Has the incentives industry limited itself by focusing primarily on programs for sales people? A study by the Incentives Research Foundation (IRF), which shows the potential benefits of motivation programs for a broad range of employees, suggests that it has.

A new white paper issued by IRF, Critical Findings for Recognition Travel Programs, summarizes the findings of a case study of a company with a long-established recognition travel program for employees who are not sales people. The company featured in the case study uses a nomination-based framework to identify and recognize employees who are responsible for driving business success in ways other than reaching sales quotas.

Employees were recognized in such areas as support of new product introductions, quality of delivery, customer dedication, new revenue growth, idea-sharing, community citizenship, cost savings and creative solutions. The manner in which employees went about their work was considered as well.

Based on comprehensive interviews and surveys of stakeholders within the company, the study found that even though the program was designed to reward only 2 percent or 3 percent of the non-sales employees, nearly half of the potential winners said they were motivated by it to improve their work performances.

Jeff Broudy, chairman of the IRF Board of Trustees and executive vice president of United Incentives, is among those who believe the findings indicate that there is "huge untapped potential" among non-sales incentives that the industry should take note of. He believes the changing nature of the workforce has made it crucial for organizations to incentivize a wider range of employees.

"We've moved into a society that has a creative work class who are not in sales but who are also responsible for driving the success of an organization," he says. "There's a lot of opportunity to provide reinforcement and recognition for these people, many of whom work from home or in different time zones around the world and really need the networking benefits that incentives provide."

Broudy also believes that incentives encompassing all employees particularly serve the needs of "millennials," the new generation now joining the ranks of many companies in sales and non-sales positions alike.

"This is a generation that was brought up with and is keenly attuned to peer and public recognition," he says. "They get out into the workforce and it all goes away."

The findings in the IRF study outlined six different considerations crucial for organizations interested in designing a nomination-based travel award program recognizing non-sales employees.


  • Align the Program with Company Culture: The company in the case study used a "well-defined and carefully communicated rewards program to define and reinforce the behavioral traits reflecting its spirit, personality and internal brand in the context of relevant business outcomes."
  • The Program Needs Management Support: The company realized that senior-level leadership and participation was essential to both the program's internal awareness and acceptance.
  • Clarify the Nominations Early and Often: Including all employees as potential nominees is crucial for generating excitement. Enterprise-wide eligibility helps to uncover individuals and/or teams worthy of acknowledgement. Also important is a streamlined nomination process easy for all employees to follow.
  • The Evaluation and Selection Process Must be Transparent: When relying upon a nomination-based approach misconceptions can arise if the entire process is not fully understood and transparent. Key considerations include: who to involve in the evaluation/selection of winners; what criteria will be used in determining who wins; and to what extent the organization will share details about the process.
  • Measurement Challenges: Tracking meaningful financial measures and gauging the ROI of a nomination-based travel program can be a nuanced exercise. Organizations should include evidence of an anecdotal nature along with non-financial metrics. Increases in employee morale, engagement, job satisfaction, retention and other ancillary measures should be considered.
  • Promote the Program: Building a campaign in support of incentives is a good way to keep the message fresh, contemporary and relevant. One best practice involves leveraging the story behind each nomination. All submissions present an opportunity to develop and distribute updates that recognize an individual or a team, tells their stories and illustrates the admired behavior.