Let’s talk incentives.
At school, grades and the promise of good job placement and a thriving career act as the principle reason to learn and perform well. In the business world, performance reviews and promotions take their place, but sometimes learning leaders look to other methods to engage employees in learning, from distributing bragging rights via digital badging to giving an iPad to the highest scorer in a gamification program.
Here in the journalism business, some of us get hit with elaborate, sometimes generous, come-ons. Critics get free tickets to concerts and movie previews. I’ve gone to events to get more information and faced gourmet buffets and all the coffee I could (but shouldn’t) drink. It’s against our ethics as unbiased reporters to take bribes to cover a story, but as the saying goes, “When in Rome.”
And then we get some wacky ones. One editor said he received a DVD and bag of M&Ms from a vendor hyping its product. I’ve gotten two copies of the same book, five weeks apart. Another associate editor got a tiny bale of hay accompanied by a plastic needle in an idiom-based public relations stunt inviting her to an event next week.
Can the literal needle in the haystack be called an incentive? Probably not, but it certainly caught our attention — in the wrong way. This tiny cube of hay came overnighted in a package that cost more than $30 to send and was followed with an email checking to make sure she got it. It was a cute idea, but it came off as desperate, especially because the event is in San Francisco less than a week after she received the box.
Learning leaders should beware of how the incentives they offer make them look. Giving out unrelated prizes or clichéd physical objects says, “Hey, take this e-learning course on Skill X because there’s a pizza lunch on the other side, not because it’ll help you do your job.” People generally want to get better at what they do, so explaining the reason for the learning might be enough to get employees interested.
That’s a little different when it comes to dryer topics like compliance training, but as Chief Learning Officer’s July case study on Allstate’s privacy protection gamification program showed, delivery is sometimes an incentive enough. If gamification isn’t in your wheelhouse, however, consider taking a (lettuce) leaf from the food industry and relying on your clients as motivators.
The Harvard Business Review covered a study this week that showed chefs who can see their customers cook better. Customer satisfaction increased 10 percent when the cooks could see the customers, even though the customers couldn’t see the cooks. When both groups could see each other, service was 13.2 percent faster and satisfaction was 17.3 percent higher.
The bottom line(cook) of the study was that seeing the people being served is one of the best ways to ensure quality and focus.This could work the same way in other industries. Chefs had someone to cook for, not just an order shouted at them, which gave them purpose. Meanwhile, customers were aware of the work put into their meal and were more appreciative. If learning leaders show their employees how learning improves a customer’s experience, that could be the greatest incentive of all.
Photo of an open kitchen in Caprice courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.