16 Ways to Motivate Anyone

Actionable tips from incentive experts. 

Incentive planners must work with a diverse group of participants, with a wide range of backgrounds, interests, roles and, of course, award preferences. Connecting with them can be a challenge and requires a nimble approach, not only in the types of awards offered by the way communication is delivered throughout the program and how the individuals are celebrated upon receiving their incentive. To help navigate these questions, Incentive spoke with a number of experts to get their actionable tips on how best to motivate a wide range of individuals. Here's what they had to say.

1. Understand Your Audience
"Prior to the program design, a company should survey its audience to identify what is meaningful to them, what they desire, and what they liked and disliked from past programs they participated in," says Jason McCallum, CIS, managing director of ESG Incentives. "This allows you to customize the program design, delivery and rewards to match the desires of your audience."

2. Develop Audience Personas
Understanding your audience in terms of their personas — the various archetypes they fit into, based on research and individual data — is another key first step to developing a program to motivate your team, according to Tim Gass, creative director of the communication solutions group for ITA Group. "When you work from that foundation, you can ask yourself if each of these personas will find your segmented approach engaging, clear and motivational," he says. "If you can't answer that with confidence, you either need to dig deeper into who they are, or rethink your plan."

George Kriza, MTC Performance

3. Segment Your Audience
Before crafting communications, think about the industries or types of job categories into which participants fall. For example, George Kriza, CEO and president of MTC Performance, says his organization segments target audiences by both geography and function. "The systems we use include methods of communicating — what we call Spotlights — as marketing and communication methods that are targeted the same way the promotions are," he says. "In doing so, different messaging can be crafted to each target audience member."

4. Consider the Generation

A key component of those personas is the generation of which the individual workers are part. "Generational audiences certainly can share experiences and trends that can offer a level of consistency in messaging and tone," says Gass. "But, it's important to understand the cultural references and preferences associated with common generational segments, such as Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials and the soon-to-be rapidly growing Generation Z audience."

5. Launch With Impact
"Build excitement and anticipation from day one with a strategically planned rollout," urges Gass. "Send an announcement mailing in tandem with a digital campaign that includes personalized emails and video that immediately connects your goals with their potential." To cut through the clutter of communications that every worker deals with, Gass recommends that incentive managers keep their messaging as relevant as possible.

Jason McCallum, ESG Incentives
Jason McCallum, ESG Incentives

6. Keep Communication Clear and Consistent 
"The rules and terms for participation must be clear and easy to understand," according to McCallum. "The promotion and marketing of the program should be clear and consistent. Many programs have excitement around an initial launch and then silence. To keep the audience engaged, you must communicate with them frequently throughout the program."

7. Think Beyond Digital
In these communications, while emails might be an effective tool, some audiences can require more old-fashioned means of motivation. "A poster that can be displayed in the reseller location is a great idea," says Kriza. "Another approach is to continue to mail promotions 'teasers' that continue to make the promotion top of mind."

8. Use a User-Friendly Platform

"Effective dashboards that clearly display performance earnings, performance against goal and performance against other participants clearly stimulate action" and are key to engaging employees, says Kriza. "If the promotion is tiered, then we notify participants that they have achieved Tier 1 and now here's what you need to do to reach Tier 2. That information is dynamic and kept up to date."

Cord Himelstein, HALO Recognition

9. Engage Early and Often
When it comes to service awards, especially as incentive programs work to target newcomers, it has become more important than ever to make an immediate connection with the participant. "Organizations can no longer afford to wait five years, let alone five minutes to start engaging and building loyalty with employees," says Cord Himelstein, vice president of marketing for HALO Recognition
10. Recognize and Reward Teams

For recognizing workers, it's also important to remember that it's not always single individuals who achieve the big accomplishments. "It takes more than one person to accomplish any task or reach any goal," says McCallum. "It is important to reward the entire team (employees, sales and administrative, newcomers and veterans) who have worked toward a common goal."

Leslie Gilfillan, JNR Inc.
Leslie Gilfillan, JNR Inc.

11. Tailor the Trip
In designing incentive travel, the expectations and experience of those who are participating should be considered for maximum impact. "When planning a trip for dealers, we recommend more exotic trips, and where longer flights are not an issue as they are 'typically' flying business class," explains Leslie Gilfillan, vice president of global incentives and meetings for JNR Inc. "For sales managers…it tends to be in the 4.5- to 5-star resort category, but not necessarily flying business class. For these trips we looked at flight times a bit closer before recommending the exotic long-haul destinations." Finally, for admin or customer service trips, an all-inclusive resort that incorporates local culture and more active experiences tend to be the most motivating, according to Gilfillan.

Thomas Chiang, JNR Inc.
Thomas Chiang, JNR Inc.

12. Don't Forget Gift Cards
When it comes to an award that can be customized to any preference, gift cards offer a number of advantages, according to Thomas Chiang, president of the card services division for JNR Inc. "The idea of real choice" is a good way to ensure a program is speaking to the desires of a wide range of participants, he says. "And no one knows preference more than the end recipient. MasterCards are accepted at nearly 50 million merchants worldwide, so there is no way for a program to be able to match that choice." 

13. When in Doubt, Ask
When trying to determine what kind of merchandise or other awards will make the greatest impact on a group of participants, the safest bet may be to just ask. "Organizations should ask employees what type of incentives they'd like to receive and then tailor the choices around their preferences," says Himelstein. It may seem obvious, but he says that "Providing multiple incentive options, like gifts, office perks or experiences, ensures you can successfully engage a wider range of your workforce."

14. Communicate on a One-to-One Basis
"Most incentive program communication is one-to-many, or company-to-employee," explains McCallum. "To market an incentive program effectively communication needs to be one-to-one. Make sure messaging is custom and speaks directly to the individual such as program standings, percentage towards qualification, and status updates."

Tim Gass, ITA Group

15. Give Back
An award that encourages recipients to focus on something bigger than themselves can have significant impact, according to Gass. "Find an award that gives back. Awards with charitable giving components do double duty by rewarding the participant while making them feel good that their award is helping someone else."

16. Make Sure It's Measurable 
To motivate participants, a program needs to be clear in what it takes not just for them to be awarded, but what it adds to the organization's bottom line. "Each activity should be assigned a dollar value," suggests Chiang. "For example, if you pay a bonus for a sales engineer to do a product demo, you know that on average percent of demos translate into Y of sales, so each demo should have a clear dollar value."