by Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP | October 25, 2018
We need greater accountability for the success of our incentive programs. Planning to calculate the ROI of incentive programs from the start will help us focus on results. Following the Top 10 Ways to Measure the ROI of Incentive Programs will be a handy checklist to ensure the success and ROI of your incentive programs.

1. Identify the problem you want incentivized. Assess the current performance problem to determine the needs, conduct a gap analysis, and look for potential improvements you think could be incentivized. Too many accidents, not enough sales, losing too many people, or not reaching performance targets are all possibilities.

2. What are the costs of the problem? Analyze the direct and indirect costs currently associated with the identified performance problem or need. Like: What are salary and operational costs for a retail store? What are turnover costs? What is the number of lost-time days due to accidents? 

3. Determine the achievable objectives. Propose one or two key measurable objectives to be targeted by incentives. Example: percentage of reduced voluntary turnover; increased quarterly productivity indicators at retail stores; percentage of sales performance numbers; or, reduced number of annual accidents per year.

4. Figure out the best measures to use. Identify the specific behavioral measures you will use to determine the right program success measures. When you define the performance well enough you will know the behaviors you want more or less of. You'll then know if the behaviors occur or not and how to measure them.

5. Calculate the costs of incentives. Project the overall costs associated with conducting an incentive plan to improve the performance problem. Determine the value of incentives, the frequency or number of behaviors required for an incentive, the time period of the incentive plan, and multiply to determine total costs.

6. Keep tabs on budget spend. Monitor the costs associated with producing the improved performance results along with implementing the incentive plan. ROI is about return on investment of monies spent, which includes administration costs, monitoring, data collecting, and analysis.

7. Gather the data you need. Collect baseline data of target performance results from the period before the incentive plan began as well as during the implementation period (e.g. year before versus current year). Do as much as you can before the incentive plan period so you can deal more effectively with data following implementation.

8. Create a before and after analysis. Analyze and calculate the costs of the targeted performance problem before and after the incentive plan. Here you are monetizing as much of the data as you can. Make friends with the folks in finance to help you put a dollar figure on as many data points as is possible.

9. Consider reasons for the success, or not.
 Give a general interpretation of the results observed of performance outcomes achieved while using incentives. This is putting human observation and deductive reasoning into whether things worked or not. Your hypothesis can then be validated by the data collected.

10. Work out the ROI. Calculate the actual return on investment. The math is easy: It's the estimated dollar amount of the impact made by the incentive plan minus the combination of the annual incentive payout costs plus administration costs, then divide the previous total by the impact dollar amount, and finally multiplied by 100. 

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 AuthenticRecognition.com blog.