Fifteen Great Ways to Improve your Incentive Programmes


Incentive programmes can improve performance by 20 to 40 per cent – but they must address specific needs or you’re wasting time, energy and money. Spending around two hours of salary cost per month for incentives is usually all that’s necessary.

Bob Cowen of Snowfly tells us how it’s done.

1. Provide immediate and continuous feedback and rewards

Generation Y and Generation X employees respond best to immediate reinforcement.  Behaviours are shaped by closely tying praise and rewards with activities.  Delaying rewards until the end of a quarter, month or week significantly reduces their value and benefit.

2.  Look at an incentive programme as ongoing

Long-term incentive programmes produce twice the results of short-term ones.  If you’re serious about permanently improving KPIs, an incentive programme must be continuous.

3.  Give small daily rewards

Rather than offer monthly, quarterly and annual rewards, examine the sub-components that comprise them.  A small daily reward for attendance with additional rewards for five days in a row will produce better results than a monthly perfect attendance award.  Reward the daily homework, and the final grade will take care of itself.

For more information on keeping the performance improvement going, read this article on How to Use Contact Centre Incentives to Improve Performance.

4.  Offer a choice of rewards

Management can’t be clairvoyant when selecting rewards. Award certificates and plaques look nice on the wall but do not change behaviour. Employees want to choose their reward – for example a reloadable debit card, although extra time off or other intangibles are also very popular.

5.  Do keep it positive, fair, fun and exciting when earning awards

Everyone who qualifies must win something.  The exciting part is finding out the amount.  Playing games that generate a random number of reward points adds excitement to earning awards.  Whether it’s spin the wheel, throw a dart, toss the beanbag or draw a number from a hat, not knowing the number of points brings suspense and heightens interest, further reinforcing the activity.  Broadcast the names of big winners to keep the “buzz” going.

6.  Don’t spread rewards too thin

Trying to monitor and reward too many metrics can cause each to have insufficient value to achieve employee focus.

7.  Don’t distribute rewards in the payroll

By paying rewards separately from payroll, they are seen as special in the eyes of the recipient, reinforcing how the reward was earned.  Additionally, the employee can spend the reward without waiting until their next pay-day.

8.  Keep it simple by avoiding conflicting goals and objectives

The law of unintended consequences can cause conflicts.  A goal of a higher sales conversion rate will increase average handle times.  Improvements in quality scores or schedule adherence along with reduced turnover and absenteeism will undoubtedly lead to improvements in all other metrics as well.

9.  Measure the ROI

If you’re not measuring the return on investment (ROI) of your incentive programme, how can it be justified?  An incentive programme is the same as any other function; it must be continuously evaluated and tested with control groups or benchmarked with peers.

10.  Don’t overload yourself with programme administration

Too great an administrative burden can cause burnout of even the best incentive programme administrators.  Management’s attitude and opinion of your incentive programme is clearly visible to participants.

11.  Do involve management

Team leaders, supervisors and managers should participate in your incentive programme.  They should earn rewards themselves and distribute ad hoc or discretionary awards.

12.  Do ask for feedback and keep it fresh

Take regular surveys of the participants to see what they like or want changed.  Respond quickly to input.  Actively solicit feedback and reward it.

13.  Do brag about your incentive programme

Use employee comments about your incentive programme in the “careers” section of your website and in recruitment brochures.

14.  Participate in outside surveys

A great way to evaluate your incentive programme against peer groups is to participate in surveys.  Many are anonymous and often participation entitles you to a free copy of the report.

15.  Don’t spend more than necessary

Spending more than 3 per cent of base pay on incentives does not produce additional benefits.  Most companies spend 1½ to 2 per cent of base pay or about two hours of salary cost per month and achieve excellent results.  Staying within budget will ensure that the programme continues and has an excellent ROI.

Robert Cowen

Robert Cowen

Bob Cowen is on the Board of Directors at Snowfly (

Author: Jo Robinson

Published On: 1st Mar 2010 - Last modified: 27th Oct 2020
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  • Bob,

    Do you have any insight on how insentive programs work in an union setting call center environment? And with a much lesser investment?
    Good article and great tips.Thanks,

    Cristina Coltro

    Cristina Coltro 2 Jul at 01:21
  • Unions obviously add an additional party that must be involved and grant approval. That said, the amount of additional money paid is not significant (1½ %) in the entirety of the total annual earnings; thus problems and conflicts are kept to a minimum and approvals are relatively easy. I know of one union shop that offered rewards that could be “purchased” with incentive points that consisted of improving your shift-bidding priority. That made for some very interesting (and positive) behavior changes by the “old guard” representatives.

    When it comes to the amount of money necessary to move KPI’s a significant degree, studies have shown that around two hours worth of wages paid per month does the job. Spending more does not increase output and spending less has limited effectiveness.

    Bob Cowen 2 Jul at 15:11
  • Bob,

    I like your ideas and insight. What tools and process do you use to measure ROI.

    Guy Wisinski 3 Jul at 18:25
  • “What tools and process do you use to measure ROI.”

    In addition to measuring with test/control groups and comparisons with peer companies, organizations should survey their employees frequently. Unfortunately many employees are reluctant to participate in surveys. One way to overcome this is to reward survey participation via your incentive program. By giving a few “reward points” for responding to a survey, you will significantly increase participation and the surveys will be completed sooner. Remember the basics; give the reward points immediately after the survey is filled-in.

    Bob Cowen 4 Jul at 16:03
  • Hi Bob,

    Thank you for your suggestions.

    Do you have any suggestions to create an incentive program for an inbound call centre manager ?

    Thank you for your consideration of this matter.


    Ted Kalil

    Ted Kalil 25 Mar at 00:24
  • Hi Ted,
    You can use the same types of games, with the rewards given out when agents perform a specific behavior you are trying to increase/improve. We used $200 of groceries stacked in front of the room (just ordinary non-refreigerated groceries) to increase average order value (AOV). For each AOV that hit or exceeded the goal(we set a minimum AOV slightly higher than the average), the agent would then go pick one grocery item as their reward. This was to improve their cross-sell, up-sell skills and increase sales for the company. Each AOV winner and their total sale was announced through IM, so agents constantly knew what was happening. They all raced to get what they wanted, until it got down to a can of beans (not alot of motivation there, but someone finally won it). They were motivated, we got more sales. Took 2-3 days for all the groceries to be won.

    "Brenda Ping 29 Apr at 00:20
  • Hi, I like your article.
    Can you tell about any incentive program for the managers?Any Company example for the managerial level incentives will be helpful.

    Daksh 7 Aug at 17:51
  • Hi,

    This is really interesting stuff for me at present as I’m reviewing our current continuous incentive scheme.
    We have recently undergone a massive cultural shift from where by we have moved from managing with numbers, stats and sales targets to leading through behaviours and working on improving the input rather than focusing on the output. We still have a long way to go but getting there.

    Our current incentive rewards sales targets only and I would like to explore the possibility of rewarding the “right sale” possibly though a quality or behavioural score linked to the volume of sales. Does anyone have any experience in this or ideas who may be able to give me any information about best practice on this one?

    Stacey Bott 11 Aug at 17:36
  • thanks Bob for the great insight in incentive programs my request I am developing a recognition program for agents who have been doing voluntarism in selling, i.e. they are self appointed no targets in place, they are a convenience to deal with not loyal to our brand

    Harriet 30 Apr at 13:46