Nick Birt recently beat more than 3,600 colleagues to land the Automobile Association’s (AA) prestigious title Patrol of the Year. To achieve this, he had to prove his skills in customer care, technical know-how, first aid, driving techniques and media relations.
Birt won himself and his family a holiday in Malaysia and Singapore, with 1,000 spending money. The AA’s press officer, Natalie Proud, says this specifically individual award allows the organisation to create a rigorous test environment to identify its best staff.
Individual travel incentives are often the top reward. Christine Chapman, director of the motivation division of Spectrum Communications, says: “These sorts of awards have a high perceived value, and offer the best in terms of flight class and accommodation. Since it’s an experience usually to be shared with a partner, it acts as an excellent motivator.”
The AA considers such awards more appropriate than team-based incentives. Proud says: “The nature of our business means that the front-line operational people contribute an enormous commitment in terms of time and effort to provide a service. Thus by identifying our best, and awarding our ambassadors, we also acknowledge the commitment of their partners and families, who share the resulting prize.”
But individual top performer awards can be seen as elitist and exclusive by other staff, says LMG International managing director Graham Keene. “Individual incentives do work, particularly in motivating the top performers, who probably know from the outset that they will out-pace their colleagues. Where they fall down is in providing support and motivation for the lesser performers, who can feel excluded.
“Team incentives, even if the rewards are on an individual basis, are generally much more powerful. If the reward for every participant depends on the performance of the team, then there is an incentive for top performers to support the rest, and to generate an better result overall. Ultimately, it is total sales that matter, not how well the top sales performer does,” he says.
An example of how team travel incentives can succeed is demonstrated by LMG’s work with Janssen Pharmaceutical. A complete sales team trip to Nepal was organised at the end of a six-month sales drive that followed a new product launch. Nepal was one of six destinations, each of which were identified by the team scoring a further percentage above their set target.
“While the trip itself did not include a training element, the programme leading up to it had regular communication and educational elements, focused on improving performance and over-achieving on targets,” says Keene. “By couching them in the context of the incentive, they became part and parcel of the motivational aspects.”
The trip won the 1994 Incentive Travel & Meetings Association platinum award.
A trip to Nepal combined the thrill of an entirely new culture and environment with certain physical challenges. But if incentives become too physically demanding there arises the danger of demotivating the group.
Michael Knox Johnston, director of the acclaimed Irish hotel and golf course Mount Juliet, can testify to this: “A motivational team-building trip was organised for executives from the travel trade, involving a stay of a lonely and crudely-equipped shack on Exmoor. Needless to say, the weather was appalling, and for all but a few of the participants there was very soon a feeling of misery, leading to friction and cynicism.
“The point seemed to be that there was no point. The trip brought out the worst side in people, who had no opportunity to sit back in a warm lounge in the evenings with a glass of something to reflect on the day’s activities. Had the organisers thought more about what they wanted to achieve and who their participants were, they could have landed on something that offered an equal physical challenge but maximised the opportunities for positive team-work.”
Chapman agrees: “Group travel provides the opportunity to capitalise on numbers – something not usually available for individual travel. Events can be tailored to fit participants’ many needs and expectations so that the programme always includes the team-building element, but finds room for hospitality, recognition and relaxation.” Try fitting in all that in a leaky Exmoor house.
Planning an incentive trip can seem as difficult as finding the business strategies that allow it to go ahead in the first place. Individual trips usually allow for greater flexibility because there is no need to arrange exclusive use of particular facilities. They are more along the lines of a never-to-be-forgotten holiday, while the group trip has to be such that you could not wander into your high-street travel agent to arrange anything similar.
One activity identified as suiting both individuals and groups is white-water rafting. Specialists Adrift say no one is a “natural” at this, or better at it than anyone else. “Rafting is non-competitive, with no difference in ability between men and women. Neither is there any need to have great physical strength or aerobic fitness,” says Adrift founder Cam McLeay. “The most important thing is to listen to the guides as they issue commands, and act upon them as a unit. The ensuing joy and jubilation of punching through a big wave or a technically difficult rapid unites everyone on board in a sense of achievement and excitement.”
After a 1994 rafting trip to Turkey, participants spoke of gaining extra self-confidence in dealing with new challenges, a total relief from the everyday routine of work and the thrill of camping out in the apricot and olive groves under the light of a billion stars.
The most important element of any incentive travel is that it is rewarding for the participant. Whether it’s an individual top-prize trip to the other side of the world or a team weekend somewhere in the UK, it must always be exciting, motivational and different. “Motivation is often drawn from what the trip is, says Chapman. “The cachet value of the eight-day trip taking in Concorde, New York QE2 trip is highly acclaimed and positioned as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience – something which a winner could not ordinarily afford.
“Destination is very important because participants’ perception of a trip is as important, if not more so, than the trip itself. It also acts as the motivator and encourages greater performance if the journey is to a destination people long to visit. Educational elements can easily be built in by making trips fun or surrounding them with particularly enjoyable new experiences for teams – or for individuals and their partners,” says Chapman.
Examples of such incentives include camel riding at La Mamounia Hotel in Marrakesh – described by Sir Winston Churchill as “the loveliest spot in the whole world”. Then there’s tailor-made spouse programmes offered by popular UK destinations such as the Runnymede Hotel and Hanbury Manor, or an end-of-conference private dinner in a world-famous castle.
Incentive travel is one of the best motivators for employees in all fields. Whether or not it’s any more worthy for teams than individuals depends on the nature of an organisation’s business and the criteria for arranging the incentive.
Members of the AA patrol force work on their own; individual awards are certain to be more effective in motivating them. Where there’s team work in reaching and exceeding sales targets, then the benefits of a team-based incentive are more obvious.
“Team travel is a natural conclusion to a team-based incentive and continues the development of an integrated team spirit,” says Keene. “Not only do individuals get to know one another better, but they also learn to value the support and encouragement engendered by a cohesive team.”