Management Matters: Yes, You Can Have It All

Let's say you're facing a problem, but none of the options is worth a darn. It's known as a "Hobbesian choice," and here's one that meeting and incentive planners face regularly: Should we have education or no education on incentive trips?

On the one hand, four hours of education per day is necessary by law to qualify the event as an educational meeting, with all the tax deductibility that comes with that. The financial benefits are obvious, but what attendee wants four hours in a classroom when there's an exciting, new destination to explore?

On the other hand, we could have no education, but then incentive winners themselves would be taxed for the value of the trip. There's more free time, but should top performers really have to pay for their own reward?

There has to be a better way. It's called incentive education travel.

Think about it: Who doesn't want to grow personally and professionally? Certainly your top performers do. According to Bill Boyd, president of Sunbelt Motivation, "They've already demonstrated that they want to stay on the leading edge." But the education they desire has to be a top-flight experience; no classroom setup for these folks. They get bored quickly. Instead, keep it electric, a one-of-a-kind experience, perhaps something they've never seen before.

Example: An American-based computer company took its top-tier performers to London for three days of incentive education travel. As a consultant, I helped put winners through stimulating exercises to unlock their creativity, and got them to focus on new ways to engage customers. Then in the evening, they performed their findings on the stage of a famous London theater. Who would ever forget that "education" experience?

Your best performers want to feel prepared for the future too. But most incentives are designed to celebrate only past performance. Of course, that's one reason to have an incentive travel event. But nothing is more motivating to these high achievers than figuring out—as peer—new ways to improve their future performance.

Example: A national temp agency took its top performers to Rio de Janeiro. We designed for them a series of exercises that took place throughout the city, where they could learn from the Brazilian culture ways to improve as professionals. This education was memorable in more ways than one, and because it had to do with improving behavior, it's with them every day back home, where it counts.

One last point. Why not use incentive education travel as an opportunity to leverage the best talents of your top performers? Besides each of them growing personally and professionally, you can also have their skills migrate to their comrades back home, so those folks can learn to perform better too. At your event, the top performers learn how to become teachers, mentors, and coaches. Think of the ROI you'd get from this kind of educational investment!

So the Hobbesian choice in this instance is really only a failure of imagination. You just have to open up your mind to find the best way to deliver incentive education travel, where the world is your classroom. You get the benefits of recognizing a job well done, of delivering top-flight education that will be brought back to the office, and it all unfolds through travel to a fabulous destination—a trifecta any planner or top performer would welcome.

Dr. Tom McDonald, a Ph.D. in psychology, speaks on "People Skills" needed for "Business Results." Reach him in San Diego at (858) 523-0883 or [email protected] or visit