Incentive and Rewards Program Training

As the old saying goes: “Good help is hard to find.” But when we say, “good help,” what exactly are we talking about? As it turns out, there are a couple of things that make for an ideal employee or channel partner.

First, a good employee or channel partner understands your brand —and identifies with it. As a member of your organization, this person considers themselves to be a “part of the team” and they believe in your brand—in their brand. These kinds of employees are extremely valuable. They’re proud to let people know just how great your brand really is. In addition to serving as walking, talking advertisements for your company, they’ll bend over backwards to keep things on track with a project they’re involved in.

Next, a good employee is educated, and that’s not just holding a degree from college or some sort of vocational training that they obtained prior to starting work with you (although this kind of education can obviously be important, too). We mean that they’ve been educated in such a way as to maximize their utility for your company.

The specifics of this sort of education will look different for every organization, and sometimes even for every department within a larger organization. You might need to provide all of your employees with a base level of “brand identification education” in alignment with the first point above. In addition to that, though, specialized education that’s particular to an individual department can go a long way. With the right training, an employee’s productivity can go through the roof. Without that training, they may never reach their full potential.

Lastly, a good employee is motivated. They’re excited to come to work because they know that their performance equals actual reward. Rather than simply clocking in, putting in their hours, being disengaged, clocking out, and heading home with a sigh of relief, a good employee operates at maximum capacity. And they’re excited to be there, too, as each day at work presents a new opportunity.

The first two items—brand identification and education—can be achieved through proper training. The last item comes as a result of proper incentives. Incentives can be tied to training to maximize employee brand identification, education, and motivation simultaneously.

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Drinking the Kool-Aid

In our experience working with larger organizations, there’s typically one thing that comes up as both high on their priority list of things to achieve and also difficult to pull off: Getting their employees and channel partners to identify with their brand. 

The larger a company is, the more difficult it becomes for an employee to self-identify with it. Think about it this way: If you’re a sole proprietor with zero employees, identifying with your brand is easy. Literally, you’re it. Not only are you the sole representative of your brand, you’re also highly invested in its success. The same goes for a small business run as a partnership.

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The next step away from this sort of sole proprietorship model for ease in brand identification is an early stage startup. An employee who comes aboard leading up to or immediately following the early funding stage probably identifies with the brand. There are a couple of reasons for this.

On the one hand, this engagement could very well be a chicken-and-egg scenario. Someone may be particularly interested in a startup’s business model, idea, or product, and came on board for that reason. If so, they’re identifying with the brand for personal reasons. And many early-stage startup employees tend to wear multiple hats and take ownership of more than one aspect of the company. They begin to see it as “theirs” as much as it is anyone else’s. Perhaps most importantly, there’s the reward factor. Early-stage startup employees often receive an equity incentive. And as we’ve seen throughout this article , incentives are the key to employee performance.

Once an organization gets to be quite large with a number of entry level employees, brand identification becomes diluted. The less invested an employee is in a company’s success, the less likely they are to become a brand ambassador. And, similarly, an employee who stands to gain the least from a company’s successes is also the least likely to identify with that brand.

So, how do you get your employees to drink the proverbial Kool-Aid? According to a study by Rico Piehler, Chair of Innovative Brand Management at the University of Bremen, Germany, both effective internal brand management (IBM) and employee brand citizenship behavior (BCB) are to some degree a function of how well an employee understands a brand. This makes sense, of course. An employee who doesn’t really understand what their company is all about will have a hard time identifying with it or articulating that identification to others.

What does this mean for your organization? Simply put, education is an important part of getting your employees to identify with your brand. The more your employees understand about your company, the more likely they are to identify with it. Also throw the proper incentives into the mix—that is, give your employees a real reason to care—and you’ll be well on your way to a workforce of brand ambassadors.

Employee Education

When we talk about employee education, we’re actually referring to a few different things simultaneously:

  1. Education to indoctrinate your employees and turn them into effective brand ambassadors.

  2. Education that improves your employee’s overall knowledge and/or specific skills to increase productivity and performance.

  3. Education to introduce your employees to an incentive program and ensure the maximum efficacy of that program.

Here, we’ll be talking about item #2 on that list. But keep the others in mind, as they’re all connected.

Just how important is this task-based knowledge and skill-specific education for employees? As it turns out, it may be a lot more valuable than you think. Let’s look at some numbers.

First, it’s worth pointing out just how little training most employees receive. At companies with under 100 employees, the average manager receives only 12 minutes of training every 6 months. For companies with more than 100 employees, that number drops to a mere 6 minutes of training per 6 months. Meanwhile, employees clearly want more training than they receive. One study found that as many as 74% of workers feel they could be performing better, but can’t reach their full potential due to a lack of on-the-job training opportunities.

Granted, training employees takes time and resources. But a wealth of data points to just how effective proper training can be in terms of increasing revenue. The Association for Talent Development (ATD) found that companies offering genuine training opportunities can offer 218% higher income per employee, while simultaneously achieving a 24% higher profit margin than companies that opt to spend less on training. Why such a large difference? It all comes down to better productivity. According to another study, the National Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce found that spending on employee education was significantly more effective in increasing productivity than other forms of investment. For example, a 10% spending increase in employee education resulted in an 8.6% increase in productivity, whereas the same spending increase on new (and seemingly more efficient) equipment only resulted in a corresponding 3.4% improvement in productivity.

The bottom line, then, is that proper training for your employees will increase your profit margins, your productivity, and even your employee retention rates. After all, employees who are earning more (per the first study) and who are able to perform their jobs skillfully and confidently are much less likely to leave for another position elsewhere. In fact, one Canadian study suggests that 40% of employees who fail to receive proper training end up leaving their job within the first year.

The question is, how do you get employees to actually participate in training? You may be able to force certain forms of training onto your employees as a condition of employment. This is how many employers approach it, in fact. If a new hire isn’t willing to go through your organization’s training program, then they won’t be offered a position.

In terms of the carrot versus the stick, though, this can quickly devolve into a “stick scenario.” Employees can feel bullied into completing a program they’re not interested in. Particularly if you attempt to combine skills-based education with the kind of brand ambassador indoctrination discussed above, employees can quickly begin to tune out and even resent the experience. This can  result in wasted educational resources as employees fail to get anything out of the educational process, and it can actually have the unintended consequence of reducing productivity and profitability, as employee performance dips following a boring, unengaging, and (in their minds) irrelevant series of educational sessions.

What you need is the proper carrot. Simply put, incentives are the key to effective employee training.

Incentives and Employee Training

When employees have a reason to participate in training, they’ll be much more likely to retain and apply what they’re learning. We all know how important attitude can be when it comes to taking full advantage of something, and nowhere is this truer than with employee education.

At the same time, though, incentive programs are only as effective as they are properly implemented. It’s important, therefore, to ensure that your employees fully understand and can actively participate in whatever incentive program you choose to use as a means of increasing employee training buy-in. This is where incentives, employee education, and brand identification all come together. With the right approach, you can actually combine all three into one unified, seamless experience for your workforce.

Rather than attempting to indoctrinate your employees, train them in specific on-the-job skills, and bring them up to speed on how your new incentive program works…why not do all of these things at once?

Think of how effective this can be. As you’re attempting to turn employees into brand ambassadors, they’re constantly being reminded of the rewards-based incentives that await them. Meanwhile, you let them know about all of the other educational opportunities available to them when it comes to skills-specific training—all of which are also incentivized through further rewards. It’s a win-win scenario for both you and your employees.

One of the best things about this sort of training combination is that you can deliver all (or most) of it online. While bringing employees into a classroom setting can present logistical challenges and added costs, offering an online training option to your employees can both reduce overhead expenses and increase the likelihood of compliance. Rather than forcing your employees to sit through a training session on a given day and time, they’re given the freedom to go through training on their own schedule. More carrot, less stick.

If you’re using an online rewards-based incentive platform or portal, you can provide this training directly through that same platform. This is a perfect environment for both brand indoctrination and incentive program education. Your employees will be using a branded interface, and they’ll be working within the same platform that they’ll later use to redeem their rewards. This gives them a chance to familiarize themselves with the platform, which means they’ll be even more likely to use it in the future and participate actively in your organization’s employee rewards program.

This is also the perfect opportunity to train your employees on your incentive program. While they’re using the platform to complete some other form of education—whether it be introductory information to expose new employees to your brand, or a detailed and technical training for more senior employees—you’ll have the chance to explain how your incentive program works. Your employees will be motivated to absorb this information, as they’ll be eager to cash in on the rewards they’ve earned by completing their training. This kind of organized and thorough introduction to your incentive program will lead to better employee utilization of the platform and higher rates of program participation in the long run.

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