The leader of the discussion, Dave Riddell, vice president of certificate marketing for Marriott, spoke about how the psychographics of incentive qualifiers are changing: The award winners of tomorrow will be a younger, more diverse group looking for greater balance between work and their personal lives. He then asked attendees to brainstorm ways to motivate this new brand of qualifier--excluding the traditional incentives (travel, cash, and merchandise). Among the ideas we came up with: flexible hours; four-day work weeks; telecommuting; training opportunities; paid on-site child care; paid services such as car washing, housecleaning, and cooking. All were based on the one thing people hold most precious: time.

Dave's point is that the race we're all running will only intensify in the future. We'll be bombarded with even more information, new technology, greater job demands, tighter deadlines, and leaner staffs. The greatest reward companies will be able to offer will be free time to pursue what's most important to us--or to be with the people who are most important to us.

My prediction: The incentives of the future will become more of a "lifestyles package" of company benefits and rewards tailored to the employee, with the traditional incentive programs we use now as one component.

To prepare for this evolution, incentive companies will need to transform themselves into motivation and performance improvement consultants, as well as trip specialists. And companies will need to gear their incentive programs not only to their corporate goals, but to the changing needs of participants.