“Where did we go wrong?”: 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Running an Incentive Program

by: Nichole Gunn October 8, 2020

As an incentive program provider for over 25 years, we have learned that successfully running an incentive program requires much more than most may realize.

While no business is perfect, we like to believe we come pretty close, and we have our experience to thank for that. But what good is experience if we aren’t able to share it?

Today’s blog will cover the topic of incentive program mistakes. From what our incentive programs have been able to accomplish, we know that incentives work. We also know that the power an incentive is only as strong as the program that implements it. Let’s take a look at some of the most common incentive program blunders, and how your business can shift gears to successfully harness the power of incentives.

The Don’ts of Running an Incentive Program

Whether you are in the beginning stages of planning an incentive program, or you’ve experienced a failed program first-hand, below are five of the most easily preventable mistakes when running an incentive program.

Do Not: Skimp on research and development.

While great reward options are the foundation for inspiring motivation, what exactly is a “great reward option?”

In the world of rewards and recognition, one size most certainly does not fit all. Your target audience is unique to your company, industry, geographic location, line of work, and more. And these details are just one piece of the research and development puzzle:

  • What are your program goals?
  • How many hours and budget dollars can be spared toward program management?
  • Which department will cover the associated costs?

There is a reason you can’t put a price on preparation. Implementing a program before answering these questions is one of the most preventable mistakes, which leads us to our next point…

Do Not: Bypass S.M.A.R.T goal setting.

If you’re unfamiliar with the acronym “S.M.A.R.T.,” today is your lucky day as we are a little too excited to spell it out for you:

S- Specific

M- Measurable

A- Achievable

R- Realistic

T- Timely

Funding for an incentive program from leadership is only plausible if you can prove a return on the investment. If you failed to define your key performance indicators (KPIs) before embarking on your incentive journey, you may be stuck with no indication of your program’s success.

Money wasted does not bode well for the longevity of your program, and is often the reason why incentives get a bad rap.

Do Not: Set impossible standards. 

S.M.A.R.T goal setting applies to the goals of your program participants as well!

Once you have outlined your goals for the program, it’s time to outline the measurements for achievement.

If the program is too hard, it loses its value. Participants will feel discouraged, and your risk coloring your brand as biased or unfair. On the contrary, make the program too easy, and you can be stuck doling out more rewards than your budget can handle while failing to achieve a desired change in behavior.

Do Not: Forget to promote your program

The saying says, “if you build it, they will come,” but how can participants be motivated by your program if they are unaware that it exists? Communicating your program’s value is just as important as building the program itself.

In today’s busy world, incentive technology allows for automated communication via email, SMS, or mobile app push notifications. Simple reminders to enroll in a program or redeem unused rewards can do wonders for engagement and participation. Which brings us to our last mistake.

Do Not: Overcomplicate the rules

If your program participants need to jump through hoops to participate in your program, chances are, they won’t participate. From enrollment, all the way down to the process of earning rewards- make sure the structure is clear and simple. Your participants already have enough jam-packed into their workday, and a stressful experience is not a rewarding experience.

Interested in Running it Right?

That’s a trick question- of course you are! When it comes to running an incentive program correctly, avoiding mistakes is at the top of the list. But let’s also not forget the failures that have made our successes so sweet. In the words of Michael Jordan, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Here at ISI, we are good at getting it right the first time, but we are even better at providing data and experienced program management to monitor the success of your program in real-time. We know that to guarantee success means continuous research, growth, and innovation. In other words, we’ve learned from these mistakes so that you don’t have to.

Interested in a free consultation or a demo of our online rewards technology? Give us a call, we’re nice!


About Nichole Gunn

Nichole Gunn is the VP of Marketing at Incentive Solutions, an Atlanta-based incentive company that delivers advanced, agile B2B customer loyalty and channel sales incentives programs.