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"Incentives call out top priorities for employee attention. This is one of the most potent capabilities of incentives (assuming you are clear on the implications and consequences of that "focused" attention)."

Exactly so. Any incentive designer must make a definite point of (1) identifying ways in which participants could game the system and ensuring that the program design prevents them from doing so and (2) identifying perverse incentives arising from the program design and taking steps to eliminate or mitigate them.


Well-said. And, unfortunately, it too often falls upon the incentive designer to do (1) and (2) while serving a line management sponsor who wishes to use the incentives to accomplish things that they can and should not. But that's why they pay us the big bucks, right? (wink wink)

Thanks for the comment!

Ann, you asked for what we can add to the lists. Here's one for the second list. Incentives can't replace or delay career development. They always seem to take priority in the list of HR upgrades, but many employees are as, or more, interesting in learning, growing and getting promoted. It's important to assess what your group's preferences would be. It's no fun to do all that work on an incentive plan, when employees look at it and say, "Yes, but when we going to know what our career prospects are? Do I have a future here?"


Good one and a helpful reminder that its worthwhile taking the time to understand employees' top interests and concerns before assuming that cash incentives are the best possible "answer"!

Thanks for adding to the list!

Great article. A couple of thoughts.

I always tell my clients that it isn't that incentives don;t work, it's that they work too well. The key is understanding, before you implement, exactly what people will think they are designed to do.

Also, incentives cannot ensure people will stay on the path you desired to get them to their goal. Like Google maps, they will be provided various routes. Some will be faster, some will be easier, some will be more familiar, some will have better scenery. If you want them to stay on your desired path you need to stay in the car with them and navigate. Otherwise, hope you defined the destination well enough and wait for them to arrive.

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