“I believe that the level and depth of this downturn is more dramatic than people yet realize,” says Lynn Randall, strategic meetings consultant, Maritz Travel in Fenton, Mo. And it's not just the money. It's the perception. Sensational headlines abound regarding lavish financial-industry conferences.
But this is no time to abandon the incentive model, Randall says. Rather, meeting managers must dig deeper into the return on incentive programs, showing their value especially in a tumultuous business climate. That value goes beyond boosting sales. An incentive conference can reinforce employee commitment, retention, and loyalty. And it's those returns that will have to be measured and considered in the future, Randall believes.
Especially, she says, since “poaching” gets more intense in an economic downturn. “Your closest competitors will remain relentless in maintaining or growing their business in a shrinking environment. With fewer options, one fast way to do this to try to take your best performers,” she warns. “The message you send by holding your incentive program is that you support your sales force and you are committed to them.”
Of course, you need a program designed to give employees what they value. For Randall, that means turning your focus to the business component. How? Build in meaningful interaction with the CEO and invite spouses to business sessions. “Seventy-six percent of households with income of $100,000 or above are dual-income households,” she points out. “As a spouse I'm part of the success of that family partnership. Include me in a session that might boost my own success, because I'm contributing to that stable home environment.”
The Wall Street crisis and the public outrage directed toward the financial services industry demand new ways of designing and measuring incentive programs so that companies can hold them up as critical business and communication tools, not boondoggles. “This is a positive change,” says Randall. “It's an opportunity for us to become a more sophisticated industry.”