Incentive programs are a great concept. Give employees something to work for, then watch their productivity soar! If only it were that simple. While many incentive programs are successful, many others fall short of their goal. The question, then, is what separates the two. What makes an incentive program succeed? We’ve found seven traits of incentive programs that actually work—developing these traits are crucial if you want to succeed.


Every incentive program must have a clearly-defined vision. There are many different reasons to implement an incentive program. Many companies hope to increase productivity by a certain percentage, or reach a specific sales goal. Other business look to increase employee loyalty or reduce employee turn-over. Whatever it is, you must establish your vision before you can choose the right incentive program. The details of your program, the rewards you choose, and the requirements for winning will all be shaped by your end goal.


In order for employees to be motivated they must feel that their goal is attainable. Why would anyone try to win if they feel they don’t have a chance? To use an example outside of the business world, consider a student trying to improve their GPA. If they’re sitting at a solid 2.5 with two weeks left in their semester it won’t do much good to try incentivizing a 4.0. They simply won’t be able to attain a GPA of 4.0, and the unattainability of the goal will be counterproductive. They will be discouraged rather than motivated. Similarly, an unattainable goal in incentive programs will only create frustration and discouragement. Employees need to feel that hard work could pay off.  Select goals that are realistic enough to attain, but hard enough to make someone work to get them.


Confusion is always an enemy of success. An incentive program is bound to fail if participants don’t understand the reward or requirements. A hazy, undefined goal won’t motivate anyone. Every employee needs to know exactly what they have to do to be eligible for participation. They must also have a clear vision of what the reward is and when they’ll receive it. The need for clarity also makes consistency important: don’t go changing up the requirements or rewards halfway through the year!  And it’s not just employees who are eligible that need clarity either.  Management from senior level through to department managers need be able to articulate clearly what the program is as well as how their team is progressing toward that goal to keep motivation high.

Work-Based Reward

The flipside of an attainable goal is that the goal must also be based on skill and hard work. Incentive programs do not give out participation trophies! On the contrary, they encourage and reward hard work. Your reward must be one that will be received only by those who put in sufficient time and effort. Similarly, there should not be an element based on luck. Random drawings, for example, do not encourage hard work. If someone knows they can win whether or not they try their best, may not feel the need to work very hard. The best incentive programs must be earned through hard work.

Trackable Progress

Successful incentive programs keep participants motivated every step of the way. One important way of maintaining that motivation is by ensuring participants can track their progress. Employees should be able to see where they’re at in the race, keep an eye on how close they are to the goal. This way they’ll be encouraged by any progress and driven to step it up if they’re falling behind.


While a reward incentive is generally a bigger prize such as travel to a new or interesting destination, small incentives can be baked into the program as a whole.  For example, something such as rewarding a monthly top producer with box seats to a sporting event can also sustain longer term incentive programs.  These micro-incentives help grow momentum, aid in motivation, and encourage healthy competition.


This is a critical element of any successful incentive program: there must be a desirable reward. If participants don’t actually want the reward, good luck getting them to try their best! The best incentive programs are tailored to the wants and needs of the participants. Employee demographics will play into this significantly: a workplace full of Millennials will probably require a different incentive than a workplace of Gen Xers. Employees will give their all if they are working toward something they truly want.


Incentive programs can be a great asset to your workplace. Done well, they can increase productivity, loyalty, and overall morale. If you develop these seven traits of successful incentive programs, you’ll be amazed at how effective your program can be.

Want to set up a travel incentive program that will help you achieve your goals?  Contact Gavel International to learn more about our travel incentive and meeting programs.