Guest Column - January/February 2019

Engagement Starts With Personal Motivation

By Ira Ozer, CPIM, CRP, CEP

When Wendy's launched an employee recognition program to recognize team members for their above-and-beyond performance with certificates and a selection of awards from an online catalog, they knew it was appreciated, but wasn't perceived as authentic and was not achieving employee engagement. They knew something was missing and wondered how it could be improved. Were they not giving the right awards? Was the award value not great enough? Why wasn't it engaging employees?

Then, when a manager read "What Motivates Me?" a research-based book about personal motivation from Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick, New York Times best-selling authors and founders of The Culture Works, and took their online "Motivators Assessment," she knew the answer. It was important to first understand each employee's motivators and then tailor the recognition program accordingly.

The concept of personalizing recognition and awards is similarly recommended by recognition experts such as Dr. Bob Nelson, and it is validated by recent research from the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF).

This context is usually based on understanding employees' interests so awards can be personally selected, creatively packaged and then presented to them in a thoughtful way, but The Motivators Assessment takes it one step further by identifying and ranking 23 motivators and grouping them within five "identities," which allow managers to understand the degree to which people are motivated by achievement, recognition, teamwork, family and helpfulness. This knowledge empowers managers to become more prescriptive, so they can "sculpt" the way each employee prefers to be recognized.

For example, the Wendy's manager realized that pressure was a key motivator for her, but very low for many of her employees, thus creating conflict. By giving her team more notice of assignments and personalizing their recognition, the program was perceived as more authentic by her employees and she was able to boost engagement.

Incentive programs that provide people with the opportunity to earn awards and to be recognized for exceptional performance are important to improving the engagement of employees, channel partners and customers. We are all excited by the chance to attain the latest brand-name luxury merchandise and to travel to exotic destinations, especially when we don't have to pay for it from our own pockets. And when these awards appeal to us individually and are presented in a thoughtful way by our managers, we really appreciate it and feel more energized and enthusiastic.

Research has shown that tangible, non-monetary rewards, such as brand-name merchandise and travel experiences, are generally the most effective award choices to use for incentive and recognition programs, instead of additional compensation or cash substitutes, for the psychological reasons of evaluability, separability, justifiability and social reinforcement, as explained by Scott Jeffrey, Ph.D. This is consistent with similar work from other academic researchers and research published by the IRF and other industry associations.

Since awards represent approximately 80 percent of program budgets, it is clear that much attention needs to be paid to the selection of awards, the supplier, pricing, the technology platform that tracks participant performance, social recognition, award points and award fulfillment, but awards are just one element needed to achieve increased engagement and accomplish performance goals. To work effectively, incentive and recognition programs must also be designed in accordance with best practices to ensure they are fair, appropriate, properly communicated to the target audience and attainable with the extra effort required to achieve the desired business objectives. If not, these programs do not work and can even have a negative effect. These best practices and related certification programs have been created by the leading industry trade groups, the Incentive Marketing Assoc. (IMA), Recognition Professionals International (RPI) and the Enterprise Engagement Alliance (EEA).

But there's more we need to do, and this step is often overlooked because it has not been well understood and tools have not been available to enable it until recently. Programs should start with the assessment of personal motivation and team engagement. To achieve engagement, it is important to first understand each participant as an individual, learn what motivates them and assess team dynamics to accomplish collective goals. In their new book, "The Best Team Wins," Elton and Gostick explain that approximately 80 percent of work today is done in teams, and, therefore, the need to improve communications and collaboration has never been greater.

Bob Kelleher, internationally known engagement author, trainer and founder of The Employee Engagement Group, has created "The Engagement Accelerator," an online assessment that identifies 13 engagement drivers and work preferences and provides separate reports for the employee, manager and HR which details employee engagement and work style preferences, provides discussion points for follow-up meetings, insights on how to optimize employee engagement and an opportunity to improve communication with employees. In his book, "I-Engage," Kelleher points out that to achieve employee engagement, it is important for people to bring our "whole selves" to work and enjoy the camaraderie of our teams. To do this, we must have empathy, trust and respect for our managers and peers alike.

So to maximize performance and to accomplish employee engagement, it is important to include personal motivation and team engagement assessments within properly structured incentive and recognition programs. This is the starting point of engagement and will help people accomplish objectives to reach their greatest potential individually and in teams. These assessments are available to every incentive and recognition practitioner and at reasonable costs, with substantial benefits. When these assessments are used and, ideally, integrated within incentive and recognition programs, program results can be improved dramatically.

For more information about "What Motivates Me?" and the Motivators Assessment, visit The Culture Works at For more information about The Engagement Accelerator, visit

Ira Ozer, CPIM, CRP, CEP , is president of Engagement Partners, a consulting company that helps companies improve the engagement and productivity of employees, channel partners and consumers. EP provides the complete range of integrated services necessary to improve engagement, including assessment, strategic consulting, incentive and meetings program design, social recognition, training, communications, ROI analytics and more. For more information, visit