In a world where change is quickly becoming the only constant, perhaps it is time for the rest of us to borrow a page from the sales compensation book, where special abbreviated-term rewards are used to stimulate attention and drive short bursts of focused effort over a limited window of time. Could these SPIFFs (short for Special Incentive for Field Force) have application for other members of the workforce?
As part of her recent Compensation Cafe post Futurama: Seven Trends Transforming HR and Rewards, Laura Schroeder says:
Business leaders have historically been known to change their minds overnight. But in a world where business strategy can change daily, business strategy may change every day. How quickly is your organization able to execute new business strategies with new focus, skills and organizational models?
If a sudden change in business strategy or competitive circumstances demands a new focus or shift in attention from the workforce, or some portion of it, might a SPIFF be one option for our response?
A SPIFF type reward may be similar to recognition in that it may be a non-cash (i.e., gift certificate or merchandise points) or a smaller cash award (think "spot bonus") - but I would see it as very different than recognition in its purpose and use. Where recognition is often designed to reinforce the exhibition of behaviors and efforts that are aligned with an enduring set of core values or desired culture, SPIFFs are generally aimed at short-term, very measurable objectives.
In a prior life, I worked for a consulting firm that was experiencing a period of doldrums in terms of new business development. The firm instituted a one month SPIFF of sorts, for all employees from analytical support through leadership and across all consulting practices. The charge: get out of the office and have coffee or lunch with as many people as possible. Didn't have to be prospective clients - could be someone who might know someone who might know someone else who might be in the market for consulting assistance. In other words - essentially anyone. Spend 5 minutes talking about what you do (or your consulting practice does). Bring back the business card of your lunch/coffee mate, write your name and the date/place of the meeting, and drop it into the designated box.
At the end of the month, five cards were drawn, five generous gift certificates were handed out and there was a noticeable spike in new business activity.
The criteria for a successful non-sales SPIFF-like plan are probably the same as for the traditional variety:
- A clear, time-limited purpose can be articulated.
- A specific behavior or effort is desired and a defined outcome can be measured.
- The desired behavior/effort lies outside otherwise expected performance (so you aren't simply paying for something that should be happening anyway) and requires particular focus and creativity to achieve.
The payout or award for a SPIFF-like plan should be big enough to command short-term attention but not so big that it overwhelms "regular" performance goals and other reward elements. In other words, like any incentive, a SPIFF must be in appropriate balance within the overall "portfolio" of rewards.
Should SPIFFs have a place in our broad-based array of rewards? What advice or experience - particularly those of you who've already experimented with this approach - offer to us?
Creative Commons image "Red and Blue and Green Fireworks" by Epic Fireworks