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Enhancing workplace culture through incentive programs

Working for a company that utilizes an incentive program effectively is a fantastic place to be. Today I’m jumping into the first person to share with you an experience a decade ago when I helped a company develop their workplace culture from scratch.

In the beginning

I was working for a software development company in Human Resources. This company was very casual and fun-loving in their approach to employee engagement already. Working with developers, you had to put extra effort into getting them out of their shell once in a while.

One day my vice-president called me in to tell me I was going to introduce and run a recognition program for the company. I don’t know about you, but the idea of spreading good cheer sounded like a great project, so I gladly accepted this new challenge.

They flew me to a workshop where I learned how to spread the value of recognition in work culture and most importantly, how to give a powerful and uplifting recognition of any size to any person.

Note: Don’t worry – stay turned to the Work2Live blogs, and I’ll be sharing all of the tips I’ve learned!

First was convincing the leadership

I’m a believer in the only way to make change stick, is to start at the top and persuade leadership of the value of change. Once they’re convinced, the ideas and practices will trickle down through the rest of the organization.

I started my campaign with workshops for the senior leaders (VPs) of the company. I had props and prizes to get the group engaged, and boy DID they engage. Although, I did have one stick in the mud with his hands crossed over his chest. His opinion – and he made it clear and out loud – was that his team was recognized twice a month, on the 15th and the 30th (payday). There will always be that guy. You may not convince him, but he usually just needs to see things for himself before he sticks his neck out to change his behavior. I didn’t persuade him right away, but the rest of the VP’s were getting excited. Even the CFO after a small gasp at the price of the plush toys I tossed to people for answering questions seemed to calm down after she got excited about receiving one herself.

Management was a breeze

Teaching management how to recognize their team was a ton of fun for everyone. They engaged completely during the workshop, and many thanked me and expressed their excitement that the company was giving them a vehicle to boost morale and encourage exceeding expectations.

The first quarter

The first quarter brought a lot of new changes, but the process was well manged so I didn’t overwhelm everyone. It also gave me time to percolate new ideas as they came.

Month one

In the first month of the program, I kept it simple and let the training sink in. I visited the managers and observed some recognitions as a coach and offered feedback. Employees were beaming when they received something, and others shared much of that joy as they participated with the group in that memorable moment (because you always recognize in public). This new practice created a buzz around the company quickly, and it was a good-news kind of buzz.

Month two

For the second month, I added a new layer to the program. Because managers don’t always see all of the good things happening on their team, I wanted to open the recognition to peers on the team. I started a page on our corporate website where employees could nominate their colleagues for awards. I had an online form that would craft together the complete details of formal recognition.

Every week I sent a report to the managers and their senior leaders of what their team was saying about how their peers went above and beyond. The management loved this, for they agreed that they didn’t know all of the great deeds being done right underneath their noses. They also filed this data in the employee records for review time as “good news.”

Month three – a huge hit

I must start with a little back-story to this addition to my recognition program. When I went to my workshop before launching the program, there was this giant 6ft plush carrot with a goofy face propped up in the corner. I noticed that the managers had embraced the program and loving it, but I wanted to spread the joy to senior leadership beyond enjoying the good deeds of their organization. When I asked them about it, they replied that they wanted to save it all for their lower levels. Honorable and generous as that was, I was compelled to encourage them for some way to join in the fun.

I called our recognition provider and asked how I could get my hands on the giant goofy carrot. They never had anyone ask about the carrot and never considered selling him. They were so flattered that they had a second one made exclusively for me on the promise that I provide a full report.

I started with my VP of HR. I dragged this 6-foot tall box into her office and gave her the first assignment to launch the carrot to another senior leader (director or VP level) of her choice, but she must give the nomination to the entire group in the format I taught her. She excitedly started crafting her message and presented it to the director of procurement. They kept the giant carrot for two weeks, then selected another group to present the carrot for going above and beyond to her team’s benefit. The teams got so excited to receive and display the carrot as the months continued. You could hear the cheers across the entire floor.

Onward – blooming and spreading

During the year that followed, I saw a notable shift in the culture of this software company. The employee engagement survey spoke for itself! That one VP naysayer came back to me, looking sheepish. His team wasn’t nearly as active or engaged as the rest of the company was with the program. He knew it was his lack of encouragement and asked me to coach him through what he considered an out-of-body experience to get his team started joining in on the fun. Sometimes you just have to see things for yourself to make a giant change in thinking.

Way back then, the idea of experiential rewards didn’t exist let alone lifestyle spending accounts (LSAs). I can only imagine what a huge hit they would be back then. Work2Live has taken recognition to a new level with recognition awards and flexibility to turn the program into a benefit or something in-between. I saw excitement with the receipt of a new pair of binoculars back in my day. Imagine 10x that excitement with a destination to focus those lenses on!

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