Every day I have to spend an inordinate amount of time explaining why there isn’t a foolproof, one-sized-fits-all answer to the questions my clients ask. Questions like: 

“What works?”  

“How do I motivate my people?”  

“What’s the best way to craft a recognition program?”

“Who should be involved in the program?”  

“What are the best practices in incentive design?”

“What’s the Frequency Kenneth?”

My goal has always been to provide honest, unbiased, untainted by award, quality incentive and reward program design services. I want to give my clients what they weren’t getting – and combat what I saw as malpractice by many incentive and reward companies hell-bent for leather to sell you a toaster, a trip, a debit card.

Unfortunately, as Michael Corleone says in the Godfather Part III,

“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”

I keep getting the same questions. And I think I get the questions because somehow my clients are looking for answers that make them feel comfortable they are following a plan, a model, a formula.

Formulas make us feel comfortable. Formulas give us a “foundation”, no matter how weak, for our decisions. My clients want an answer. And, unfortunately, the answer many times is, “it depends.” That’s not comfortable. But there really is no pat answer.

2/3rds Science – 1/3rd Art – 1/3rd Stuff I can’t Control

My canvas is people.

And, as I’ve said at many seminars, webinars, and meetings – people are infinitely variable and therefore don’t fit into neat formulas. Sure, there are guidelines, generalities – things you can do to increase the odds of achieving your objectives, but there are no rules. Rules are for physics. Rules are for children. Rules won’t work when trying to guide behaviors and drive engagement. People are just too…different.

The best you can hope for is to know enough about what drives decision-making and leverage as many potential triggers as possible – and even then, expect some interesting and unpredictable results.

Frameworks as Security Blankets

Dan Ariely – professor, author of “Predictably Irrational”, and “The Upside of Irrationality” (highly recommend both BTW) – has very interesting video on his blog – I’ve embedded it below (email and RSS subscribers may need to click through to see the video.) I briefly describe the video below so if you want to watch first – go now – about 5 minutes.

It struck me that like the marketing Execs discussed in the video, many of my clients are looking for “THE MODEL” – the rule book.  But as Ariely says – there aren’t really any models and any model you pick has “some” validity. Consultants are great at this – find a way to package a thought process – pick some letters – make it fit and viola – you’ve got a sellable solution to a client’s problem.  

Think about Ariely’s model for marketing – FN-LN

FN Framework = Design – Adoption – New Products

LN Framework = Attitude – Research – Image – Education – Learning – Yield

For those of you who haven’t seen the video yet… Look at those frameworks – closely.  

Remember the framework was designed and presented by D A N   A R I E L Y.

Look again.

Ah… now you get it.

The “Incentive Model”

The incentive industry has used a few over the years:

  • Motivation = Communications x Training x Reward
  • Performance = Ability x Preparation x Effort x Will
  • Motivational Force (MF) = Expectancy x Instrumentality x Valance
  • Performance = Ability x Motivation
  • Effort = Drive x Habit x Incentive
  • Performance = Ability x Motivation X Organizational Support

Sometimes they go all mathy on you and add the “f(x)” at the beginning and maybe even raising it to a power of some sort – usually something to do with their unique and patentable award mix – making it look more like a “real” formula like this:  

My point here is don’t look for a formula… look for the generalities that explain as much of our human variance as possible.

No formula, model, construct, will explain our behaviors. Relegating your motivation, engagement and reward discussion to a formula ensures you will be playing into the hands of the incentive supplier. Remember who wrote the formula. What do you think their real intent was? Drive performance or drive redemption? Just asking.

So, What is the Frequency Kenneth?

I don’t know – and neither do they.

I do know this – a formula isn’t the right answer. A thorough understanding of your particular support systems, your cultural history, your brand identity, and the make up of your talent is what really drives program design.

Wait… is that a NEW model?

Read it again… and again.

There ya go!

Coming soon to a four-square PowerPoint slide near you….