There’s no doubt about it, training is important. It helps people succeed at their jobs, becoming more efficient and effective in the workplace. There are those people who are self-motivated and make the time for training on their own, learning for the love of learning and the benefits it brings. However, in a world of endless to-do lists, it’s all too easy for the rest of us to push training aside or rush through it without retaining the information. This not only leads to frustrated training administrators, but also an ineffective training program.

An effective solution is to motivate learners so they want to participate and engage in training. While this may seem like an impossible feat, there is an easy and smart way to motivate learners: incentives! Rewarding learners for participating in training gives them something other than the satisfaction of a job well done and is often the extra push they need to make training a priority.

Adding incentives to a training program can sometimes feel daunting. They are an added cost, which can be difficult to get approved, and might seem like a throwaway solution. But incentives are effective.  The Incentive Performance Center found that a properly constructed incentive program can increase performance by as much as 44 percent. That’s certainly a noteworthy and worthwhile increase.

Of course, the key term in that statement is “properly constructed.” Gained knowledge, for example, is an incentive. The main expectation of participating in training is learning. However, as previously stated, that is not always enough motivation to encourage participation. According to the Incentive Federation Inc., North American organizations spent over $115 billion on merchandise, travel and cash incentives in the year 2000. But the right incentive is probably not a hat, t-shirt or light-up pen; these tend to quickly turn up in the junk drawer.

There are three key things to keep in mind when developing an incentives program:

  1. The incentive is something people want. Chances are high that branded water bottles or flashlights will not motivate learners. But a gift card to the retailer of their choice, a donation to their favorite cause or a little extra paid-time-off could very well give just the push they need.
  2. The incentive is accessible. If trainees have to jump through countless hoops in order to earn the incentive, it will have to be a pretty significant reward, which typically isn’t budget-friendly. Instead, make sure the amount of effort expected is in line with the reward and the results are attainable, like completing a training course with a score of at least 80 percent on the quizzes or attending every presentation in a webcast series.
  3. The incentive is delivered quickly and simply. If it takes six weeks after the incentive is earned to actually receive it, you are going to lose the interest of your learners. We live in a society that craves immediate gratification; so the sooner you can reward your learners the better.

To avoid negative results from your incentives program, it’s important to keep in mind that incentives should motivate trainees towards the proper results. For example, AT&T executives once tried to encourage productivity by paying programmers based on the number of lines of code they produced. Instead of facilitating a more efficient workforce, executives received programs of epic and unnecessary length. The programmers were certainly motivated to produce, but they weren’t producing what the company needed.

On a similar note, incenting with penalties is also an ineffective motivator. Former NFL quarterback Ken O’Brien threw a lot of interceptions, so team lawyers gave him a contract that would penalize him for each interception thrown. O’Brien’s interceptions went down, but only because he stopped throwing the ball. Incenting with penalties for less-than-stellar performance often results in people taking fewer risks.  This can lead to less innovation and a decrease in overall performance. Again, not an ideal situation for any company.

You might be asking, is it even worth it to try and motivate people to take training? After all, if people don’t recognize the countless benefits of the additional knowledge, should you push them to participate? The answer is, of course, a resounding yes! An effective training program, when executed properly with the right incentives to motivate learners, can have an exponentially positive impact on a company’s bottom line.

Let’s look at one example of how training can impact sales for an electrical product manufacturer who decides to roll out product training to its distributors’ counter salespeople. The average distributor sales representative is responsible for selling from an inventory of 20,000-plus different products, which means most don’t have the time to see the bulk of these products outside of their boxes, let alone have an in-depth understanding of how they work. However, if the sales representative takes a specific course on one manufacturer’s key product, the product is going to stand out and the sales person is more likely to recommend it. But, how often does the opportunity to recommend come up? It turns out, the median of distributor employees report that they recommend products to customers between two and five (or more) times per day. This means that if just 500 well-trained salespeople make an average of 3.5 recommendations per day, even if only half of those recommendations convert to a $25-sale of the manufacturer’s product, the impact to the manufacturer’s daily sales would be $21,875 a day.

There’s no question, training is important. Motivating learners to take training on their own, rather than having to remind them to do it, is not only valuable for learners, but also good for business. Moreover, one of the best ways to motivate learners is with a properly developed incentives program. Offering learners something they want, that’s both attainable and immediately redeemable, will give them the extra push they need to participate in training.