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Incentive schemes are only as good as the research you put in

Incentive schemes are only as good as the research that goes before the most effective programmes.

The human audit…know who you are communicating with

Marketing is all about giving the customer what they want…at an acceptable price. Incentive participants are no different. No team or individual is going to ‘buy into’ an incentive scheme if the incentive or event is not attractive enough to make the effort required. Just like Olympic athletes, the pain of competing has to be less than the anticipated pleasure of winning.

So, you need to establish who you are trying to motivate and how likely they are to make the required effort to become winners. Finding out what might motivate them better is known as a ‘human audit’.

Identify the task

You need to decide first what the audit is for and stick to it. Once other departments discover that you are ‘polling staff opinions’ lots of managers will appear to try and squeeze in questions about unrelated topics such as the new staff car park, the pension scheme or even what to do about the annual staff outing. Usually the human audit is to identify key issues to do with an incentive or improvement programme and measure what the level of feeling is. By keeping to a specific agenda, you will create useful answers to help you plan your programme.

Decide on methodology

You can gather useful ‘qualitative’ views from a two-hour round-table session with a dozen managers at very low cost. But you will only get a ‘manager perspective’. To create a full picture you need to be putting questions to the other main categories of participants and comparing what each sub-group thinks.

Having gathered the general views, you then need to test these ideas with ‘qualitative’ surveys so you can measure the strength of feeling from a representative sample. It may be, for example, that the focus groups emphasise that the programme is too long. But when you survey a larger number of people you may find the programme is not long enough!

Analyse the data

You may have a number of items of research to draw on when planning a programme from desk research and industry surveys to specific team research and quantitative polls. The important task is to have an editor take all these, no doubt conflicting views into account and come to a conclusion as to what the consensus is. The point of research is to highlight some definite do’s and don’ts and uncover things you did not know. If it merely confirms what you already know, it has not been a good use of budget or time.

Present the conclusions

A research report is one thing, getting people to read it and then take action is a completely new task. Think carefully about whether you need one version for the executive team and another for the local sales managers. It should make some practical, specific recommendations to do with planning the incentive scheme programme. These conclusions could be in the form of methods of communication, what products to include, likely destinations if it is a travel incentive and what participants think about the qualifying rules.

The human audit can be a very useful planning tool to making event and incentive programmes more effective, next time around. So avoid the temptation to water down any strong views…every oyster needs grit in it to produce valuable pearls.


  • Ask challenging questions…finding out what you already know, using leading questions, is pointless.
  • Don’t survey too many people. A quantitative survey of 3%-5% of the entire audience is enough to get a predictive result in most circumstances.
  • Keep the analysis easy to understand for non-specialists as fancy charts do not always convey the key points you want to communicate.
  • Make brave choices…if participants are unhappy, publish those complaints and amend the programme accordingly next time.


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