Making All the Right Moves

Offering an incentive that no one wants or perhaps is too difficult to attain will not work. The best way to find out which incentives work is to ask the program participants.

YOU'VE seen the success of safety incentive programs, and you know how to run an incentive program. But your results are never quite what you expected.

Maybe it isn't just the program. In 2004, a company I'll call CVC Industries (a fictional name representing a combination of many companies involved in incentive safety programs) invested considerable time and energy in developing a safety incentive program to improve driver safety. Although initial results were good, driver participation fell off quickly and the program ended without a whimper. What went wrong?

CVC Industries: Safety Incentive Program #1
Jack Ward and Bob Frey, senior managers at CVC Industries, recognized a need to improve driver safety as a financial benefit to the company. They organized a committee to oversee implementation of a safety program.

The Safety Committee came up with the primary objective of reducing accidents by promoting safe driving. It used the last two years of company accident statistics as benchmarks for the program. The incentive was cash, $50 was awarded to each driver for completing three months without an accident. A general e-mail was sent out announcing the program and the starting date, and then the program began.

The first quarter ended with good results: Fifteen out of 18 drivers received the $50 cash incentive in their paychecks. Fewer drivers participated during the second quarter, then interest completely died off. Jack and Bob decided that safety programs do not work.

Analysis: There were many things wrong with CVC Industries' first safety incentive program, including:
• The objective was not specific enough.
• There was no management participation.
• The cash incentive wasn't the right incentive, because the drivers were not motivated to achieve it.
• There was no formal program, no signage, no continuity, no fanfare.
In many ways, the safety incentive program was doomed to fail.

How to Begin Again, or Safety Incentive Program #2
Before implementing an incentive program of any type, it is a good idea for a company to take a look at its organizational culture and decide whether the culture will support the program.

What is your management theory?
If your company emphasizes organizational design, worker training for efficiency, chains of command, and division of labor, then it ascribes to the Scientific Management Theory. This particular theory does not take into account human behavior and the principles of motivation. An assumption you might make is, "Workers must be directed and threatened with punishment to achieve organizational productivity." (McGregor Theory X). The Human Behavior Theory is concerned with the interactions of individuals, their motivations, and their impact on organizational events. An assumption you might make here is, "Workers seek responsibility and feel rewarded through their achievements." (McGregor Theory Y). Your company probably uses some of both management theories.

CVC Industries has a definite chain of command and is quite structured, with many rules and regulations. At this point in time, the human behavior element has been given little regard. For instance, the safety committee didn't solicit the opinions of the drivers as to what they felt the problem was, how safety could be improved, or how they best would be motivated. Offering an incentive that no one wants or perhaps is too difficult to attain simply will not work. The best way to find out which incentives work is to ask the program participants.

What type of business environment do you have?
The single greatest influence on shaping a company's culture is its business environment. These are the elements of what goes into making a company what it is, internally and externally. In other words, it is the physical and social environment, how a company develops a unique sense of place (culture), and how it contributes to individual behavior and organizational effectiveness.

Having a business environment that respects an individual's contribution to the company plays a large part in the success of an incentive program. Likewise, having a business environment that assumes a paycheck is reward enough for doing a good job doesn't create an atmosphere conducive to motivation. Your employees can sniff out hypocrisy just as you can. If the informal cultural network assumes management is not concerned with directing or motivating their behavior, they will not be concerned with being motivated.

Jack and Bob of CVC Industries haven't been directly involved with their employees for some time now. They have established layers of management that insulate them, and thus they know little about their employees. They expected the incentive program to work on its own without any interaction from them. The truth is, though, management needs to be involved in the program before participants are involved. Employee recognition must come from the top to be really effective. A valuable part of the incentive program is presentation of the award from management, in front of other employees.

Choosing the Right Incentive
As an incentive, cash is a poor motivator. Yes, everybody likes to have more money, but cash has no residual value. Once added to a paycheck, it simply becomes part of the bill-paying process, with no memory of where it came from. Worse, the individual comes to expect the extra money as part of his benefit package, and the message is lost. An incentive doesn't have to be expensive to be effective. Some incentives are reserved parking spaces, paid time off, or recognition in the company newsletter.

In CVC Industries' second safety incentive program, the drivers were asked to list their top three incentive choices. They picked a video iPod®, a satellite radio, and an Xbox® video game console. It was decided to use all three products in a tiered incentive program. The Xbox would be the final grand prize.

The formal plan
A safety incentive program without a written communication plan is like a ship without a sail. The communication plan must have the following elements:
• A specific objective that can be quantified
• Benchmarks to be measured against
• Safety incentive program details
1) Target audience
2) Budget
3) Incentive(s)
4) Length of the program
• Types of communication vehicles, both internal and external, if necessary
• Momentum: a timeline of the introduction of new pieces of the communication plan so the program stays top of mind for the entire length of the program
• Events that tie into, or augment, the safety program.

Types of Communication
Program Kickoff
The kickoff should be a significant event; it stresses the importance of the safety program to the entire company.

Appropriate signs announcing the program should be put up in places such as the company cafeteria or on announcement bulletin boards.

The new safety incentive program should have a distinct theme so all of the marketing collateral will tie in. Possibilities include a special logo, message, and color scheme.

To keep the momentum going throughout the program, different types of communication should be used, such as posters, meetings, charts, intermediary awards, or thank-you notes from management.

Event marketing
It may be possible to incorporate community events, or maybe National Safety Month, into the program.

CVC Industries reported a successful second safety incentive program. Jack and Bob looked at the company's organizational culture and decided to place more emphasis on the human behavior aspect. They looked for more ways to interact with employees at every level of the organization and were much more connected to knowing what was happening at CVC Industries. They made sure the business environment was pro-motivation and tied the company's mission and values to both the second program and subsequent incentive programs.

Presented with quantifiable results, Jack and Bob confirmed what they already knew: A driver safety incentive program influenced the financial bottom line of CVC Industries, and the effort put into making it a success was more than regained by the increase in profit and the improvement in organizational culture.

1. McGregor, Douglas. "The Human Side of Enterprise." Theory X and Theory Y. 1960.

This article originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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