The discussion regarding the efficacy of incentive compensation is ongoing. So many questions, seemingly so many answers! Does it focus people on things that you find important? Does it trump autonomy, mastery and purpose? Does it make a difference even when it isn’t the main component of pay? Will people jump through a few hoops if there is a reasonable prize at the end? A group of turtles answered yes to all of these questions.

We tend to think of incentives as based on job descriptions and tasks people normally perform. In this case an incentive was created to get people to perform a task that was nowhere near their job description and something that no one normally does. Instead of the incentive being pushed on recipients it was only available via request. Less than half who went through the request process were even accepted to the incentive program.

Stop and think about that for a minute. Imagine if your employees had to request to participate in your incentive plan. Now imagine if you turned down more than 50% of their requests!

Back to the turtles…

The program was designed to motivate ranchers in an area with a threatened turtle species to change their processes and facilities to be more conducive to helping the turtle population grow.

You had to apply for the incentive and prove you were worthy. You had to show that your area was compatible with and inhabited by the turtles. You had to ensure the products you used to fertilize, feed and treat your area were not poisonous to the turtles. You had to change dates for critical tasks like calving to ensure they would not interfere with the turtles. You had to have an area big enough to make it worth the time, effort and money of the individual offering the incentive. And you had to build turtle ramps that allowed the amphibians easy access to raised water tanks. All of this for an incentive that was capped at a small percentage of the income produced by the rancher.

And here’s the great thing. It worked. People made the effort to apply. They followed the rules and they got paid. Turtles were born and were able to grow. And people were generally a combination of bemused and happy with the program.

If incentives can motivate ranchers to make real changes to make the lives of turtles easier then your employees can be motivated to make real changes to make their careers and your company better. Or, at least that’s what the turtles told me.

Dan Walter, CECP, CEP is the President and CEO of Performensation. He is passionately committed to aligning pay with company strategy and culture. Do you want to know more about, Performance-Based Equity Compensation? Dan also cowrote “Everything You Do in COMPENSATION IS COMMUNICATION”, with Comp Café writers, Ann Bares and Margaret O’Hanlon. And believe it or not, he has co-authored “The Decision Makers Guide to Equity Compensation”and “Equity Alternatives.” Connect with Dan on LinkedIn. Or, follow him on Twitter at @Performensation and @SayOnPay.

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HELP! Was I Just Arrested or Incentivized?