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IRR Town Hall Industry Meeting: Is it Time for a 'Got People' Campaign?

There are very few CEOs who have not experienced the wonders of a well-designed retreat in a compelling destination with their significant others and/or unique opportunities to savor the culture or who have not received special memorable gifts for their accomplishments. Yet surprisingly few recognize the same impact these experiences can have on all their stakeholders when part of properly designed, transparent systems aligned with organizational purpose and goals. 
The purpose of this live and recorded video hosted by the Enterprise Engagement Alliance and its Brand Media Coalition is to discuss the general level of awareness and brand of the IRR (Incentive, Rewards, Recognition) field and what if anything can be done to enhance it.  
Five professionals from management, marketing, human capital, human resources, and compensation kicked off the program agreeing that while they were aware of the tactics of  incentives, rewards, and recognition, they were not aware of the existence of a formal field with expert practitioners who can provide support services and insights. All agreed an outreach effort would be beneficial. 
Similarly, seven executives representing different parts of the IRR field agreed that the industry’s awareness and brand equity are low, that there’s a significant benefit to a “Got People” campaign, but the effort would face many hurdles, including: finding a simple, common message; addressing the fragmentation of the field; getting the mainstream media to share the story; sharing the considerable research and effective practices most companies ignore; igniting the interest of academics, etc. 
They all agree that the industry needs to find new distribution outlets, including promotional distributors, who have proven themselves able to open doors but who need additional training and support on how to best identify and help customers. 

Other Key Findings 

When executives themselves experience properly designed motivational events or other recognition programs with tangible and non-tangible rewards, they usually accept the benefits with little more substantiation required, points out Sandra Daniel, Founder and CEO of Fire Light Group, a long-standing motivational event and engagement firm in Madison, WI. 
On the other hand, without return-on-investment data or other tangible engagement benefits, the program is quickly under fire when a new CEO or CFO comes onboard, counters Dean Mutter, Vice President of Sales for Luxe Incentives, Milwaukee, and formerly in charge of incentive programs for leading communications firms.
Observes Meryl Moss, Founder and CEO, Meryl Moss Media and Marketing, a long-standing New York City-based publicity, media and marketing agency, “There is no clear message for what this industry stands for, but the timing right. Most companies want to engage their people. The key is to have a campaign that says it in one line so everybody knows what this is. Messaging must be simple, quick.”
Underlines Stephen Simmons, Senior Director, of Association of National Advertisers, “We have 1,000 client companies, 50,000 brands, who have over $400 billion advertising marketing spend. I had no idea this field existed as a formal discipline and that it was big as it is. I did a key word search on incentives in our library. I found only two articles on incentives and one really focused on executive compensation. This is a field unknown to me and something the ANA has not addressed, yet it fits into key areas we’re focusing on, including brand purpose, talent and leadership, and DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion.)
Darwin Hanson, founder and CEO of TM Evolution, a Brainerd, MN, human capital and analytics firm, says despite passing by IRR companies at trade shows, “I didn’t know there was a formal industry. When you go into compensation shows you can see there are vendors, but most clients focus on base, bonus, and equity. They fail to see that when properly aligned with rewards and recognition they can get better results, let alone that there’s an industry with experts and programs. It isn’t something people ask for.”

The Field Is Not Addressed by Academics

Despite his Harvard University undergraduate training and multiple positions in HR, and currently as Global Head of People Analytics and Insights for Udemy, Tyrone Smith Jr. says he is aware of the tactics and that there are vendors in the field, but not that there is a formal field with experienced practitioners. “When you think about employee experience and how that might fuel motivation and innovation, that’s critical and needs to be integrated in an organization.” He says he had courses on behavioral analytics and related subjects, but he never heard about the IRR field at Harvard where he attended undergraduate school nor at the university’s executive education program he attended.
He adds, “Absolutely, there is a strong correlation with employee engagement to retain company culture and a lot of my peers in human capital are seeing this theme in their data. There is more emphasis on engagement, flexibility, autonomy, which are critical to foster culture, loyalty, boost performance, and retention. I read in a recent survey in Forbes that 87% of the people who said they felt a sense of inclusion in the organization had experienced recognition, but 23% said they were never recognized.” He says there is no doubt that these systems can support culture, inclusion, and better people strategies and programs, with the results measured in higher productivity, quality, loyalty, willingness to refer, and more.
Allan Schweyer, Chief Academic Advisor to The Incentive Research Foundation, and a Senior Research Consultant for the Center for Human Capital Innovation joins the chorus of others who had never heard of the industry until he was introduced to it through the Enterprise Engagement Alliance, for which he serves as a curriculum advisor. He believes that much of the work in human capital and motivation focuses on intrinsic rewards when in fact they work hand in hand with extrinsic rewards when the processes are effectively managed. “There is now a body of research that shows that extrinsic rewards can drive intrinsic rewards. It’s quite apparent when you think of gifting in our personal lives.” He points out that there’s a big difference between giving someone $100 in cash for a holiday gift than selecting something that reflects a little extra thought and appreciation. ”Its disappointing that we haven’t been able to get our message across to compensation experts. We need to work on this. Maybe we need to get our message out to the mainstream media.” 

The Do-it-Yourself Effect 

Most programs are designed by do-it-yourselfers, observes Paul Hebert, who has had decades of experience at incentive and related companies in program design and implementation, and was one of the industry’s first bloggers. “Probably 90% people design their own programs, and it’s probably because they were a salesperson, went to Hawaii, loved it, so that’s what they’re going to do when they get into the job. It’s a function of not having access to the information we are talking about today. The field has a messy story. What’s the audience? At the end of the day, we don’t sell one thing. We sell many solutions for many audiences. Does anyone really know what a perfect program looks like?” 
He concludes, “A lot of companies do these programs because their competitors are doing them. A lot of these program are reactive.” 
The market does need to be educated on the benefits this brings, agrees Lincoln Smith, Chief of Strategy for HMI Performance Incentives. “The Incentive Research Foundation is doing a fabulous job. The more science, content, that the market can consume, all ships will rise. The question is what can we do to help support the IRF to get that information to business executives?” He believes it’s important to get to the academic community but believes that will present a serious challenge. 
Smith agrees that engagement return on investment is important but that it shouldn’t be measured only in terms of financial results when there are so many other benefits in terms of inspiration, motivation, loyalty, community, emotional connections, etc.  
Fragmentation is the industry’s big problem, observes Mike May, President of Brightspot, a Dallas-based meetings and incentive firm. “I knew there were incentive trips but I didn’t know there was an industry,” before he was introduced it to it mid-way in his career. The challenge he says is that both the industry and the audience is highly fragmented so it’s difficult to agree on a common message and strategy. “I don’t know if it’s impossible, but it’s a tall hill to climb.” He agrees the timing is good to give it a try. “We know that for CEO’s a big priority is talent retention, engagement, team-building. There is an opportunity. People are looking for solutions.” 
Covid really has made a difference on the thinking of management, asserts Corey Wolfe, National Sales Director for Links Unlimited, a leading Cincinnati-based master fulfillment company for leading brands focused on the corporate market. “The pandemic really did change things. Companies now understand the need to engage people and that it goes beyond words, I’ve never seen anything like this since I have been in the industry.” He says his company supports the incentive, recognition, and promotional companies with the expertise, kitting, customization, personalization, and logistics issues and needs of his reseller partners, and that he is certain it would help the business of Links Unlimited if more companies knew about the IRR field.
To Jeff Dalton, founder of Paramax, perhaps the first web-based engagement technology that is still in business, this is an old story. That is why for companies like his, “It has always been about resellers. They are our gateway into the market. There will be 80 exhibitors in our space at the upcoming SHRM show (Society of Human Resources Management), which shows me that there is a certain group of companies that are in the know.” But the rest, the small- to medium-size business are “harder to get into than ever.” He believes promotional distributors are the key. “They are entrenched, but with them, it’s all about the award. There is no serious program design. Their clients are starting by adding annual retention rewards levels in their service rewards programs, and one client I saw had the audacity to offer a $5 award for five years of service. The promotional products person remains our best conduit. They don’t need to be experts; they need to do what they do best. There are not enough of them who are focused on this, and we have not done enough to educate them. There simply aren’t enough companies out there like HMI Performance Incentives or Fire Light Group to reach the market.” 
In conclusion, host Bruce Bolger points out that the latest Incentive Federation studies find that this is a $90 billion business and that 84% of companies use non-cash rewards. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 220,000 companies with sales of over $10 million, and yet there are probably no more than 80 incentive and recognition companies and perhaps several dozen engagement technology offerings. In contrast, there are about 8,000 marketing agencies and tens of thousands of CRM (customer relationship management) implementers when one considers the numbers of people selling Salesforce and Hubspot alone. 
Panelist Contact Information
Outside Expert Perspective
Meryl Moss, Meryl Moss Media Group
Tyrone Smith, Udemy
Steven Simmons, Association of National Advertisers
Allan Schweyer, Chief Academic Advisor, Incentive Research Foundation, Senior Executive Consultant, Center for Human Capital Innovation
Darwin Hanson, CEO, Founder, TMEvolution
Industry Management Perspective
Sandra Daniel, Fire Light Group
Dean Mutter, Luxe Incentives
Lincoln Smith, HMI Performance Incentives
Mike May, Bright Spot Incentives and Events
Paul Hebert, Program Design Expert, Industry Blogger 
Corey Wolfe, Director of Sales, Links Unlimited 
Jeff Dalton, Paramax

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Brand Media and Enterprise Engagement 

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Resources: The Brand Media Coalition, the only guide to the story-telling power of brands and where to source them for business, event, promotional gifting, and rewards and recognition. Enterprise Engagement Solution Provider Directory. The only directory of engagement solution providers covering all types of agencies and tactics as well as insights on how to select them.
Communities: The  Enterprise Engagement Alliance and Advocate and the  Brand Media Coalition free resource centers offering access to the latest research, news, and case studies; discounts, promotions, referrals, and commissions, when appropriate to third-party solution providers from participating coalition solution provider members.
Training and Certification
Enterprise Engagement Alliance Education: Certified Engagement Practitioner; Advanced Engaged Practitioner, and Certified Engagement Solution Provider learning and certification programs on how to implement Stakeholder Capitalism principles at the tactical level. 
International Center for Enterprise Engagement: The only training and certification program for ISO 30414 human capital reporting and ISO 10018 quality people management certification. 
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The EEA offers a complimentary course syllabus for educators.
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This is the definitive implementation guide to Stakeholder Capitalism, written specifically to provide CEOs and their leadership teams a concise overview of the framework, economics, and implementation process of a CEO-led strategic and systematic approach to achieving success through people.  (123 pages, $15.99)
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•  The Engagement Agency at EngagementAgency.net, offering: complete support services for employers, solution providers, and technology firms seeking to profit from formal engagement practices for themselves or their clients, including Brand and Capability audits for solution providers to make sure their products and services are up to date.
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•  Speakers Bureau—Select the right speaker on any aspect of engagement for your next event.
•  Mergers and Acquisitions. The Engagement Agency’s Mergers and Acquisition group is aware of multiple companies seeking to purchase firms in the engagement field. Contact Michael Mazer in confidence if your company is potentially for sale at 303-320-3777.
Enterprise Engagement Benchmark Tools: The Enterprise Engagement Alliance offers three tools to help organizations profit from Engagement. Click here to access the tools.
•  ROI of Engagement Calculator. Use this tool to determine the potential return-on-investment of an engagement strategy. 
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•  Gauge Your Personal Level of Engagement. This survey, donated by Horsepower, enables individuals to gauge their own personal levels of engagement.
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