I was recently reminded the importance of incentive management…by four pre-teen soccer players in my car. We had a long drive to their game and in between guessing the next song to play and their singing every hit song’s words, I was re-living my work week. I’m embarrassed to admit that while setting up for a training session, we realized some equipment was left at the office. Since the salespeople had already arrived, we suggested they take 30 minutes to make warm-calls until I returned. As my adrenaline activated brain calculated the time to get said missing piece, return to begin class and my critical voice was nagging my mistake, I offered up a gift card to the first person to have a meeting scheduled.


Unexpectedly I had gotten their attention. Not only did they all grab their phones and start making calls, but they took it one step farther and challenged each other to who could schedule the most meetings. When I returned, they were still at it, jostling for first place. What is even more curious? This is their job. These are the activities they should be doing, they know they have to make hundreds of calls per week, this is how they make money. Yet my mistake and off-the-cuff offer was exactly what they needed to get moving.

Hmmm. Could this same scenario work with the soccer players? I turn down the latest Chainsmokers’ tune and asked: “What would it take for each one of you to make a goal today?” Simple question. Honestly, I didn’t expect much enthusiasm as only one of the car riders had scored all season. They quickly replied “ice cream!”  The leader voice in my head prompted “make them fight for the team win, not the individual goal”. This team hadn’t won even one game this season or the prior season, so it seemed important to motivate them for a team victory over self. I made an offer, “If two of the four of you make a goal AND the game ended in a win, I will treat for ice cream”. I kid you not, the first goal was accomplished in under 5 minutes. They second quickly followed, and by the third goal, all we needed was the Win to make our car challenge complete. Fortunately, the game ended victoriously with the first team Win. I was thrilled to make a detour for ice cream.

My incentives worked. How can this be utilized in small businesses, doctor’s offices, restaurants? I know there is a great deal of thought and energy put into corporate incentive programs. Data is mined and tied to business strategies and objectives to encourage habits and high performance. I also recognize some employees (soccer players) are going to give above and beyond, with or without incentives. So, what was it about our car conversation that motivated the soccer players’ desire to do a little bit more? Why was the office competition crucial for the calls to be made?

These two real-life examples were easy. There weren’t multi-page excel spreadsheets to understand. In a sentence or two, they understood “do this, get that”, as in “one more phone call; one more pass –> kick –> attempt on goal” was all that was needed for success. It’s the same discipline. The reward was also quick, payment made on the spot. By cheering for or recognizing them and sharing their success stories, the desired behaviors are modeled, thus motivating success in the others.

I’m not suggesting a revamp of your corporate system, but consider how an easy, inexpensive gimmick can motivate momentum among your team. With more frequency, offer spur of the moment incentives. A few more carrots, gift cards or ice cream cones will provide a renewed energy and refocus…possibly even a break-away!