How to Stretch Your Incentive Budget in These Challenging Times
Robert Cowen, Snowfly Incentives

The answer is quite simple, increase the value of money!  Yes, I’m serious; it’s easy and you can do it.

Let me offer an example.  Professor Brooks Mitchell (University of Wyoming and founder & CEO of Snowfly, Inc.) asked a couple of his students to conduct an experiment.  Put a nickel on the lobby floor at a large, upscale hotel in Denver and count the number of people who pick it up.  One person in 274 did.  Then conduct the same experiment in a hotel lobby in Central City, Colorado (the hotel has slot machines in an attached casino).  One person in twenty-two picked it up.  Then put the nickel on the floor in front of the nickel slot machines.  One person in 2.7 picked it up and every one of them played it in an adjacent slot machine!  I presume that some did not see the nickel.  Money increases in value when it holds greater potential.

So, how does this relate to stretching your incentive budget? Well, remember the last time you used games to provide fun and excitement in your incentive program: spin-the-wheel, pull a ticket from the fish bowl or select an envelope? You were harnessing the same motivational power that Dr.  Mitchell’s experiment was highlighting.   The behavior principle is “random intermittent reinforcement.” I call it having fun & excitement or being paid to play games at work.  It keeps repetitive and mundane activities going when they would otherwise be performed half heartedly or cease entirely.   This also adds another occurrence of reinforcement to your incentive program equation; the excitement that comes with playing a game that has the potential to yield a significant reward is a reward in itself.

Here are some tips if you would like to integrate random intermittent reinforcement into your incentive program

-          Unlike Las Vegas games, incentive games should yield, on average, a positive outcome; this means there should be no zero outcomes.

-          Each game play should be an independent event, meaning that previous outcomes have no bearing on the current outcome; the possibility of getting a “jackpot” is always the same.

-          Make sure that the skill is in earning the opportunity to play a game (i.e. by achieving a goal), not the game play itself.  This will ensure that the majority of incentive rewards go to good performers as opposed to those who are good gamers.

Adhere to these principles and your top performers will continue to be your top earners, as they should be.  However, in addition, random intermittent reinforcement will significantly improve the performance of everyone else.   Samuel Goldwyn said “the harder I work, the luckier I get” and that will continue to be true for all of your employees.

If you ask, your employees will undoubtedly tell you that games are the best part of your incentive programs.  The question becomes “why aren’t we using games all of the time?” I can’t answer for you but if it’s effective, by all means keep doing it.  The concept of “random intermittent reinforcement” does not become stale or Las Vegas would close down.  The games should be changed but keep using the same principle.  Incentive programs that harness this power can get more effort for less, thus increasing the value of money.

About Snowfly: Snowfly is the leading provider of Internet-based employee incentive and loyalty programs.  Snowfly's incentive system allows contact centers to harness the enormous motivational power of immediate positive reinforcement to focus employee behavior on company objectives.  Compared with home-grown programs, Snowfly improves KPI’s by at least 20% (sales, availability, adherence, attendance, call quality, turnover), reduces a huge administrative burden and reduces costs.  The results are easily seen within weeks and there is no long term contractual obligation.  Snowfly customers include multiple Blue Cross/Blue Shield providers, Hyatt Hotels, Time Warner Cable, financial institutions, utility companies, cable/satellite providers, various BPO companies (business process outsourcers), and collection departments/agencies.  Snowfly’s web site:  For more information, contact Robert Cowen at 248-324-1161 or email