How To Start An Incentive Program

Whether you are a new business looking to increase and grow or a larger business wanting to expand into a new area, one of the top ways to do this is to institute an incentive program to help boost your employees towards this goal. The aim of a program can be reach a certain milestone and along the way will motivate and reward employees who do well, while inspiring those who don’t do quite as well to go a bit further.

Basic Principles

When designing an incentive scheme for employees there are some simple pointers to keep in mind. These include:

  • Make the scheme simple – people should glance at it, known what it is about and what the aim is. Focus on a single goal that can be amended or adapted over time.
  • Make it so everyone can win – ensure that everyone benefits from the scheme in some form if they achieve the stated goal
  • Make it positive – focus on positive things, making it fun and celebrate the success of individuals to motivate others.

One way many businesses are achieving this last point is to use social recognition. This is where recognition of achievements is given to the group of employees involved, rather than just to the individual directly. Praising those who have done well can motivate others and engender a sense of friendly competitiveness that motivates everyone.

Common Pitfalls

The most common pitfalls of an incentive scheme are those that assume everyone is motivated by the same thing and want the same rewards. This is rarely the case and involves you understanding your staff well enough to know what does the job for them.

For example, some managers set a prize that they like – a meal at a restaurant, a certain electrical item as a prize, a holiday. But not everyone will be motivated by this and if you don’t like Italian, for example, you won’t work for a meal for two in the local Pizzeria. Or you have kids and the holiday is for two, so that doesn’t work for you. The trick is to have a selection of rewards that the employees can select from, allowing them to get the prize that motivates them.

In the same way, money may seem an ideal incentive but not everyone is motivated by money. Some people would rather earn a digital camera at the end of the incentive period than a cheque for £200. Again, understanding staff motivations are key to this.


Employees typically fall into three categories and the best incentive schemes will mean that there is something for everyone to aspire to. The top 5-10% of the workforce are the high performers, the self-motivated ones who will be the role models.

The next 80-90% of staff will look at them and want to be like them but will still be rewarded in the scheme for the work they have done. Finally, that last 5-10% are the ones who may need help, training or something new to motivate them and a great incentive scheme could be just to ticket to light their fires.

Article courtesy of Workstars, the market leader in social recognitition technology. Talk to them on Twitter @WorkstarsHR.