The incentive travel programs of the past that brought hundreds of people to the beaches of Waikiki to sip pina coladas and brag about their accomplishments have lost their appeal for today's employees. Managers must now motivate a widely divergent workforce that encompasses middle management casualties of the 1990s as well as much younger workers who have an intense knowledge of and fascination for electronics we only dreamed about 10 years ago.
So exactly how do we reach the sales guru with a voracious competitive appetite, the IT chief whose every breath involves a new software application, and the administrative assistant who thrives on comfort and stability? The answer is simple: We stop looking at what people do and start looking at who people are.
Incentive Travel a la Carte One telecommunications company determined that the best way to build cohesion and inspire success was to level the playing field. Executives elected to replace the standard tiered incentive program based on quotas with an "incentive travel menu" that took into account employee demographics. Since the program measured overall company performance rather than focusing solely on sales, administrators could also take part. This approach proved to be the ultimatetool: Employees understood that if the company reached its targeted revenue goals over a 12-month period, each one of them--about 450 employees in all--would be able to choose among three incentive travel programs. Management learned quickly that the creative use of travel options as an incentive, if directly applied to the company's demographics and interest base, increased morale, enthusiasm, and, ultimately, revenues.
Something for Everyone The first travel incentive, designed for employees with families, offered a trip to the Walt Disney World Dolphin for two adults and two children, with discounts available to additional family members. Each family could choose to travel independently or to meet up in Orlando with other families from the company. Although the company kept a high profile through amenities, gifts, and logo merchandise, participants were not required to attend company-sponsored functions.
A second option, designed for the adventurous, was a white-water rafting trip on the Colorado River. Sharing personal anecdotes around the even-ing campfire, they shed the traditional roles of manager and employee, superior and subordinate, and enjoyed the camaraderie of the moment.
For those whose children were too old for Orlando and whose tastes didn't run to running rapids, the company offered a third incentive at a health spa--either La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, Calif., or Tucson's Canyon Ranch. The package included a suite with two daily spa treatments, golf or tennis, and creative gifts for the guests each evening. Participants could also get a nutritional review or take part in equestrian activities or deep-sea fishing.
Generating Buzz The returns were favorable. First, recipients considered the incentive program a true perk, since they not only had a choice of experiences, they were also allowed to take their trip outside standard company vacation time. Second, each recipient experienced the benefits of the company's collective successes, and they came back refreshed and excited. In fact, when employees returned, the buzz generated around the office made for the perfect environment to announce the next year's incentives and raise the bar for future perfomance.