Training Incentives

Incentives in training pay off. That is the reality for organisations that may be reluctant to invest in an online training system because there is a healthy scepticism about staff buy-in.

Researchers going back to World War 2 (see previous article, “Wartime Training Lessons”) found that effective training relies on learner incentives.

Incentives can come in many forms. One company in the news business, for example, offered free Starbucks Coffee gift cards to employees who wrote the best lead for the week. The vote was among peers who chose between five leads selected by the staff and the executive producer.

No matter what you think of Starbucks coffee, newsrooms run on coffee, so the prize had some resonance with the staff. It was something to strive for and there was an element of fun.

The same can be said for any type of reward system used to encourage training. The question is: How do you determine what will work?

The simple answer to that question is:  What do people want? You aren’t talking a million dollar a year pay rise, mind you. The reward must be proportional and immediate. Something like an extra day off for the highest score on a training module taken within four weeks. It is an immediate and clear reward and doesn’t cost the company an arm and a leg.

If the employee has to put considerable effort into the training, then the reward must reflect that effort. Many companies offer travel, weekends away, dinners for two at a nice restaurant. The fact is companies spend billions in cash, travel and merchandise incentives ever year and it pays off.

On-the-job performance can increase dramatically, especially when applied to training.

However, when implementing these reward systems, companies need to be mindful of what might be called the Charles Dickens Effect. One telecommunications giant offered its code writers incentives to produce lines of code—what they received were unnecessarily long lines of programming instead of effective solutions.

A major league sporting team tried to get its star player to stop making mistakes with a negative incentive that cost the player money each time the mistake was committed. Not a good idea. The player stopped trying to take necessary on- field risks to win.

To summarise, a properly designed learner incentive program must be:

  1. Achievable
  2. Offer immediate rewards
  3. Proportional to effort
  4. Something trainee wants

Some organisations make the mistake of thinking that a sports cap embroidered with the company logo or a pocket torch will do the trick. They’ll end up in the junk drawer, guaranteed.