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When used effectively, incentives and rewards can have a positive impact on employee performance and, by extension, business results. Rewards are the fuel that keeps corporate culture alive and thriving, the spark that ignites focused motivation and the heart connection that keeps employee engagement high.


What’s in a reward?

The word ‘reward’ typically suggests payment in exchange for finding a lost cat or disclosing the whereabouts of a wanted felon. So, it’s interesting to note that the word ‘reward’ originates from the Middle English word rewarden, meaning “to regard” and the Old North French rewarder, “to look at”. Originally, a reward was not about money, but about acknowledgement of the individual. In the discretionary rewards context, it retains that human-focused meaning.


The role of rewards in business

From the friendly thanks of a restaurant voucher (“Your extra effort helped us meet our deadline”) to the bear-hug thank you of a 5-star ski weekend in the Italian Alps (‘Magnificent work winning that client”) a reward is as much about acknowledging (or seeing) the individual and their work, as it is about the actual reward. In a business context, rewards serve two main functions, and are most effective in the context of strategic, long-term initiatives.

Incentive to perform
This type of reward is often used to encourage staff to hit targets or achieve specific performance goals.

Recognition of performance
This reward is generally used to acknowledge good performance and is delivered after the behaviour has been demonstrated.

Reward to change behaviour

The main goal of any reward program is changing behaviour. Whether you want to reduce road accidents in your transport fleet, or build a more cooperative company culture, you basically want to change human behaviour and the way employees work.

So, the first job of your rewards program is to motivate people out of their comfort zones and into a higher level of performance. The second goal is to help make the behaviour change stick over the long-term. So the rewards on offer need to support your brand, strike an emotional chord and engage commitment to the immediate goals of your incentive program (near-term behaviour) and the broader, strategic goals the program is designed to support (the long-term effect).

Attract, engage and retain

Some of the most successful firms in the world (hello, Google) are at the forefront of creating inclusive, innovative, human-focused company culture. And in the competition for top talent, company culture often trumps salary as a deciding factor for candidates. This is particularly, but not exclusively, a Millennial perspective on what matters most in the decision to join a company. It’s not all about the job description. The right rewards support culture by reinforcing the everyday actions that reflect the values, beliefs and attitudes of the organisation.

Hanging on to those top performers is another challenge. Whenever employees leave in search of ‘greener pastures’, they take their wealth of organisational knowledge with them, and often take it off to the competition. Then there’s the high cost of replacing them. Finding, on-boarding, upskilling and getting new recruits fully functional can take months – long, costly months – before the first formal performance review.

You need to offer the right combination of pay, benefits, perks and development opportunities to stay competitive. Add to that an attractive, compelling rewards component and you’ve got a truly differentiated employee value proposition.

Success starts with strategy

The core components of an effective rewards strategy are much the same as any other business initiative. Start with clear goals and objectives, monitor performance, adjust course as necessary and measure results.   

GET Rewards has published some useful advice on creating an employee recognition and rewards strategy. In fact, we’ve written a whole book about it. Here’s an excerpt. 

Optimising your reward strategy

Building a compelling reward strategy

There are many ways to approach reward strategy development, but in our experience, strategies that encompass the following principles prove to be more effective.

Principle #1 – Purpose sets the course for success

We can’t emphasise it enough. A strategy developed around a clearly articulated, creative purpose will out-perform a tired, textbook version every time. What do we mean by creative, exactly?

Look at the following purpose statement developed for a medical aid reward program, and see how it is geared for high-involvement, brand-aligned action:

Discovery Vitality Rewards
Get healthy. Get rewarded. Get Vitality.
Compelling? Tick. Powerful? Tick. Purposeful? Tick! Tick! Tick!

Principle #2 – Know who you are rewarding

Again, it seems obvious. But you’d be surprised how many reward strategies emerge without a segmentation model, let alone user journeys and personas.

In the old days, users of rewards were classified into broad categories, such as age, income and location. Today, with unprecedented access to data, and with technology made for a mobile world, strategies can be shaped around specific users and user contexts.

Context – the way rewards are designed for experiential impact – marks the difference between hit-and-miss-style, broad-range rewards, and strategically targeted, perfectly timed and highly personalised reward experiences.

Principle #3 – Selecting the right rewards

It doesn’t matter whether they’re customers, channel partners or employees, people want to feel known and valued by the brands and businesses they’re involved with. So, it stands to reason that a reward mix that is inclusive of individual preference and personal choice, stands a higher chance of authentic connectivity.

A word of advice is to test your rewards and your reward distribution channels as early as possible, and definitely before you scale up. Usability testing keeps your strategy focused on the people who count: your customers, channel partners and/or employees.

Principle #4 – Selecting the right reward supplier

There’s a lot to be said for outsourcing the curation, communication and distribution of your rewards to an expert supplier. For one, it frees you up to focus on your core business.

Secondly, it gives you the assurance that your strategy is optimised for success. Look for a single-source supplier that can offer you a comprehensive range of rewards via a diverse and cost-effective range of channels.

Principle #5 – Identify how your reward program will be assessed

You should approach reward evaluation with an understanding that, while your program may have a specific lifespan, feedback and assessment is a continuous process. As such, it is good practice to keep asking the question, ‘Is our reward strategy still relevant and effective?’ Your mix of quantitative and qualitative measures will depend on the type of program you are running, but what matters more than the mix of measures, is that you source as much business data in your assessment as you can. Also, that your assessment culminates in a cost-benefit analysis.


  • Build your strategy around a compelling and creative purpose.
  • Research your reward users, develop personas and incorporate user journeys.
  • Curate a reward mix that is inclusive of individual preference and personal choice.
  • Consider appointing an external reward partner, who can offer expertise, range and cost-effective delivery.
  • Use as much business data in your program/campaign assessment as you can.

Contact us to find out more about how rewards make a difference to employee performance and business performance.

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