High performers need more than a nice place to work. They want to be recognized and rewarded for their performance. In today's economy, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to hire, motivate, and retain good employees, perhaps in no industry more so than high-tech, where firms are competing fiercely for competent employees, paying ever more for the skills and experience they need. So how can you attract, motivate, and retain workers? Incentive programs are one proven tool.

Let's assume your company has the basics in place: It's recruiting employees who share its values and philosophy, and offering competitive compensation and benefits. It's created a supportive and comfortable work environment, with opportunities for professional growth.

These are all essential. But what companies today are finding is that high performers need more than a nice place to work. They want to be recognized and rewarded for their performance. That's where incentives and recognition programs come in.

Know Your Demographics To design a successful incentive program, take a close look at your target audience. What are their hot buttons? Are they into fast action, luxury travel, education, adventure travel, sports, or cultural events? Would they get a kick out of high-end merchandise?

We know that high-tech workers tend to be younger than the average worker. They have an active lifestyle and they enjoy high adventure. (Ever considered an incentive reward that includes rock climbing, white-water rafting, or bungy jumping?) They keep up with the latest technology and, typically, their favorite means of communication is e-mail and the Internet. (How about tracking qualifications on your Web site?) These workers are wired to the world, but they are generally inexperienced travelers. Sun, fun, and adventure appeal to them.

Keep Top Sellers Selling We recently ran an incentive program for an insurance company whose agents function in much the same way as value-added resellers in the high-tech field. Insurance companies are known for their intensively competitive incentive programs to motivate and retain top performers, and this was no exception. The reward for our program was a trip to Australia. And to keep top performers selling after they had qualified, we offered an add-on trip to New Zealand for just the top 30 producers. No ordinary trip, this one included everything from daredevil helicopter rides to fjord cruising to horseback riding. As the campaign drew to a close, many of the top agents were checking their standings daily. The results were phenomenal. The top 30 agents brought in 27 percent of the total business for the year--a 12 percent increase over the previous year.

In another case, Diebold, Inc., a large manufacturer of automated teller machines, security systems, and bank vault equipment, wanted something different for its Master's Circle trip. In previous programs, the company had gone outside the continental United States, and this year our challenge was to make Scottsdale, Ariz. as appealing as more exotic destinations. The key, of course, to any incentive is to deliver a reward that winners couldn't or wouldn't do on their own dime.

Creative mailings promoted activities such as hot-air ballooning, jeep tours, and flights to Las Vegas. They also described special evenings, like our USO Party in a local hangar with the CEO arriving by vintage airplane. That evening really delivered: Qualifiers, wearing their room gifts of leather bomber jackets, Army garrison hats, and dog tags, enjoyed an evening of food and drinks, entertainment, and music from the 1940s.

When employees buy into your company's success, and feel recognized for their contribution to it, extraordinary things happen. Enthusiasm builds, expectations rise, and energy levels increase. Personal pride kicks into overdrive.