Every year around the world there are tens of thousands of corporations that employ motivational programs to encourage positive behaviors and achieve desired business results. As remarkable as these programs are for offering rewards and building loyalty, it seems that the industry can’t make it through a year without the media and public opinion attaching a negative perception to a proven business tool. Recent examples include the U.S. media focus on the General Services Administration “Hats Off” employee reward program and Australia’s focus on the appropriateness of the ANZ bank incentive cruise program. In light of these examples, we asked Site President, Alejandro Verzoub and Site International Foundation President, Stephen Powell to share their experience on the power of motivational programs and how Site members can deal with less than glowing stories from the press.
Alejandro, your company works directly with clients to design motivational programs. What do you counsel are the most important principles in a good program design?
Alejandro: The best advice I can give to our clients is to strive to balance the investment between the communications and rewards. Sometimes companies want to spend a disproportionate amount on the awards. Without a strong communication plan and measurement platform, participant engagement and achievement will not be sustained.
Stephen, you have built a career motivating teams. Why do you personally believe in the strength of motivational and incentive programs and experiences?
Stephen: Designed correctly, these programs can be highly effective in growing revenues for a commercial enterprise. They can also highly influence desired behaviors within a corporate culture. A well-designed program includes specific goals and objectives and an engaging communications plan, both necessary to drive the right behaviors.
In reviewing the media stories focused on the GSA or ANZ situations or the German company, Wüstenrot und Württembergische program in Rio de Janeiro in 2010, or the AIG program in the U.S. in 2008 – each of these programs has a very different set of circumstances that landed it in the headlines. While we agree as an industry that we need to speak out in support of our trade, what makes it difficult to do so?
Alejandro: One of the pillars of Site’s mission is that we firmly believe that motivational experiences and events serve as powerful business tools to reward and unlock human potential to achieve corporate objectives. The stories you reference are based on very different circumstances and were sparked by specific economical or political circumstances in the companies’ countries. There are many facts not shared by the media, specifically the business results achieved from the motivational programs. There are also ethical guidelines that companies need to consider when they are designing a program in order to avoid these types of controversies.
Stephen, what are your thoughts on this?
Stephen: There is a line between motivational events that are designed to improve performance or change behavior versus an event that is produced purely for the sake of indulgence for individuals or groups. In almost every situation receiving media attention, the stories have been written to create a sense of disappointment or disbelief in the lack of ethics or judgment. However, the whole story may provide a different perspective and reveal that an event is a well-respected experience designed to reward and recognize performance.
In general, do you find that companies are mature enough to have conduct and ethic guidelines in place around their programs or is it the planners job to help companies ensure that certain guidelines are established?
Alejandro: At the very beginning of the event design, planners need to help their clients identify what participant behavior is expected and where they may foresee risks in relation to the venue, the destination and/or the planned activities. The industry is always being challenged, particularly with a younger participant demographic, to find new ways to engage and wow participants. We must weigh the risk against the reward. It is much easier to establish a code of conduct when the participants are employees of the company. There can be challenges to imposing ethical guidelines when the participants are independent distributors, franchisors, wholesalers, etc., and have no employment relationship with the company that sponsors the incentive.
One thing that seems to create difficulty in speaking as an industry is the lack of global standards on the way motivational experiences are delivered. Do you feel that some of these situations can be made better by increased education in the profession?
Stephen: Yes, we need more education within the industry as well as education for those who observe and report on it. Oftentimes there are misunderstandings concerning motivational experiences. Observers can see ‘what’ is happening, but they don’t know the reasons and results behind the reward and recognition. Site is the leading, global authority of the motivational and incentive industry and we are committed to working with other industry associations to help businesses and governments understand our business and its benefits to the global economy.
Site sponsors a recognition program that honors motivational programs “done right” called the Crystal Awards. Alejandro, as someone that has been a recipient of this award, can you tell us about the program and why you think it is important that Site continues to promote this program?
Alejandro: Crystal Awards are a great way to spread the word about the positive benefits and business outcomes resulting from motivational programs. The program is also a great resource for companies and industry professionals to benchmark their programs against the best practices of programs that have been recognized globally. Being recognized as a Crystal Award winner elevates an organization’s professional image and credibility. Site is working to recruit more entries from emerging markets to recognize the global diversity in our industry.
Stephen, the Site Foundation recently released a research report focused on the power of the incentive from the participant’s viewpoint. Can you share some of the findings from that study that supports the fact that incentives do work?
Stephen: Yes, there is data in the three-part study that vigorously supports the premise that incentives do work. From a participant viewpoint, they are clear that goals need to be achieved in order to experience the incentive. A compelling fact to support the power of incentives is that over 95% of earners are motivated by the prospects of winning recognition and reward. The research reports are available at Site Global. We encourage Site members and other industry professionals to review and share the research findings with their clients.
In closing, the world is a big place and with Site members in 90 countries it can be a challenge for Site leaders to speak to the industry at all times across the globe. What do you believe each Site member can do to raise the awareness of the power of motivational programs in their region of the world?
Alejandro: My advice to my Site colleagues is that we need to establish Site as the leading, global resource by participating in as many industry events as possible on a regional and international basis. We need to share with others in the industry the benefits of being a Site member and the available resources such as the casebook Better Business Results Through Motivational Experiences and Incentive Travel.
Stephen: Each Site member needs to become a regional spokesperson for Site and our industry. Site members need to engage with our resources and have a basic understanding of the education and content the association offers relevant to marketing, design and operation of motivational events. The organization has experienced, global leadership and the educational content and tools that companies need to prove a strong and defensive case for the value of motivational events.