Executive Incentives: Getting Rewards And Recognition Right

How do you build and sustain an incentive program that supports your company’s talent strategy?

“Attracting, hiring and retaining top talent starts with becoming an employer of choice,” says Andrew Alfano, president of Deerfield Beach, Florida-based The Learning Experience, a fast-growing national network of early education facilities, with some 200 centers across the U.S. and another 130 in development. “Salary and compensation are important, of course, but it goes well beyond that. Rather, it is about the type of environment that you create—culture is our strategy.”

To Alfano, the hallmark of a healthy corporate culture that sustains recognition at every level is complete transparency with a company’s initiatives and a focus on engagement.

“Far too many companies just hang a mission statement on the wall or talk ideologies,” he says. “Nobody believes in those fictions. On the other hand, when you invest the time in two-way communication at all levels of the organization, you will be amazed at what you learn.”

Employees at all levels of the company are encouraged to recognize and celebrate the achievements of their peers—with those discussions receiving the same weight as reports on the company’s financial performance. “At our monthly leadership meetings, we spend the first half hour talking about our financial performance,” explains Alfano. “Then, we devote the rest of our time to talking about people and their initiatives and achievements. It’s about measuring and recognizing their hard work—and we never miss an opportunity to celebrate success.”

“Reward and recognition programs need to be tangible, fact-based and real.”

Those frequent and open discussions about why and how executives and employees are being recognized and rewarded underscore and reinforce the expectations.

“Reward and recognition programs need to be tangible, fact-based and real,” says Richard Weissman, the company’s co-founder, chairman and CEO. “Fundamentally, that means communicating to an executive or employee exactly how they performed well and why they are being recognized and rewarded. If a goal of these programs is to incentivize repeat great performances, the culture can only truly develop and move forward when people know why they are being rewarded.”

How people are recognized and rewarded also factors into an incentive program’s success. At Oklahoma City, Oklahoma-based American Fidelity Assurance Company, travel-based incentives have proven an effective talent strategy, says Brett Barrowman, vice president, conferences, meetings and business travel services for the family-run company, which specializes in insurance and benefits solutions for the auto, education, municipality and healthcare industries.

“Most of our ‘reward recognition’ programs at American Fidelity are based on the incentive of creating unique experiences and memories through travel,” he says. “This approach works on two fronts, both in our recruiting conversation and for keeping the great people we hire. In our competitive market, retention is a primary corporate goal, and when you reward people, you retain them.”

American Fidelity, which employs 1,400 and has been recognized as one of Fortune’s annual “100 Best Companies to Work For,” is not alone in that regard. According to research from the Chicago-based SITE (Society for Incentive Travel Excellence) International Foundation, incentive travel programs, especially when tied to specific goals and results, are proven to “increase loyalty” and “a sense of belonging” among employees and teams. Furthermore, it’s a strategic option that corporate leaders believe in, with other SITE research finding that 76 percent of decision-makers and buyers in the incentive travel process are in the C-Suite, including the CEO, COO and CFO.

“Effectively recognizing and rewarding people means not only aligning the given incentivization and motivation program to corporate goals, but also with what most resonates with the employee,” notes Barrowman, whose company is a member of SITE’s global network. “In our case, it’s about creating exceptional travel experiences that they could not otherwise access or afford. Plus, we arrange and handle all logistics and expenses from start to finish, eliminating all the hassles and providing the employee, often traveling with his or her family, to freely enjoy the experience and create the memories.”

Barrowman urges CEOs considering travel rewards as an incentive to think about their employee demographics and “what hits their hot button when it comes to travel. Boomers are likelier to prefer top-flight destinations and first-class amenities, including the carrier, hotel and attractions, while millennials, as we increasingly see, prioritize just the destination. For them, a Eurail pass and the freedom to explore are motivation and reward enough.”


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