Feature Article - July/August 2017

Innovation Inspiration

Incentives, Rewards Help Incite New Ideas

By Deborah L. Vence

Research has revealed that the top two elements critical to strengthening company culture are employee attitudes and effective management; while other important elements include encouraging new ideas and innovation and leveraging recognition and reward programs, as well as strong trust relationships; customer focus; high accountability standards; commitment to training and development; useful resources, technology and tools; and emphasis on recruiting and retaining outstanding employees.

"Secondly, since knowledge workers are responsible for many commercially successful innovative ideas, I'm pleased to share that one of the top performance motivators for knowledge workers is progress," Smith said. "When workers have the sense they're making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles, their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak. If they feel they're spinning their wheels or encountering roadblocks, their moods, motivation and creativity are lowest."

The key to motivation and innovation is within your control because you have influence over events that facilitate or undermine progress.

"I would encourage you to make the most of that influence," Smith added. "You can provide meaningful goals, resources and encouragement, and you can protect your staff from irrelevant demands. Or, you can fail to do so by changing goals autocratically, being indecisive or holding up resources and sabotage any hope for meaningful innovation within your organization."

Moreover, she also suggested that companies clarify overall business goals, cultivate a culture of helpfulness and ensure that people's efforts are properly supported and recognized.

"Of course," she said, "these efforts will not only keep people working with gusto, but also get the work done faster. So, openly and generously celebrate progress and goals met. But, there will be nothing to recognize if people aren't genuinely moving forward—and as a practical matter, recognition can't happen for everyone every day. You can, however, see that some progress happens every day, and that will increase motivation and create numerous opportunities for innovation and celebration.

"Finally, I've discovered that leaders at organizations that set formal priorities for innovation rate their overall success higher than other organizations that don't have formal priorities and plans in place. These results suggest that companies would benefit from the simple step of setting formal strategic innovation priorities and ensuring that those priorities are well-communicated and reinforced throughout the company," Smith added.

Keeping employees engaged and motivated to perform is crucial to companies and the economy.

"Gallup estimates that disengaged employees cost the economy nearly $350 billion a year in lost revenue," Blabolil said. "This is the perfect opportunity to use incentives and rewards to change things up. Effective implementation of an incentive program can grow your company exponentially."

Companies have turned to Marketing Innovators to revamp their incentive programs. And, oftentimes, companies only reward the top performers, which usually exclude a significant number of employees.

"This motivates those at the very top, but leaves the rest feeling much less enthused. The greatest potential increase in sales volume comes from the middle (let's say 50 to 60 percent) to individually improve their performance. These performers can be motivated to achieve their goals knowing that they can be rewarded for their accomplishments," Blabolil said. "This impacts and improves the bottom line, as well as individual performance. It is best to use a model that allows each person the opportunity to earn awards by achieving reasonable goals."

Another point to keep in mind is the ever-growing presence of millennials in the workplace. By 2030, they are projected to make up nearly 75 percent of the workforce.

"While there are similarities between generations, company leaders need to account for those differences as this transition occurs," he added. "Millennial employees average about two years at a job, so this is another great opportunity to utilize rewards and incentives. Building the relationship and finding out what motivates these forward-thinkers can help to retain them for longer."

Fresh Innovations to Inspire

The fundamentals of incentives, recognition and engagement always will remain the same. Such programs help organizations connect with individual aspirations and goals, and help people to succeed in meaningful work.

However, the delivery of incentive programs changes with the tools and awards that are available, Adams noted.

"Technology has had significant impact on incentives and engagement," she said. "With mobile technology, program participants can be connected to the program wherever and whenever they want to. They can also participate in social interactions with others in the company, whether in the next office or around the globe."

This connectivity brings programs into the day-to-day lives of every participant. In addition, technology, and the data it collects, allows the program experience to be increasingly personalized and relevant to each individual. And, managers can use the data for better understanding of employee performance.

"Recent innovations are targeted at fostering and bonding connections between people in order to inspire better individual and team performance," Blabolil said. "Companies are creating communities of interest—groups of people with similar interests who can connect and support each other."

Rewards and recognition play a role and an innovative tool is "conversational commerce," whereby a person can share appreciation to a coworker by sending a "cup of coffee" via their instant messaging—thereby, thanking someone virtually right away.

Blabolil said, for example, that by partnering with his company and using its disbursement platform, companies can streamline the payment process to employees and create a more positive experience.

"The technology allows for immediate access to funds and eliminates the hassle of cashing or depositing checks. In addition, it provides zero liability fraud protection, and a more secure way to use funds. Our model provides significant benefits to companies as well," he explained.

In turn, the cost associated with check processing, disbursement and administration is reduced greatly. The platform is user-friendly and provides on-demand usage and reporting for your company.