I couldn’t believe it. A puppy was at stake. 

“Lane! What is up with the huge mess in the kitchen?”

“Sorry dad… I totally forgot… I will do it later I promise. But… just to make sure dad… If I do this, will it still count towards my ‘chores’ to get the new puppy?”

 Motivating kids is tough business. Sometimes even the greatest incentive or recognition gets stale and loses its effectiveness.

Why do we think employees are any different?

I can assure you motivating adults is indeed similar to kids. Let’s start with one certain fact: In order to achieve positive behavior change, the recognition system must be fresh and up-to-date. The old bingo, jacket, food, cash, and gift card programs you used to give out have likely run their course and are no longer effective in this day and age.

 Today’s safety recognition systems are completely different. I must tell you they are much stronger than the old dangle-the-carrot or “puppy” type program. It’s not just about the puppy anymore.

 Updated, effective programs of today offer several advantages. I’ll boil it down to the top three: they offer more excitement, they are easier to administer, and they can be combined with training.

More excitement

 Game-based programs provide more excitement. The old programs perhaps delivered points for safety behavior or not having an accident. We have seen thousands of employers achieve greater accident reduction by simply delivering recognition points in a more exciting way.

I first saw this with a defense contractor in Nevada more than two decades ago. We bailed from our traditional point program approach and added scratch-off game cards we called Safety Jackpot. Would this make a difference? It did… and fast. The results shocked us. We saw participation go up ten-fold. The 6,000 employees spread out all over the state started to actually pay attention and care about the safety training. A year into the program this simple, clever way of delivering points with a scratch-off game card reduced their accidents by over 60 percent.

So in all the programs we design today, we still use this game-based “element of chance” component, but we have made some modern-day tweaks that have proven to be powerful as well. After mailing out a survey to tens of thousands of employees we found something interesting.

About 60 percent of the population responded that they were “more motivated” by a chance to win a huge sweepstakes-type prizes and 40 percent said they prefer the smaller redeemable awards. We quickly learned that offering both types of incentive gained more attention and ultimately lowered accidents further.

Ease of administration

 The old-time programs required lots of administration. Even in the early 2000s we used to tell employers that our game card system was simple to administer. All they had to do was hand out the cards for safety accomplishment and the rest administered itself.

The challenge? They still had the administration of handing out the cards. One of the nation’s top express delivery companies handed out game cards to thousands of their employees. One day a senior manager of the company called and told me that his New York union operation thought this was a pain, so they simply stopped handing out the recognition cards.

That problem has been fixed. Today’s new “Jackpot Program” is offered 100 percent online. Mid-level managers no longer carry the burden of having to hand out rewards, points, and the like. In the case of this particular program, game cards are delivered via an online portal. Employees can view and even trade their safety game cards online. Rewarding is done with a click of a mouse to all employees who have earned a card for that particular week.

No online access? No worries. Most companies that offer programs of this nature today also offer kiosks for the workplace or mobile versions.

Training retention

 Safety training is great. I tell my nine-year-old that school studies and homework are great too. But do they retain it? In the past, most do not retain the training they receive. Here is what we have learned.

 Training can now be combined with an online safety recognition system. Why is this so exciting? First, we have found that it removes literally most all administration of delivering a safety training program. Second, it motivates, tests, assures, and rewards for the retention of the actual training. After all, training means nothing if it is not retained.

 One of the nation's top Caterpillar dealers signed on to test this out firsthand. With thousands of employees they had found it hard to get participation and retention in their mandatory safety training. We combined a game card-based online safety recognition system with a video safety training program. When employees completed the video training they took an online quiz testing their retention of the information. When they scored 90 percent or higher, they were rewarded several Safety Jackpot game cards automatically.

The results? They retained the training. Participation went from 50 percent to more than 95 percent and most all of the employees had demonstrated that they knew the material.

 At one point a puppy would motivate any child for a long, long time. Now it takes more. With our employees, we must be creative and use today’s technology to not only make our own time more efficient, but to gain stronger behavior change and safety excellence.