With a new head and a new home, it’s been a busy year for the Incentive Research Foundation. The organization has moved its headquarters from New York to St. Louis and appointed Melissa Van Dyke as president to replace Frank Katusak, who held the position for 10 years. Van Dyke is well suited for the role, having spent the past nine years with Maritz, most recently as a managing consultant for the company’s Employee Engagement Practice, where she helped clients build employee recognition and incentive solutions. We asked about her goals for the IRF and what challenges she’s anticipating along the way.

Corporate Meetings & Incentives: Why did you make this move to the IRF?
Melissa Van Dyke: The IRF is doing important work at an important time in an important industry. The work is actionable research, and over the last few years there has been an increased need for unbiased research by all stakeholders in the equation. In a time when employees are crunched and cash [is scarce], how could you not feel obligated to make sure everyone understands the value of incentives and incorporates them into their human capital toolbox?

CMI: What are your goals for the IRF this year?
Van Dyke: We are going to concentrate on four key areas: research, reach, growth, and efficiency. First and foremost, we are concentrating on actionable research that buyers and suppliers can use to support the need for incentives and to better understand how to implement incentives effectively. That has to be our North Star. Along those lines, we are expanding our reach and will be changing our Web site after the Invitational in May. Users will no longer have to register in order to access the research, and it will be searchable on the Web. We are also looking at ways to repackage that research to make it more consumable. At The Motivation Show, we’re organizing an education day before the show in addition to other presentations and a keynote. And we are focused internally on efficiency, making sure our trustees and committee members are concentrating on producing more actionable research as opposed to day-to-day [administrative] tasks.

CMI: This is still a tough time for the incentive industry. Are you seeing signs that the incentive market is coming back?
Van Dyke: That’s the million-dollar question. The phrase we are using is “cautiously optimistic.” In our Pulse survey released in November 2009, 53 percent of respondents said the economy was negatively affecting their ability to plan incentive travel programs. That compares well to the 69 percent who said that in July 2009.

CMI: What is the biggest challenge for incentive houses and corporate incentive buyers?
Van Dyke: Our research is telling us that it is about building the case for incentives and making sure that buyers understand incentives as core tools within their human capital focus. So in our research plan, we are concentrating on helping buyers and suppliers build that case. The study we recently released, “The Anatomy of an Incentive Travel Program” [a case-study approach to effectively positioning incentive travel for performance improvement], is directly related to what we heard at the IRF Annual Incentive Invitational last year. The biggest thing buyers and suppliers said they needed was more exploration into how incentive travel programs work.

CMI: What other IRF research is on the horizon?
Van Dyke: We have two research projects we are kicking off. One will look at when to use various award types and how to evaluate their effectiveness relative to participant compensation level. This came directly from our stakeholders telling us what they are looking for. One area of focus is the tipping point at which an increase or decrease in the award value affects the motivational impact of a program. We are also doing a deep dive into the impact of dealer channel incentives on all stakeholders and the elements that make these programs successful.

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