Is Your Staff Incentive Plan Working?

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

It may seem counterintuitive, but the more your staff thinks about their compensation, the more their performance can suffer. How can this be?

The issue is that when people are worried about their needs being met they can be vary scarcity-minded because of the fight or flight instinct (or the Lizard).  When employees are in this state, they are unlikely to develop mastery of their work, feel a deep sense of achievement or be able to sustain their motivation long term. Put them at ease by making sure your staff is well-compensated and use the bonus structure to incentivize above and beyond this level. “The most successful people…are working hard and persisting through difficulties because of their internal desire to control their lives, learn about the world and accomplish something that endures,” writes Daniel Pink in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Patience, though. In the short term this is not true! You can get yourself and your staff to get fast results by using external rewards.

To start, what motivates you? If you are also fixated on your compensation, then it’s time to take money off the table and dig a little deeper. Money is an extrinsic motivator—it moves us to action for a reason outside of ourselves. There is a far more effective way to motivate yourself and your team—through intrinsic motivation that moves people to action for deeper, more satisfying reasons. “Intrinsically motivated people usually achieve more than their reward-seeking counterparts,” writes Pink.

Don’t make the mistake of relying only on one type of motivation. Use a mix to get both short-term and long-term results.

1) Stoke up your own intrinsic motivation if you want to encourage it in others. Figure out your own “Why” and put it in writing. Revisit it daily.

2) Bring your team in on the “why.” By allowing your team to help mastermind your strategy, they will find it easier to get behind you and line up with the goals.

3) Take money off the table as an issue. Provide a baseline salary that is above average. Make sure that it is fair (within Northwestern Mutual and in your market).

4) Develop varied performance goals that are short and long term.

5) Give many rewards for lots of achievements to encourage big picture thinking versus an emphasis on short term gains that might compromise your values.

Here’s an example:

Write a list of your most important goals for the year (awards or calendar)

  • Write 125 lives
  • Write at least $200,000 in premium
  • Provide excellent client service that provides real value to people

Determine how your staff can impact these goals and how you can measure it. Here are some ideas:

  • Fill out applications in a thorough way
  • Submit apps quickly
  • Work with underwriting efficiently
  • Set new Fact Finders daily
  • Keep appointments on by reminding clients
  • Provide responsive and friendly client service
  • Proof PPAs carefully for errors

Sample incentive plan:

Baseline salary $40,000 (varies by market, experience, etc)

Lives bonus $1,500 (helped the FR write 125 or more lives)

Premium bonus $1,500 (supported the FR in writing at least $200,000 in premium)

Good client feedback bonus $2,000 (received at least one unsolicited client compliment per quarter)

New Facts bonus $1,500 (set at least two per day on average/minimum 30 per month)

Quarterly Activity bonus $500 (applications processed quickly, appointments kept on/rescheduled promptly, PPAs of good quality)

Unannounced Surprise Contents (short term and fun with awards being time off, pizza ordered in, etc)

Motivating others is an art form. First, find it in yourself and then work to inspire it in others. Remember that you and your team need to feel well cared for financially before rewards feel like a “bonus” and bring about higher performance. Provide above-and-beyond compensation for above-and-beyond work.