You’re building an incentive programme – but there are some mistakes you need to avoid. When it comes to incentive programmes, it’s true that no single programme is the same. You have different colleagues, different prizes and different business goals. So how can you design an incentive programme that doesn’t trip you up?

Here are the common mistakes you need to watch out for.

Incentive Programme Mistakes To Watch Out For

  1. One set of rewards for everyone

You wouldn’t buy your Aunt Doris the same gift you’d pick up for your mate at work, presumably. Why would your colleagues want the same gifts? It’s not only a bit strange, but it feels very samey, very quickly. Even if everyone loved the champagne the first time they’d been given it – by the second bottle they are re-gifting it and the third bottle never leaves the office. Diversification is key or the reward becomes almost expected.  This is why lots of platforms offer a solution that is based around giving reward points, or a choice of rewards. You give the value, and they do the heavy lifting. It works well for business ( less stock holding, usual, off site fulfilment) and it’s a better solution for engagement. It’s not all token items either, some providers are able to help book travel prizes, days out, experiences or offer tangible ‘goods’.

2. Making unhealthy competition for short term gains

Incentives should be fun, positive and highly motivating. The very best incentive programs help your employees to culture new habits for higher and higher levels of performance. There’s not a model build around the stick. leaderboards might showcase the best of the best, but comments on the bottom performers will always sting. Your incentive programme has to be built around coaching managers to then coach every kind of performer for better results. The stick might drive short term gains, but it’s not a long term incentives – just as ‘keeping your house’ or ‘retaining your job’ doesn’t put you in the best frame of mind for a great day at work, an incentive programme run with a sneer is best off not being run at all.

3. Not playing the long game with the unappreciated middle

From the last point, it’s easy to pick up the weak performers whilst you celebrate the success of the elite. But even a simple content can leave your employees feeling demoralised. If you pour all your budget into a top 3 – 5 prizes, you’re going to leave some people for dust. A great incentive programme allows managers to reward everyone for playing. It sounds a bit ‘free love’ – but it’s a fact of life that there’s always someone better than you. What makes it feel better is someone noticing your personal improvements. Ensure that every person is commended for something they have done right, whether that’s a move out of their comfort zone in making calls or sales, or if it’s an increase in quality. It might take a lot of badgering of managers, it might seem fruitless, but when you extrapolate the improvements of your incentive programme over a year, even 5 years – we bet you have bigger gains.

4. Making your programme too fancy 

“If you manage to sell 808 widgets on the 8th month with an 5% increase in overall profit and a decrease in complaints of 65% and get a customer grading of 5.0 or above in our survey, you’ll get 866 points that can be converted the next month (residual balance allowing) using that log in and password you binned 6 weeks ago. If we remember. And the boss signs off. And you’ll be getting a bottle of champagne.”

No one wants an incentive programme that feels like hard work to run and to get involved in. Yes, it’s good to have a few goals, but if you focus on too many, you bewilder and bemuse. Keep your focus pure and run mini campaigns rather than vomiting out the whole concept of incentives and rewards in one swoop. Keep it simple – avoid complicated schemes and long lists of goals. If points are used, try and round them up. If there are logins to get to, make sure you make it really clear. Make videos, user guides, 1 sheet posters – get people excited and don’t chop and change. If you are alerting daily on Slack but also emailing winners and doing updates on your group chat, it feels way too hectic. Find a schedule – Tuesdays and Thursdays are an email marketing favourite for grabbing attention – and send updates on that day. Stick to this plan and don’t deviate. People are much more likely to lose all interest when every update feels a bit annoying.

5. Spending No Time On Your Comms

You don’t use comic sans (you aren’t some kind of animal) but you are still doing things in Word, with a fuzzy brand logo and marketing would rip off their own appendages to get hold of your colours and sort them out. Don’t silo your programme comms and go too rogue. Keep it professional with the right fonts, a proper designer and snappy marketing messages. Don’t scrimp on this – if the goals really have been picked with precision, you’re going to benefit in the long run.


Focus on the positive, make the program fun, coach in success and coach out failure – all with a simple, beautifully designed incentive programme. When you review the goals you will not have already built a few months where you have applauded individual successes, but you will have no doubt improved your business in many different areas.