And so you believe you have been on an incentive trip?!


You just came back from a beautiful island where you stayed at a five-star property. You had a nice welcome cocktail by the pool and a farewell dinner on the beach. You are a top-performer for your company … and seriously, you have just experienced a very nice reward trip! Nothing more and nothing less. Your company may have invested a lot of money but is it really leveraging the emotional lasting impact a unique experience can create?

Incentive trips, reward trips or recognition programs as some people may call them, are one of the greatest tools to motivate your team and achieve results beyond the regular “yearly targets”.

As Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP, wrote in “Winners Dream”: “To dream big, people have to feel big. (…) And I still believe that victories should be celebrated. SAP’s annual Winners’ Circle had become a sought-after event that inspired thousands of our sales professionals to achieve miracles on behalf of the entire organization.”

So how do you recognize a true incentive trip? Here are three key elements:

  1. Perceived value

A media company once offered its entire staff of 100, a top-of-the-line TV at the end of the fiscal year. When the employees got home, some significant others complained that “their spouse was working so hard for a year to only receive a TV which was on sales at Costco for x amount of dollars!”

Result: although it was a nice gesture, the price was known and the “perceived value” was much lower than what it should have been.

Alternatively: imagine walking out of a hotel on South Beach and discovering a motorcade of stretch hummers, settling in the cars and being escorted by the police to a private island for a Cuban themed party. The perceived value will definitely be much higher than the real cost.

  1. Contrasts / Experiences / Surprises

A FMCG company once brought its sales force to an all-inclusive property with traditional entertainment activities offered to all the guests staying in the hotel.

Result: no contrasts, no “unexpected moments”, no “corporate pride” and just regular moments. Few years later, people hardly recall the destination and don’t remember much of what they experienced.

Alternatively: imagine arriving in Delhi and going straight to the souk in tuk tuk, and, the next day, going to Jaïpur to have dinner with the Maharaja on the Lalique table in his private dining room. These are the type of contrasts, experiences and surprises you will never forget.

  1. Something you can’t duplicate

An insurance company once took their top performers to a five-star property in a ski resort. They had great dinners and were able to ski the entire time they were there. Nice but each of the participant could arrange this themselves without the “support” of the corporation.

Alternatively: imagine arriving in France at an exclusive spa in an upscale ski resort and being transferred by helicopter in front of the Mont-Blanc, walking up to an exclusive red velvet rope lunch party at a small mountain top and walking down the hill to a snow bar for lunch before taking back your helicopter. This is an experience that not many of us could have if we were to go back to that same place with our friends and family.

Do these three elements (Perceived value, contrasts and surprises, experiences you can’t duplicate) matter? Absolutely! With that mindset, you will definitely build a true incentive trip, reward or recognition program and you will create unique experiences which will motivate, and recognize your team like never before. These are the three main differences between an incentive trip and a standard company group trip.

Which experiences do you remember and why? Please comment and let me know!

The difference between the Swiss and the Maasaï

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It was a beautiful afternoon at the Olduvaï Camp in Tanzania and we climbed a little rock to watch the sunset on the Serengeti. The view was breathtaking and you couldn’t see a telephone line, a building or anything man-made 360 degrees around.

For a few minutes, we were contemplating the nature in total silence when he turned to me and asked: “Do you know the difference between the Swiss and us, the Maasai?” Then, with his huge smile he continued: “The Swiss have the watches, WE have the time!”

We burst into laughter and I never forgot that moment.

Working with different cultures is an amazing experience and it also has its challenges. How time is perceived from one country to another is one of them.

It is not a universal rule that you should answer an email in 15 minutes or you must attend a conference call while on holidays! Showing 10 minutes late for a meeting is not necessarily rude (actually, sometimes being on time can be) and starting an Opening General Session at 8:30 AM might force you to start your conference … without your international delegates!

One cultural dimension is very helpful to understand the relation to time from various individuals: monochronism vs polychronism. It has been widely described by American anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher Edward T Hall in his book The Silent Language (1959), in which, as mentioned by Wikipedia: “Hall coined the term polychronic to describe the ability to attend to multiple events simultaneously, as opposed to “monochronic” individuals and cultures who tend to handle events sequentially.”

Let’s illustrate the point with a (slightly generalized) example: in France, you might speak about politics or soccer before the meeting starts; your cellphone might ring during the meeting; your assistant might come into the room to ask you to sign something urgent; when reaching point 4 on the agenda, you might remember something you forgot to mention at point 2 and want to come back to it, etc. In Germany, it’s quite the opposite and German people might believe that it is impossible to work with French people who can’t concentrate and can’t be taken seriously … while French people might believe that it is impossible to work with Germans because they are too dry and too serious. Guess what?! Both countries have great and successful companies … and are taking long breaks during summer!

In other words, one individual’s relation to time is deeply affected by her or his culture, there is no universal answer to it and it is certainly not fully correlated to the level of professionalism of the person you are dealing with.

So, the next time you are frustrated about timing issues, first acknowledge it; second, try to understand what is “standard” in the business culture of the person you are interacting with; third, have a conversation about this with her/him and, if all the above doesn’t work … remember the difference between the Swiss and The Masaaï!