The world of incentives is changing. In today's work environment, it's all about flexibility, choice and rewarding performance in a more personalized way.

Traditional company-selected merchandise and points-based catalogue programs are no longer enough to motivate today's employees who want more options when being rewarded for their efforts. As a result, many organizations are starting to give employees the ability to choose the rewards they want on their own terms in the form of prepaid corporate incentive cards. Not only are these cards among the fastest growing incentive offerings across Canada, they also offer flexibility and ease-of-use for both employers and employees.

Emerging trends in incentives

This trend has been confirmed in a May 2010 study released by Berkeley Payment Solutions, entitled Canadian Incentive Trends Outlook for 2010-2011. The results indicate that Canadian business decision-makers are placing a high level of importance on the development and implementation of incentive programs that can be easily and cost-effectively tailored to meet employees' needs. In addition, a strong majority of respondents (86 per cent) felt they gained a competitive edge over the competition with the incentive programs they have implemented.

While it is evident by these survey results that incentives play an extremely important role in business success, how those incentives should be applied has changed. For example, when asked to rank specific incentives according to their value to recipients, respondents ranked prepaid corporate incentive cards first at 74 per cent, followed by retail gift cards (55 per cent), individual travel (50 per cent) and experiential incentives such as luxury travel, sporting events or concerts (42 per cent). Catalogues and merchandise trailed considerably at nine per cent and four per cent respectively.

The survey also indicated that appearances count for a lot. Just over three-quarters (79 per cent) of organizations said they were sensitive to internal and external perception of incentive program extravagance. This in turn has had an impact on the types of incentive programs organizations are now offering and the growing interest in prepaid incentive cards as an alternative to high-profile experiential incentives since they allow awards of any denomination to be distributed in a more discreet fashion.

The benefits of prepaid incentive card rewards

There are a number of benefits that prepaid corporate incentive cards can offer:

Easy-to-implement. They allow organizations to move away from rigid and formalized "pay-for-performance" programs that can take months to establish and maintain. Rather, prepaid corporate incentive cards can be generated on demand for any amount.

Simple to administer. Traditional programs require a significant amount of time and effort to manage, whereas prepaid corporate incentive card programs can be managed by a third party for a nominal fee and be adapted to suit any planned or unexpected need.

Cost effective. They provide a cost-effective way to allocate rewards for a broad range of employee-based initiatives, from sales performance and productivity bonuses, to employee recognition programs.

Strategic thinking is critical for program success

Implementing a successful prepaid corporate incentive card program does require some strategic thinking on the part of Canadian human resources professionals. Simply keeping an inventory of cards to be handed out on a random basis is not an effective way to leverage rewards programs. Rather, incentive programs should be tied to specific, pre-defined business goals and measured according to those parameters.

As part of that, it is essential to determine what specific behaviour or performance are expected from different members within an organization and link incentives to those desired behaviors or performance. It is also important to note that these reward programs can be applied to a wide range of activities across an organization, from rewarding training and sales achievements, to achieving finance objectives, completing cost-saving initiatives, successfully launching products, and generating new ideas.

Rewards should also be distributed in a regular and timely way in order to maintain momentum and employee motivation. This helps to keep incentives top of mind with employees, and encourages them to maintain high performance levels. For example, rather than waiting weeks or months as many firms do, businesses can immediately reward someone for achieving key metrics since values can be applied to a prepaid corporate incentive card within 48 hours. This can be especially invaluable during challenging economic times, to retain top performers when a recovery begins, or to boost morale during an especially busy work period.

Also, rewards programs aren't always about grand gestures or one-time experiential events that do little to reward meaningful contributions on a daily basis. Small incentives can frequently be used as a means to thank an employee for delivering a positive customer experience, doing an outstanding job, putting extra effort into a project, or helping out a co-worker.

Whatever the motivation or the value of the reward, prepaid corporate incentive cards provide an easy-to-implement, simple to administer, and cost-effective way to manage and deliver incentives to employees. With rewards programs that can be easily managed and scaled according to business needs and budgets, Canadian executives can ensure that employees receive the credit they deserve in the form they want all while delivering stronger business results.

David Eason is the CEO of Berkeley Payment Solutions

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