Free resources for employee incentives

There's more than one way to skin that ol' cat.

By Russ Kratowicz, Executive Editor

To paraphrase one Web site, wouldn't it be nice if you could unleash some discretionary employee effort for the benefit of the company? We already learned that flogging doesn't help. Coaxing the best performance out of employees can be a perplexing problem if you are not in tune with soft issues that permeate every office and plant. This month, we dive into the morass we call the Web in search of truth. If not truth, then how about free, non-commercial, registration-free resources that will assist you in getting voted "Manager of the Year" by all relevant parties.

Just one person's big picture

In an interview published in The Interpreter, Tom Kinser, CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Tennessee, presents his philosophy about incentive compensation plans. Kinser determined the incentive plan for the 2,900 employees under his command. You can learn about what he did at http://www.renolan.com/services/iasa9512.htm.

Motivated youth, motivated employees

The interplay between motivation and incentive starts early in our lives. Because you can't force people to learn, motivation for learning in a classroom setting was the topic of a 1990 conference sponsored by Office of Educational Research and Improvement. One finding that came out of the conference was that unless the effort students put into their own education increases dramatically, we will have a crisis at the national level. Gee whiz, folks, here we are ten years later. Now, at the national level, there is much talk about defects in our educational system. Were they right, or what? And those former students are now looking for jobs.

Although the conference focused on students, many of the conclusions apply, in slightly modified form, to adults working in your plant right now. Think about it. Human nature, psychology and culture evolve slowly, if at all. While they are growing up, our youth simply recycles what we have exposed them to all their lives. Talk about a vicious circle. But I digress. You can find a 17-page summary of the reports delivered at the conference, Hard Work and High Expectations: Motivating Students to Learn, at http://www.kidsource.com/kidsource/content3/work.expectations.k12.4.html.

According to Bill Huitt at Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia, there are four types of behavioristic learning theories: contiguity, classical (respondent) conditioning, operant (instrumental) conditioning and observational (social) learning. There is a connection between each theory and the dynamic duo of motivation and incentives. Huitt goes on to explain other relevant terms, such as extinction, spontaneous recovery, higher order conditioning, stimulus generalization and discrimination. I guess what I want you to do is check out the link at the end that deals with behavior modification in a classroom. It is a "how-to" on using psychological principles to achieve a goal. Just think "worker" where you read "child." Huitt's site is at http://chiron.valdosta.edu/whuitt/col/behsys/behsys.html

Traditional suggestion system

The Texas Incentive and Productivity Commission instituted the State Employee Incentive Program, a traditional suggestion system, at the end of 1988. In the intervening years, the program has elicited more than 9,600 suggestions that saved nearly $20 million for the Great State of Texas. Authors of approved suggestions are eligible to receive cash awards of ten percent of the first-year net savings attributable to their suggestion, to a maximum award of $5,000. The average employee cash award is $1,085. The only reason I mention this site is that everything you need to know about instituting your own suggestion plan is available online at http://www.tipc.state.tx.us/seip.htm. The submission forms and evaluation criteria are available as PDF files. There is a 20-page evaluator's handbook. There is a flow chart for handling the paperwork. Of course, you would need to tailor the content to an industrial workplace setting.

Incentified safety

Workplace safety is an issue that has been at the center of many bonus programs. You know the drill--"Everyone here gets a free dinner downtown at the Ritz if we can surpass our previous record for operations without a lost-time accident." It sounds good on the surface, but bribing your way to keeping workers healthy leads to some unintended negative consequences. The most glaring is the propensity to avoid reporting injuries because the wounded employee does not want to be branded as the "one that blew our safety record and the big dinner." An 18-page article by Wayne G. Pardy deals with this and other factors that degrade the value of a traditional incentive plan aimed at increasing worker safety. You can find Safety Incentive, Recognition and Awareness Programs: One Company's Experience and An Industry Perspective at http://siri.org/library/npincprog/npincent.html.

Non-monetary incentives

Gifts That Keep on Giving, an article by Carol Madigan, argues that managers with well-developed people skills don't need to rely on cash to bribe workers into doing a fine job or to reward those who already have. There are a lot of personal touches that will work wonders. Add a little common courtesy and you gain the respect of your constituency. Visit http://www.businessfinancemag.com/archives/appfiles/Article.cfm?IssueID=91&ArticleID=4338 for the details. The online format of the article is less than adequate, though. After you read the first page, you are forced to click to access the second page, and so on. If you try to print the article, you get one page at a time and still must load the next page before continuing with the print function.

What nonsense. Save yourself some frustration and insanity by clicking on "Print this article" just to the right of the byline. The server returns the full, concatenated four-page article. Then, use your standard browser print command.

What the world thinks

Nobody, including the humble scribe penning this column, knows the answers to questions about effective incentives. That much is clear when one checks into the online discussion group at http://web.municipalworld.com/discuss/. Printing that page requires 34 sheets, but the best way to locate messages about incentives is to use your browser's search function to look for the word "incentive." The bulk of what turns up is from people working in local government asking how to set up an incentive program. A few, however, give decent suggestions.

A little psychology

Performance Management, found at http://www.p-management.com/, is a site owned by Tucows, Inc. a management consultancy in the Netherlands. The basic philosophy behind performance management is a management approach that relies on positive reinforcement to achieve maximized employee performance. The dominant characteristic of the approach seems to be a solid belief in what is called the ABC-Model. The acronym stands for antecedents, behavior and consequences. Something, the antecedent, triggers an action, the behavior, and that leads to feedback, the consequence. The trick is to be aware of unintended outcomes and to structure the entire transaction so that the employee's behavior is what you want to happen. The site features a collection of articles that explain the ideas and how they might be implemented in the real world.

Where did everyone go?

Chronic employee absenteeism is a common business ailment that may respond to a medicinal dose of incentive tonic. A report found at http://www.stfrancis.edu/ba/ghkickul/stuwebs/btopics/works/absent.htm, Absenteeism: At Issue in the American Workplace, by Richard L. Swansbro, is a nine-page treatise on the topic. Part of this report correlates absentee rate with size, type and location of the company. It also shows you a graduated series of responses designed to eliminate the "missing persons" problem. Incentives and motivation are only two of those possible responses.

Why bother with incentives?

Measure-X, Phoenix, Ariz., gives us a clue. Although its Web site is aimed at retail sales and is rather commercial in nature, http://www.measure-x.com/ does have some redeeming features. Check out the links on the left side--"reasons to measure," "recognition" and "tips & ideas."

CultureWorx, Mt. Prospect, Ill., is a consultancy and developer of performance management software. The articles in the Resource Center on the company's Web site are worth investigating if you want to pick up a bit more background. While you are at http://www.cultureworx.com/Resource.htm, note the interesting approach to content delivery. The main categories are shown on the left and each category has its own sub-menu that appears at the top of the page.

A library of content

Before you get too deeply involved in this employee admiration business, be sure to read "Incentive/Appreciation Programs" at http://sendcoffee.com/gifts/programs.html. The page, posted by SendCoffee, Richmond, Va., a coffee e-tailer, cuts through the clutter and discusses the topic simply and cogently. But if you want a more esoteric presentation of incentives and motivation, you must wallow in the next site.

The most complete Web site I found for this column is http://www.refresher.com/archives.html by Refresher Publications Inc. Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada. It is loaded with content--one of those sites where it is easy to get lost in the marvels you find. For example, key the word "incentive" into the search feature and you get 13 articles. Enter the word "motivation" and you get 58 articles. But, investigate the other topics there. This is a good place to collect practical tips from a large collection of "how-to" articles. You might as well bookmark this one for later reference.

Without comment

Links to Performance Appraisal and Performance Measurement-Related Websites at http://www.zigonperf.com/resources/links.html.
Personnel Psychology Topics at http://alpha.fdu.edu/psychweb/Personnel_Psyc_Topics.html.
Business Encyclopedia Menu at http://www.stfrancis.edu/ba/ghkickul/stuwebs/btopics/.
Encyclopedia of Psychology at http://www.psychology.org/links/Environment_Behavior_Relationships/Motivation/.