People performance management

Those were the three most important words heard in the aisles at the recent Motivation Show. That's because Northwestern University has kicked off a Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement that many view as the first significant step toward taking the incentive industry into the business mainstream.

The forum will conduct research to measure the effect of incentives and rewards on the performance of the people in a company who most directly touch the customers, such as call center employees or salesclerks. “People performance management lacks a theory base,” said Northwestern professor Don Schultz at the rollout. “It has not been developed, studied, and researched.”

Schultz sees this discipline as being “where sales promotion and direct marketing were 15 years ago.” Today, for example, direct marketing is taught at 102 universities. He even envisions a “Manager of People Performance” in every Fortune 1000 company.

What does this mean for the incentive industry? For starters, Northwestern will work closely with the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives Foundation to bridge the gap in senior management's understanding of incentives. There will be tangible proof from an academic source that links performance strategies to financial outcome. And with trustees such as Carlson Marketing Group's John Farrell, Dittman Incentive Marketing's Jim Dittman, and Selling Communication's Bruce Bolger, it's certain that the researchers will have the guidance they will need to understand our industry and to adequately represent it.

We can talk about “the power of incentives” until we're blue in the face, but incentives have never been looked upon as a legitimate business tool by senior managers — let alone the general public. Now they might be.

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