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Using Valentine’s Day To Learn About Incentives

February 11, 2010

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Most of the posts on this blog discuss how the use of non-cash incentives are effective tools to improve employee motivation, engagement, and influence behavior. What’s all this have to do with Valentine’s Day? If you’ve ever legitmately celebrated it, you know it has everything to do with using non-cash incentives to influence behavior.

Personal relationships are unfortunately similar to employee relationships nowadays: the bounce rate seems to increase every day. People staying with one company (or one person) for years and years is slowly becoming a rare occurence. Why? Satisfaction levels are low. Some could blame this on cultural change over time. However, with engagement, these sort of trends can be curbed.

It’s Valentine’s Day and you have plans to celebrate it with your significant other. If you’re a guy, you have several options on what to do. Just treating it like any other day will most likely float like a lead balloon with your girl. You could go with a somewhat generic gift, something that will more than likely at least keep her from breaking things off. Or you could get creative and do something exta special. Something that will really make her day and make her feel like she really matters to you. You don’t want to just prolong a break-up – you want to make her feel more connected with you and feel that the relationship has more value.

Evaluating what she likes and what sort of things appeal to her, you give her a gift that makes her feel more engaged in the relationship. This could be something big shiny and elaborate or something more low-key but with more of that personal, sentimental touch. It’s all about seeing what best motivates her to feel more connected to you and react with the appropriate behaviors you are looking for.

This same concept is used with influencing employee behavior. As an employer, you could do some things to temporarily prolong the inevitable departure of your employee (salary compensation, insurance benefits etc). However, it takes more than just cash to keep someone around. Using non-cash incentives, tailored to your employees’ needs, will go a long way to making your employees feel more appreciated by and engaged with the company. Seth Godin has this to say about gift giving:

“Sometimes we resolve the imbalance by becoming closer to the brand or the provider. We like getting gifts, we like being close to people who have given us a gift and might do it again.”

Noncash incentives are like Valentine’s gifts in several ways. Cash is hardly ever the most effective influence of behavior. The trophy value connected with merchandise is far stronger than with cash. My girlfriend is more likely to show off a new bracelet I got her to her friends than if I just gave her the equivalent amount of cash. The same with employee incentives. There is a better memory association with receiving a noncash reward for doing something than just a cash bonus.

Like a Valentine’s gift, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to an incentive program. Incentive programs should be tailored to what is the best fit to your workforce. When I give a gift to my girlfriend, I find something that is more to her interest. Sure a lot of girls love red roses but that doesn’t mean it’s a great gift for my girl if she prefers yellow roses instead. Something that engages one girl may not necessarily work for all, just like how one particular incentive program will not be effective for every company.

Using these noncash items will help create more connection and engagement between you and the other party (whether that be a workforce or significant other). It’s not about just keeping them around. It’s about driving behavior to make them more proactive in that relationship, creating better success for both parties involved. Godin goes on about gifting:

“When done properly, gifts work like nothing else. A gift gladly accepted changes everything. The imbalance creates motion, motion that pushes us to a new equilibrium, motion that creates connection.”

How are you keeping your workforce connected?

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