by Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP | July 14, 2017

Using incentives can improve performance but sometimes they can lead to negative results. Consider where bonuses and incentives for specific outcomes lead to unethical behavior and influence employee discontent. However, incentives used the right way become a powerful tool for leveraging motivation and performance outcomes. That's why these Top 10 Ways To Guard How You Use Incentives will prevent negative outcomes and ensure positive results. 

1. Keep the incentives small. Let financial and other forms of incentives be delivered in smaller amounts so as not to distract people from the inherent value of their work and purpose. You don't want to undermine their intrinsic motivation.

2. Don't focus on end results. Over and over again, when people stare at and are incentivized for end results or goals it's all they focus on. Highlight the desired methods and customer service principles to be followed and what they will be held accountable to.

3. Couple incentivized behaviors with values. Incentives should never be given strictly for results independent of demonstrating moral and company values. Never let the end justify the means for getting the results or unethical practices may occur. 

4. Ensure you have intrinsic motivation too. Using financial or other tangible incentives should always be augmented with planned initiatives to use intrinsic motivation as well. Don't let incentives be the only motivational tool used. 

5. Target incentives at less interesting tasks. Remember the origin of incentives was helping employees do the more monotonous, laborious and uninteresting tasks associated with piecework. Keep your incentives more aligned with similar tasks today 

6. Consider the symbolic value behind incentives. Humanize and elevate the symbolic value of incentives. Think about which company leader should give them out, when and where they should be distributed, and ways to make them more meaningful 

7. Strive for equality with your incentives. Work to create opportunities for customer and non-customer facing employees to achieve incentives. Otherwise, inequalities in pay or rewards can wreck havoc with performance and teamwork. 

8. Find out what people really need to do their job better. Too often we throw the quick fixes, like incentives, at a given performance problem. By asking and then acting upon the recommendations people suggest, a much better solution may arise. 

9. Give people greater autonomy in their work. People are eager to take on more responsibility. They will give their full energy and efforts independent of any incentives so long as their contributions are fully valued and appreciated. 

10. Connect employees to clients and desired results. Let employees meet with clients who benefit from their work. Give people the big picture of the purpose of their jobs and how their work makes a difference, and they will naturally work harder. 

Incentive columnist Roy Saunderson is the author of  Giving the Real Recognition Way. The Vistance Institute chief learning officer at Rideau Inc., Saunderson provides consulting, learning, and thought leadership services focused on helping leaders and managers give real recognition the right way. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter (@RoySaunderson) and at his blog.