OUR READERS WHO PLAN INCENTIVES often tell me what a hard time they have when they try to explain to people what they do for a living. Often, they just get a blank stare. Or people say they know someone who has been on “one of those incentive trips.” Worst of all is when they're treated as if they're off on vacation every time they travel for their jobs.

Why do so few people understand incentive planning — and how it's directly tied to the bottom line?

Maybe it's because so few companies have a culture that rewards employees across all job descriptions. If the only people being rewarded with trips and gifts are the salespeople, there's a built-in lack of understanding — as well as resentment, in many cases — among everyone else. That's something that Brian Martenis, sales incentive manager at Bayard Sales Corp., a Philadelphia-based floor-covering distributor, is trying to overcome. He's determined to start an incentive program for Bayard's internal people — nothing as fancy as the dealer incentives that he runs — but something for them. But he's having a hard time proving to his senior management that it's worth doing.

Like many others who plan incentive programs, Martenis is constantly proving the value of what he does. Not only to management, but also to company officials in accounts payable, procurement, credit, and other areas of his company.

I share his frustrations as the editor of this magazine. So many companies that I approach for interviews are hesitant to speak openly about their incentive programs for fear that employees, or shareholders, or their board, will frown on the publicity. This is especially true with companies that are struggling right now. Yet that's exactly when a company needs an incentive program: to boost sales of certain products, to drive consumers to their brand, and to pump up their employees.

The good news is that there is solid research from organizations such as the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives Foundation (www.sitefoundation.org), the International Society for Performance Improvement (www.ispi.org), and Northwestern University's Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement (www.performanceforum.org) clearly proving that incentives drive performance across all jobs. I hope that, armed with those numbers — and this month's cover story — you will have the ammunition you need to drive an incentive culture throughout your company.

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