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by Alex Palmer | January 22, 2016
Several years back, leadership at Coca-Cola Refreshments sensed a disconnect between the investment being made on incentives and the results they produced. A number of bottlers had come together to form Coca-Cola Refreshments and each had its own own incentive plans, which overlapped and in some cases conflicted with one other. 

"There was a notion of recognition, but there was no strategy behind it," says Sherri Reynolds, senior director of compensation for Coca-Cola Refreshments, a division of The Coca-Cola Company based in Atlanta, GA. "We had a lot of different currencies and ways that people were rewarded -- people were getting an extra $50 here, an extra $100 there on their paychecks, and they didn't even know why."

Shortly after Reynolds joined the company, she and her team sought to streamline these disparate parts, sending out an RFP to the nine different incentive vendors Coca-Cola worked with at the time. Coca-Cola asked each vendor to devise a platform that would better manage the "over-the-top" sales incentives for brand or channel promotions, measuring ROI and ensuring consistency across the company. But perhaps more important, they wanted an offering that could scale in the years ahead and help Coca-Cola to meet its "Vision 2020" goals of cultivating leadership behavior among all members of the staff, while bolstering incremental sales.

Bubbling Up


After reviewing the proposals submitted by the numerous incentive firms, Reynolds found an ideal partner in BI Worldwide (BIW). The Minneapolis-based engagement agency had not only been working with departments within Coca-Cola, but had serviced clients of Coca-Cola's size, and had the global reach the company sought. Additionally, Reynolds was convinced by the argument BIW's business development director, Sheryl Cronin, made for non-cash rewards.

"If you ask people if they want points or do they want cash, typically they will say cash," says Reynolds. "But when you analyze what changes behavior, cash doesn't do it. We wanted to really drive associates to reach results, and the non-cash approach was key."

Also key was getting managers to buy into this approach, and help to translate the top-level leadership goals to the salesperson level. Cronin spent about a year researching Coca-Cola's needs throughout the company to help determine what sort of platform BIW could provide to most effectively meet them.

"One of the values that BIW really brings is the ability to tailor the program not only to the company overall, but to that specific part of the organization," says Kim Gohman, account supervisor -- design for BIW, who worked with Cronin in devising the proposal for Coca-Cola. "We really act as an extension of Sherri [Reynolds]' team and work directly with the brand leaders and people who are reaching out and wanting to run promotions to figure out what's going to work best for their particular promotion."

Working together, Reynolds' team and BIW created a solution that would get the various brands and segments throughout Coca-Cola onto the same page: North America Rewards. 

Also called NA Rewards, the program, launched in 2009, sought to take a company-wide approach that would create consistency across the organization's numerous departments. The objective was to create a one-stop shop for everything related to rewards and recognition at the company with the flexibility to easily expand or adjust depending on changing organizational needs. It would be a comprehensive, user-friendly platform that aligned with Coca-Cola's wide-ranging engagement efforts, tracked ROI, streamlined communication and ensured its relevancy, and addressed details such as tax compliance on every element of the program.

The Coca-Cola and BIW team set to work developing the individual components of NA Rewards. The first priority when the program was launched in 2009 was the "over-the-top" promotions to encourage the various brands and channels to increase their incremental sales. For example, a brand team might be given a budget to promote a new product over a three-month period. This would previously have been run as a standalone program with rewards at the discretion of the program's manager. Now it would fit neatly into the NA Rewards platform, with points rewarded instead of dollars.

NA Rewards gave managers and brand stakeholders access to tools that allowed them to execute their own business-based incentives with specific goals and desired outcomes. By integrating an easy-to-use interface that simplifies management and results reporting, the team made it simple and more effective for the company's management to run all of their disparate incentive programs on the same flexible platform. Thanks to the careful communication strategy, clarifying the value of the points to participants and the tax compliance issues to managers, the shift from rewarding in dollars to rewarding points went over well with the sales teams. 

"We definitely saw an upswing, with people saying 'okay, I've got this many points, what's the next promotion where I can earn [to reach a different reward]?'" says Reynolds.

But NA Rewards had been designed to grow far beyond these sales rewards. In 2010, it was extended to include a Years of Service component. Employees reaching a milestone receive an email inviting them to log into NA Rewards, where they are thanked with a customized landing page featuring special messages, photos, and videos from leadership and colleagues that can be shared on social media. 

As the effectiveness of the NA Rewards platform became clear, Reynolds and the BIW team decided to take a major step forward in 2013, with the introduction of the R3 Associate Recognition Program: an all-associate rewards and recognition initiative under the NA Rewards banner. The R3 program incorporates peer-to-peer (Refresh), manager-to-associate (Recognize) and nomination-based (Reward) recognition into one cohesive program that allows for dynamic and personalized recognition throughout the organization. 

"As the program matures, people who are participating in it begin to accrue, and they look for additional opportunities to earn," says Cronin. "Tapping into this engaged audience allows existing programs to gain associate mindshare. There's real power in that."

Associates accumulate points in a number of different ways. For example, an associate might be rewarded points for succeeding on a project, and additional points from a manager for his or her strong performance over the quarter. They could then redeem these for a family vacation or their choice from millions of brand-name merchandise items. 
 
The most recent addition to NA Rewards has been a sales-lead program in which all associates, particularly non-sales staff, can report a sales opportunity -- such as adding a vending machine to a local laundromat or selling Coca-Cola through the concession stands of a local soccer league -- and be rewarded with points. Previously, these sorts of rewards were offered under the company's underused "Hometown Hotline." The program's leader decided to integrate it into the NA Rewards, as the LEADS campaign. 

Strong Results

Since the program's inception in 2009, NA Rewards has seen engagement levels continuously increase. Through the R3 program, 80 percent of managers have given recognition, and more than 60 percent of associates have received R3 recognition. 

Since June 2013, more than 180,000 recognitions have been distributed through NA Rewards. The nominations program has enabled Coca-Cola to formally award nearly 200 top performing associates and teams for truly significant contributions to the company in the past two years. More than 350 individual sales, brand, safety, and wellness incentive programs have been executed under the NA Rewards umbrella.

These business-based incentive programs have generated millions of incremental cases for the company, while increasing new outlets and producing incremental displays and equipment installations. For example, one call center program enjoyed a staggering 10:1 ROI -- and the largest increase in penetrations for the company ever recorded for a month-long incentive. The Years of Service program has acknowledged more than 100,000 anniversaries. In its first year as part of NA Rewards, the LEADS program generated five times more leads and 10 times more new outlets/customers than the year prior.

By providing such a powerful example of how non-cash incentives can succeed across a company of significant size, to meet a vast range of goals and needs, Coca-Cola Refreshments and BI Worldwide are this year's Grand Motivation Masters Award winners.