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A paycheck makes your employees come to work, but incentive programs make them want to work. Effective incentive programs not only help staffers do a better job, but also can increase their productivity.

Picking the right incentive takes some work. Carolyn Anderson, manager of Adams Rental & Sales in Trenton, N.J., is typical of most rental operators: “We talked a lot about doing some sort of incentive program, but haven't gotten around to the implementation. We want something that inspires employees toward more productivity as well as more desire to sell the product.”

What incentive programs do the trick? Some rental companies offer employees profit sharing, others a percentage of ownership in the company. Yet others use a combination of cash, contests and creativity to keep employees on their toes, working toward goals that include everything from meeting customer expectations to increasing monthly rental sales.

Choose the Right Incentive

Rent All of Tampa in Tampa, Fla., calls its incentive program The Smiley Face Thing — a board that posts smiles and frowns next to each employee's name. The expressions recognize when employees make an extra effort as well as when they fall short of the mark.

Sales representative Melissa McKenzie explains, “All drivers and helpers are given a list of things entitling them to a smiley face as well as things that will negate that with a frowney face. Everything from emptying the trash to emptying the truck, going that extra mile for a customer, wins a smile. If they miscount or forget something, they earn a frown. We count who has the most smiley faces at the end of the week and reward that person with a gift certificate to the local Sports Shack or Red Lobster or movie theater. At the end of the month, the employee with the most smiles gets to schedule a whole day off with pay.”

McKenzie credits the success of the program to choosing just the right reward: “That day off with pay really means something to them. And they like that the gift certificates we offer are to places that are really popular.”

Say It with Food

Fast Rentals of Pinellas Park, Fla., bases its incentive program on a three-pronged approach of creativity, appreciation and “ego appeal.” Every month that the company exceeds its best prior-year sales goal, management caters a cookout or party in the showroom.

“It's fairly inexpensive to produce,” says owner Gordon Wardell, “but it's become quite a motivator. We started out doing hot dogs and hamburgers, and the parties just keep getting nicer and nicer because the previous record has been harder to break. Last month we enjoyed steak and shrimp. The owners make the meal and serve it, so there's a real sense of recognition and appreciation for everybody's hard work.

“Men love to eat!” Wardell laughs, “and we may have to have lobster for the next party.”

Keep It Creative and Consistent

Incentive programs conducted erratically or abandoned once started won't do much to keep your employees fired up or your bottom line hot. For maximum effectiveness, incentive programs must be consistent.

Los Angeles-based Academy Tent & Canvas created its own holiday program to help motivate workers. Explains company founder and president Tom Shapiro, “Because this is such a strenuous business, we created our own schedule of holidays throughout the year to build camaraderie. We want this to be a fun, happy place to work, and these holidays certainly stimulate everybody's creative juices.”

Office administrative assistants plan one holiday monthly, ranging from Hat Day (everybody dresses up in his or her best, funniest or craziest chapeau) to Jersey Day (logo shirts from favorite sports teams are the dress code) to ‘50s Day to Secret Santa Day (when everybody gets a surprise gift). There is usually a potluck lunch and gifts for the most creative hat or costume. Shapiro recalls, “We once had a sales manager make a call on an area movie studio dressed in a clown costume — she made the sale! You should see the expression on customers' faces when they visit us on one of our special holidays.”

Little Things Mean a Lot

“We used to have a lot of problems getting employees to sign up for take-down after a function,” notes Mark Dartnell, president of Taylor Rental Center in Concord, N.H. “Then we started treating those who signed up to a really nice dinner out, and we're not talking McDonald's. We went from having one to three people signing up to an average now of 10. It's an affordable incentive and gets the job done.”

Paul Arbon, president of U-Rent, headquartered in Camarillo, Calif., notes, “On occasion, we offer a travel incentive — a trip to a trade show — for those employees who have reached a set goal of sales increase. But we've found that cash is still the best motivator.”

Money Keeps Talking

Arbon's comment underscores the fact that although almost every survey has employees insisting that money is not their main motivator, a little extra padding in the paycheck always works some motivation magic.

A cash bonus — ranging from $60 to several hundred dollars — is the carrot dangled in front of employees at B.C. Tent & Awning Co. in Avon, Mass., which offers a monthly bonus based on profitability.

“In whatever month the company is profitable, employees receive checks the following month,” according to John Costa, chief financial officer. “Also, if employees are late or absent, that money comes out of the bonus pot.”

Mike Wright, manager of Arkansas Equipment Rentals in Jonesboro, Ark., agrees. His company hands out cash prizes of $50 to $150 when sales goals are reached; the money “really keeps people on their toes.”

Effective Incentives

When employees are polled, “appreciation” and “rewards/recognition” always top the list of most desired incentives, even ahead of cash! Here are some popular offerings:

  • Personal thank-you notes and memos of commendation that go into an employee's file

  • Time off with pay

  • Gift certificates

  • Employee field trips to local sports events, zoos, theme parks

  • Certificates for personal travel

  • Recognition in front of peers, e.g., employee appreciation banquets or employee-of-the-month luncheons

  • Memorabilia (hats, jackets, shirts) with the company's name and logo

  • Cards acknowledging an employee's birthday or anniversary with the company

  • Movie, sporting event or theater tickets

  • Cash bonuses

RESOURCES: Academy Tent & Canvas, 323/277-8368; Adams Rental & Sales, 609/689-9500; Arkansas Equipment Rentals, 870/935-9260; B.C. Tent & Awning Co., 508/586-0900; Fast Rentals, 727/526-9133; Rent All of Tampa, 813/877-9461; Taylor Rental Center, 603/224-1931; U-Rent, 805/484-7961

For archived articles on incentives and incentive programs click on the following links:

Click on the links below for articles on sites and venues from sister publication Corporate Meetings and Incentives Magazine:

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