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How to: harness the power of incentives – and soar

Mike Parrott, client services director and head of incentives at Strata Creative Communications gives us the lowdown on harnessing the power of incentive events to drive effective and sustainable growth in employee performance…

When we look at incentive events and the role that they can play in driving employees and business partners to perform their everyday working tasks at a higher level, we have to look beyond the beauty of a destination.

Stepping back 10, 20 or even 30 years, it was common within the high-pressure world of sales for people to visualise rewards for success through photographs placed on their desk. It might have been a picture of a sports car, a dream home or a paradise location. Whatever the picture, it was a constant reminder that hard work would pay off. Not just with their monthly salary, but with the potential of a richer, more exclusive life.

"We all have dreams and aspire for experiences"

“We all have dreams and aspire for experiences”

This is exactly the modern-day role of the incentive event. It is the opportunity within our often-overwhelming world to enjoy life enhancing moments that would otherwise be unobtainable. And, these uniquely special moments are not just reserved for those who have more, they are for everyone, from every walk of life. Because, we all have dreams and aspire for experiences that will enhance our personal life stories.

As incentive experts we are, almost without thinking, natural readers of human behaviour and desire. We troubleshoot the quandary of human experience versus brand ambition. What is it that will motivate individuals to perform at a higher level and what is it that truly captures the essence of the brand, and how do the two coexist? Does the experience need to be quirky, simple, energetic or relaxed? If you took the many variables of the incentive audience and the brand, you would have a galaxy of almost infinite possibilities. Possibilities that then become filtered down by the numerous opportunities for experience that the world’s richness in stunning destinations has to offer.

This juxtaposition usually leads us to selecting a shortlist of options that are quite often formed from our natural leaning towards the personal holiday booking mentality. “If I went here last year, where is the next place on my list that is different”. But, for incentives we have to remember that we’re trying to change behaviour. We want to be turning the dial up on new people every time, while still maintaining the desire to perform within those who have previously been successful. A motivation hit of dopamine that once you’ve been there, you will do everything within your powers to be there again.

Fundamentally different

This is where the incentive trip planning is fundamentally different to that of personal travel. We are creating an experience that – much like a story – unfolds over time. For clients it is the moment that their people enjoy a level of hospitality that is uniquely their own. A brand story that reveals a new chapter year on year. It celebrates the best in the business and takes up camp in locations at home or overseas that are instantly recognisable as being the trappings of success and high performance.

It’s more than just a holiday

It’s more than just a holiday

So, where is the art in driving sustainable uplifts in performance through incentive events? There is certainly a huge array of destination options and destination management companies (DMCs) that are available for us to draw upon, along with their eagerness to tailor unique experiences. But we cannot lose sight of the importance in the upfront storytelling. Selecting the destination and initiating a stunning ground programme is only the starting point. For the would-be winners, their journey begins with desire, ambition and belief that their life needs to be enhanced by such a fantastic reward. It’s more than just a holiday. It’s the highest level of recognition and a virtual high-five from every corner of their company. If they win, they’ve made it. For that moment, in that year, anyway.

With this in mind, it’s the storytelling of the event that is king. Communicating the experience in a way that resonates with individuals. Telling them not only how special and unique the reward event will be, but also reinforcing how special they will be within the performance hierarchy of the team, if they are successful.

Meticulous detail

When planning an event, we apply equal measures of meticulous detail to the planning of the day-by-day activities as we do for the week-on-week qualification period. We guide incentive participants through the campaign, ensuring they know exactly what they need to do to be an outstanding performer and at the same time tease them towards their success. Introducing them to unique aspects of the destination that connects them emotionally to the destination. And, as the event draws nearer, increases their appetite for success.

Winners are rewarded and celebrated

Winners are rewarded and celebrated

This level of connection is the true draw of the incentive as we carry participants from one moment to the next. When one door closes, they look for the next one to open. But not in a Pavlov’s classical conditioning way, more a brand conscious way that develops into a high performing culture. Winners are rewarded and celebrated, and losers continue to feel empowered to become future incentive winners.

And, as for the destinations that we select. We should consider these our artists’ blank canvas. Repainting destinations in a way that perfectly fits with the people and brand to whom we are making the connection. There is no one size fits all. A destination management company (DMC) will present a beautiful array of experience options and it is the creative agency’s responsibility to carefully select only those experiences that are perfectly in tune with the audience. Moreover, they need to continually move the needle and seek to work with local experts to devise and deliver wholly new experiences. A new adventurous experience; a new palace and building of special interest that has never been accessible for private groups; dinner in the trees, on the beach or over the water… the opportunities are endless. Naturally, we must lead with the goal of being sustainable in our tourism, but that doesn’t mean that we hold back. We ensure that every new adventure that we offer incentive winners gives back extra value to the destinations that we explore opportunity within.

The ‘desk photo’

So, in essence the key to effective incentive activities rests firstly with creating the ‘desk photo’. The dream experience that every member of our audiences will aspire to have as part of their personal life story. Then, and this cannot be underestimated, it is a beautifully crafted communications campaign that truly ignites the fighting spirit in everyone. It develops that insatiable appetite to win, one that drips through every layer of the audience. We have to move the performance beyond those who always win to those who are yet to win… this could be as much as 80% of the workforce working that bit harder to attain their reward.

And finally, it is for the business to realise the place incentives have within their long-term strategy in the first place. To have the vision to look forward over multiple years rather than year by year or campaign by campaign. For a culture of success and ongoing aspiration to exist within an organisation and amongst its teams, it needs to be built over time, and consistently, through long-term storytelling. Storytelling that sends the powerful message to everyone that success is possible – “keep striving hard, and visualising that goal and your efforts will be rewarded, it’s just a matter of when”.

Mike Parrott

Mike Parrott

About Mike: Mike Parrott has led the planning, design and implementation of incentive strategies for corporate clients for more than 20 years. He applies motivational theory to devise high impact solutions that encourage behavioural change and deliver results against rigorous ROI targets. Educated to BA hons level in Leisure and Tourism, along with numerous qualifications in human leadership and psychology, Mike continuously strives to push the boundaries of employee motivation through the power of communications and uniquely curated destination experiences. Mike is also an active sportsman and international adventure traveller.