A critical element in most incentive, reward and recognition program is communication.  I’ll go out on a limb and say 90% of programs in 90% of companies who run them do a poor job by today’s communication standards. Don’t get me wrong – I think they do a good job by 1990 standards.  

Some Background

Incentive and reward programs have pretty much always had a communication element to them.  The traditional (pre-internet era) communication schedule looked something like this:

  • Mail Announcement Piece:  Four-color, splashy tri-fold with program rules, regulations, legal disclaimers in small print on the back page, highlights of the award options.
  • Mail Catalog:  Sometimes mailed with the announcement, sometimes as a follow up – depending if the award provider had their act together and the new catalog was available at the beginning of the year (most programs were calendar year Jan-Dec.)
  • Monthly (February through October):  mailings to the home, one per month.  If you had a client with big budgets this was four color too.  Otherwise, probably two-color with some exciting copy designed to get participants to think about the program and the award opportunities.
  • Quarterly – if you had a really aggressive incentive company they might send a special mailing each quarter designed to get participants into the catalog with wish lists, “find the item” contents, updates and changes.
  • Monthly (Feb – Jan of the following year):  Monthly performance statements showing participant earnings and possible standings relative to other participants.That’s the communication schedule.

Performance Isn’t Calendar Bound

First off- as I’ve posted before, performance isn’t bound by a calendar so communication shouldn’t be bound by a calendar.  Why is monthly such a great thing?  Could communications be sent based on performance milestones?   Send something at 10%, 40%, 50% goal achievement.  Or send something when someone does something spectacular.  Why wait 30 days to talk about a great performance.

Electronic communication removes the need to do monthly – or calendar-based communication.  If your incentive company is still recommending monthly print communications with a few emails thrown in check and see if they have an .aol email address and a “bag phone.”

Communication Isn’t Passive Anymore

The biggest thing to think about is that communicating with your audience in a reward and recognition program is no longer a passive activity for participants.  Old school thinking is that the incentive company or the sponsor “owns” communication.  They set the schedule, format and content.

They don’t.Today’s communication reality is that the participants own the communication.  All they need are the tools to enable that communication.  Oh, wait – they have them.  Facebook, Linkedin, twitter, Yammer, google – all tools designed for communication and all available to your participants. 

What they don’t have is a program sponsor or incentive company that has figured out the best communication is communication driven by participants.

Smart incentive companies and sponsors could really amp up communication by:

  • Creating hashtags for participants to use on twitter.  Monitor those hashtags and create lists to follow, updates and summaries back to the participant audience.
  • Create a video upload channel for the program – youtube, vimeo, home-brewed.  Doesn’t matter.  Where can a participant upload their “unboxing” of their award?  Right now in most programs – no where.  Why not send 100 flip video cameras out randomly at the program onset and ask folks to video recognition events and upload to program site? Ask them to rotate the cameras through the participants base during the program?  Hold a contest for best award video and let them keep the camera?
  • Does your program have a wiki/blog?  Is there anywhere were participants can put up their award experiences?
  • What about group travel programs?  Do you let participants upload to flickr?  Do award earners share their photos from their group travel award program?  Why not?

All Your Communications Belong To Us

The fact of the matter is that communication about programs should be crowd-sourced (with a healthy dose of monitoring and management from the sponsor and incentive company.)  

Think differently about how you would like your program talked about and reported within your audience. 

Would your program get better results if some nameless “Program Headquarters” sends out a monthly postcard or if Mark and Mary in Accounts Receivable does a hilarious mashup about their reward experience using footage from work and the most recent Grammy awards show (legal of course.)Communication is an active process.