by Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP | January 25, 2018

Planning incentive programs to motivate employees or attract and retain customers is no easy task. Your job is to define the specific actions or behaviors being incentivized during a specific time frame. Working out the parameters and deliverables requires good insight and design abilities. Follow these pointers to stay on track with Top 10 Ways to Effectively Plan Your Incentive Program. 

1. What is the overall program objective? Start with the end in mind. Set clear goals and objectives about what is to be achieved through your incentive program. Performance incentive plans are created to grow the business and motivate employees to exceed performance expectations.

2. What do you want to have happen? Consider the final outcome and experience to be achieved through the incentive program you're designing. Incentive programs work best when people are motivated by economics. However, if financially based they can induce the wrong behaviors for the wrong reasons.

3. How is the cultural alignment? Look at the beliefs, values, and way things are done at the company. Check to see that the program planning reflects the organizational culture and the overall company purpose and vision. Always adhere to ethical practices so no one tries to manipulate the program.

4. How does this support a business strategic initiative? Incentive programs are powerful drivers of your specific strategic initiatives and tactics. Leaders need to know your incentive programs are planned and designed to assist the executive team with driving successful business results.

5. How can those goals be broken down into incremental targets? Don't just define the targeted objectives by numbers. Spell out exactly how the actions are to be carried out a certain way and explain why that's important. You have to remove any ability to game or manipulate a program outcome.

6. What measurements will you will be using? Having clear metrics for achievement is a way to overcome entitlement mentality that can come from poorly planned incentive programs. Carefully define the performance and how it will be measured. Only reward the right things done, and with the right rewards.

7. How will it make the recipient feel? Incentive programs can often appear emotion neutral in operation. They are always a short-term solution to things. But they create strong feelings around principles of fairness, timeliness and overall execution effectiveness. Strive to create an emotional impact as well.

8. What will the giver's user experience be like? Make sure to collaborate with end users of the incentive program when designing and developing your online portal. Ensure all features, program interactions, and generation of reports is a positive, and easy to use experience.

9. How will the incentive or reward be delivered? It is important to manage effective and efficient delivery of an incentive when performance outcomes are met. Incentives only help focus people's attention on specific tasks when they are paid out or given in a timely manner.

10. Who owns and manages the program? An executive sponsor for each incentive program is essential to promoting and reinforcing the program's usage. Assign an effective, accountable manager to run your programs who will deliver the desired results while being able to adjust the programs as needed.


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.