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by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Ovation Global DMC

The Business of Incentives

My reason for being in Cancun is to participate at the Incentive Research Foundation’s (IRF) annual invitational and thus support an organisation that carries out vitally important research into the business impact of incentives, particularly incentive travel programmes. This is my third consecutive year to attend and the event has improved each year, particularly with regard to its educational content. When it started 20 years ago it was a fun-in-the-sun fundraiser that brought busy buyers to exotic resorts with promises of glorious golf, bountiful booze and free swag. In two decades the event has changed dramatically. There’s still a golf outing but now there’s also a CSR initiative, a full slate of lifestyle activities and an education programme that, this year, filled the entire first day. You could draw an analogy with the incentive industry itself which has evolved from “pure incentives” (all play, no work) to incentives with varying degrees of meeting content (some play, some work).

Education at IRF: Release the Power

RodgerThe Day of Education was themed around the notion of “releasing the power” and first up was IRF’s Chief Research Officer, Rodger Stotz on current trends. Using primary and secondary research Stotz and his able co-presenter Mike Ryan of Madison Performance Group delivered an impressive “state of the incentive nation” address. Overall sentiment regarding the use, effectiveness and impact of incentives within organisations was definitely and decidedly up except for a worrying recurrence of the dreaded “perception” virus. Stotz’s pulse survey showed renewed concerns within organisations around issues to do with extravagance, inappropriateness, wastefulness. Rodger attributed this to extensive negative publicity in the wake of the GSA’s Western Regions Conference (explored in a previous posting on this blog – click here). It seems our industry is destined to be visited again and again by a plague of TLAs (three letter acronyms) – think AIG and now GSA! A strongly positive outcome from Stotz’s Pulse Survey, however, was the primacy of destination and resort selection for the actual incentive programme qualifiers / attendees – above all other requirements, they expect the programme to be fun and to take place in an appealing destination. Great news for our industry TLAs – CVBs, DMOs and DMCs.

The Ubiquitous Lynn Randall

IRF PanelIRF’s eminently capable Education Director, Lynn Randall then facilitated a discussion around the evolution in incentive programme design, particularly in regard to the incorporation of a meeting component into the travel reward. Using original, recent IRF research and the conveniently opposing viewpoints of Michael Berger of Insperity (ban meetings!) and Dahlton Bennington (embrace meetings!) of Bennington Meetings and Motivation, Randall’s session underlined how incentives are created in the image and likeness of the corporation whence they originate and follow the culture and personality of that company. Thus epithets such as “pure incentive” or “incentive meeting” are neither absolute nor relevant but merely describe how a particular company engages with its talent at a particular time in the context of its own particular culture. Lynn provided us with an excellent, practical take-away: a profiling tool that helps determine whether your organisation is more likely to benefit from pure incentive experiences or ones that combine incentive and meeting elements. It’s available on the IRF website – see here.

Social Networks and Communities

Last year Dr Michael Wu navigated us successfully through the murky, rocky waters of gamification theory and helped us understand how and why incentive contests work: they work, fundamentally, because they tap into impulses and needs that are embedded in our very humanity. This year he deconstructed Social Media and showed how it, too, is wired into deeply rooted human impulses. It simply does, on a bigger scale, what we do naturally as human beings – build social networks by connecting with others in communities. Communities form around common interests and social networks then enable us to maintain these relationships as we move from community to community: so Bob and Joe meet at kindergarten (community), move to different grade schools but remain in contact – or not as the case may be – via their social network. Within social networks we have connections or ties ranging from weak to strong depending on how much time we have available to cultivate these ties. Wu introduced the work of British anthropologist Robin Dunbar whose research indicates the maximum number of meaningful relationships a human can maintain is between 100 and 230 with 150 the mean. This, obviously, has interesting implications for our use of Social Media and can help us define our approach to Social Media in the context of business objectives.

Exceptions and Rules

SamFormats then switched again and the ubiquitous Lynn Randall introduced a trio of TED style presentations on tech related matters from Donny Neufuss of Sonic Foundry, Trevor Roald of Quick Mobile and the very sartorially elegant Sam Stanton of RedButtonTV. The liberating, enabling contribution of technology for the design and implementation of Reward and Recognition programmes was crystal clear to the point that if you’re not in the tech game then you’re not in the game at all. To which the Romans might respond “exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis” or the exception makes the rule. And the final educational offering of the day was indeed exceptional.

Magical Moments to Momentum to Monumental Results

SimonTBaileySimon T Bailey had introduced himself at the beginning of the day’s educational programme but I didn’t quite get his “brilliance” thing. Europeans sometimes break out into a nasty rash when faced by US motivational speakers and I must admit I was contemplating an expensive visit to a local pharmacy. When he returned at the end of a long, intense day I really wasn’t in the mood for group hugs but I was sitting up the front and couldn’t really leave. However, with a modest but effective powerpoint deck Simon delivered a deeply resonant, thoughtful and heart-warming presentation that reassured us of our fundamental God given gifts and encouraged us to be guided in our choices by our natural intuition. There were moments of wonderful word-smithing where, for example, he set out a design for life involving a transition from money to meaning, power to purpose, status to satisfaction. He drew heavily on his own life’s experiences, particularly at Disney, and shared his stories modestly, engagingly, empoweringly.

More soon on the IRF in Cancun  – apologies to my great friend Tahira Endean whose session I sadly missed but heard really good reviews of it!

Photos courtesy of

Padraic Gilligan is Vice President of Ovation Global DMC and is attending IRF as a sponsor with partners Niamh Burns of the Killarney Park Hotel and Ailish Wall of Ritz Carlton Powerscourt


6 thoughts on “Brilliance and more from the Incentive Research Foundation

  1. Cherie Weinstetin says:

    Thanks to Padraic for recap of the great information shared at this year’s IRF Invitational! Wish I could have been there to share.

    1. padraicino says:

      Cherie – thanks for the comment; lovely to hear from you. Hope all is well in your world

  2. Mary Mateljan Ruiz says:

    Well-written and accurate depiction of a stellar event on every level. Kudos to all partners, sponsors and trustees for your dedication to this event and the educational aspect of our industry.

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Mary – appreciate it! It was indeed a great event

  3. Carolyn Dow says:

    Great recap Padraic. Seems to have been a good event, and lots of really useful info shared.

    1. padraicino says:

      It was a truly great event Carolyn with top class education and an increasing number of past presidents of Site in attendance!

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