Incentive schemes – do they even work?

Author: Iain Thomson, Director of Incentive and Recognition at Sodexo Engage, specialists in employee and consumer engagement

Businesses have done a stellar job of rolling out some seriously impressive and innovative incentive schemes over recent years. But the question remains, what was the point and what’s it achieved? This is where HR has the chance to really prove its role in impacting business productivity, improving business culture and validating a potentially sizeable investment. But how? Our research has found that nearly two-thirds of companies (63%) find it hard to measure the success of their incentive scheme. But it really doesn’t need to be that complicated.

Facts that have meaning

To measure how well or how badly an incentive scheme is performing, you just need two things: a benchmark and an idea of what you want to achieve. Simple.

A successful scheme will always push you towards a specific goal or goals. These’ll all be measurable in some way, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The easy numbers to access are things like increased turnover, lower costs or higher margins. The number of customer complaints, the amount of repeat business and staff turnover are probably all already tracked too.

Other goals need a bit more thought when it comes to their tracking: the amount of positive customer feedback, productivity, absenteeism and engagement in the business success. For these, it’s a case of noting the rate of change in sentiment through tools like staff surveys, CRM systems, and HR trackers. Take the temperature before the scheme is rolled out, again soon after and regularly from that point on – or after any significant changes.

Once you have an idea on the gold standard you want to achieve, you can start to measure whether the scheme is actually helping.

Chat with purpose

It’s not all about the stats and headline figures, though. The qualitative can’t be ignored. Whether it’s conversations with HR and employees at every level or feedback from managers, these are full of valuable insights. This feedback can really help judge the sentiment for the scheme. Is it used? Are people talking about it? Are there any grumblings?

It’s important that managers are also trained on how to manage these questions too. They need to know how to explain the scheme, what it is trying to achieve and how to report any feedback to HR. A lot of the time, it’ll be these conversations that get to the root of why a scheme has missed the mark.

Don’t scrap it, mould it and reinforce it

So, you’ve set some clear targets, your managers are on board, the measuring is underway – but something still isn’t working.

First off, give it some time to settle in. Second, is it a total failure or is it working for some? The stats will really help here. Maybe the results in one team have been stratospheric but there’s pretty much no budge in another. It could also be about demographics. Are working parents really engaged but single jet setters have not responded at all? Once the stats highlight the trend, then talking can get to the bottom of it.

Where there’s poor take up in the team, it’s well worth getting insight from the manager. They may have some great ideas about how the scheme needs to be adapted to match their people. A good manager will know this. Maybe it’s a competitive bunch that need a bit of a challenge and a healthy dose of competition to get the scheme fired up again.

If it’s about demographics, its normally time to look at what’s on offer. Does your incentive scheme favour one over another? This would’ve been unintentional but needs to be addressed. Quickly ask the disengaged what they want and see how it could work as part of the wider scheme.

For schemes that have different elements, one may be doing better than another. Let’s say there’s an offer for free exercise trackers which no one has taken up. That’s a waste of resource that could be better used elsewhere. Remember what employee need you were trying to address, who you were trying to incentivise, ask what they want and mould the solution. Again, measure it, analyse it and know whether or not it’s working.

If a business has invested resource in a scheme, HR needs to prove it was worth it, because a good incentive scheme will be shouting, ‘we value you!’ from the rooftops.