as what the most recent innovations are in inspiring performance.

Methods for Inspiration

It's possible to increase performance in targeted areas by letting employees know what is needed of them and providing opportunities to share in the rewards of success.

"A program to increase innovation also conveys that ideas and advancement are essential to the organization, and that maintaining the status quo is not the goal," Adams said.

Michelle M. Smith, CPIM, CRP, vice president of marketing at O.C. Tanner, said she's discovered that a common question when leaders set out to increase their focus on innovation is in how to formalize the capture of new ideas and structure an incentive or recognition program for the ideas generated.

"However, encouraging bold, new thinking shouldn't be limited to employees," Smith said. "Customers, vendors, distributors and other stakeholders in the organization can also yield a wealth of rich ideas to move a business forward.

"I would encourage leaders to involve as many people as possible to offer their best thinking, although employees are undoubtedly the first place to start if a leader wants to begin modestly," she added.

Employees also have told Smith that developing new and creative ideas often is an intrinsically enjoyable process—especially for those who appreciate having leaders invite them to offer their suggestions.

"That invitation alone has proven to be highly motivating for them to contribute, and many employees feel the recognition of the potential value of their ideas is a reward in itself," she said.

When looking for innovative ideas from employees or other business stakeholders, Smith recommends that companies invest serious thought into how to deal with those whose ideas are rejected, for further development.

"Innovation initiatives frequently result in having to diplomatically say no to a lot of ideas, sometimes repeatedly. How people's contributions are acknowledged, the transparency of the decision-making process, and how the results are communicated to them are crucial factors in keeping trust and morale high and future ideas flowing," she explained.

Employees need to be inspired to create new ideas and be made to feel that their input is vital to an organization.

While specific tactics for getting employees to be more innovative likely will vary from organization to organization, research can help provide guidance about what employees need from their workplace to become loyal and productive contributors.

"I've seen research proposing that human beings have six basic needs in the workplace: respect, recognition, a sense of belonging, autonomy/freedom, personal growth, and to feel that their work is meaningful," Smith said.

"It seems to me that the first step in creating a workforce of innovators is for leaders to create an environment in which everyone can become their best and excel. These six workplace needs should provide a good starting point," she said. "Some of these needs can be met through rational and strategic corporate objectives (recognition, autonomy/freedom, personal growth and meaningful work), and the others are emotionally-driven by the culture of the organization (respect and a sense of belonging)."

The good news is that the ratio of rational to emotional needs is 2:1, giving leaders a significant opportunity to make progress, or to make certain that these workforce needs will be met.

"The more challenging news is that research revealed that emotional factors are four times more effective than rational factors in influencing employees. So, leaders need to work just as hard at building a culture of appreciation and connection, too," Smith said.