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Recently, right before I was about to deliver a motivational speech at a sales conference, the Director of Sales took the stage and began talking about the importance of teamwork and how all the reps needed to work more effectively together. At the conclusion of his presentation, he turned to a large flip chart and turned the front page over.

On this large chart was a picture of a race track and a bunch of horses. In place of the horses heads were pictures of the sales reps faces. Each horse was at different points on the track. The Director of Sales then talked about the race that all the sales reps are in to hit a specific goal and where each one was standing in the race – and who was closest to winning the prize.

I about fell off my chair! Is this the same guy who just a moment ago was talking about teamwork? Well, any thoughts about teamwork flew out the proverbial door.

Incentive programs, whether they are for a sales team or any group within your company, can either be productive or counter-productive. In my opinion, the race horse idea is definitely counter productive and is a good example of a close-ended program. A close-ended program has a specific number of winners and will leave the rest feeling demoralized. Many will give up or not even start the program, because they don’t feel that they could win.

An open-ended program rewards everyone who reaches the goal and everyone else who didn’t. Here is how to set-up an open-ended incentive program. I call it the 6 D’s:

1) Define the goal. What do you want to accomplish? (Reduce absenteeism, improve safety, heighten customer service?) Don’t make the goal to complicated and eliminate as many obstacles to success as possible.

2) Decide if the program should be set-up for individuals or groups. Groups always work seem to work better; however, it depends on what the goal is and how many people will be participating

3) Determine the prize. Will it be cash, gifts, or how about a company wide event where all can attend and have fun and the winners receive something nice, but not “over the top?”

4) Develop a system of measurement. How will you measure any improvement? Make sure that everyone who is participating knows the rules ahead of time and that all agree the goal and the system of measurement is realistic. Allowing for participation in the overall decision process is not only effective for morale, but also insures that everyone is in agreement, before the program begins, that the goal is a valuable one, the rules are fair, and the prize is worthwhile.

5) Declare a start date. Promote the program a week or two before the actual start date and get people excited about participating. This also gives participants time to develop ideas and strategies.

6) Dedicate your time to help everyone. Get other leaders at your company involved and have them provide encouragement to all and keep everyone motivated. If all will be rewarded and the prizes are for the actual winners are not to outrageous, then everyone will have fun and know that no matter who actually wins, the goal will be reached, and that you, as well as other who are “higher up the ladder,” have noticed what everyone has accomplished – and that you and “the higher-ups” are grateful for their hard work and dedication to achieving the goal.

By following the 6 D’s, you will create and open-ended incentive program that will not only allow you to achieve an important goal, but also increase morale, let employees have some fun while they work, and leave the racing to the “real” horses.

Bob Garner is the author of “Masters of Motivation” which has been called a “must read” by business leaders. The creator of a number of CDs that have empowered thousands, Bob writes for numerous business magazines and speaks extensively worldwide on motivation, sales, and success. Sign up now for his free monthly newsletter called “Personal Success” at



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This Financial Services article was written by Bob Garner on 8/19/2005

Recently, right before I was about to deliver a motivational speech at a sales conference, the Director of Sales took the stage and began talking about the importance of teamwork and how all the reps