C.Y.A. … Communicate Your Actions Prior to Implementing Changes to Incentive or Recognition Programs

file8051306946445Allow me to open this post with a disclaimer. I have been a loyal Delta Air Lines customer for many years and generally have a high regard for their service. With that in mind, please read on.

As a loyal Delta customer, I am also an active member of their SkyMiles program and am very familiar with it. Therefore, I have been watching with interest a program modification of some significance – i.e., achievement of elite status will, starting in 2014, become dependent not only on segments or miles flown, but also on dollars spent.

And while you may be expecting me to comment that this change might make achievement of elite status more difficult, my observation has more to do with how Delta is communicating the change. First, I received an email detailing the change and the implementation timeline. Second, they previewed the impact of the change by adding my current year spend on the Account Activity and My SkyMiles screens. Finally, they provided a link to a clear and detailed explanation of how dollars spent will factor into elite qualification – and why the change was made.

Notwithstanding one’s point of view on the change itself, I think that Delta’s communication plan can serve as a model for how incentive and recognition plan modifications (including some potentially unpopular ones) should be communicated:

  •  Start communicating well ahead of the effective date of the change.
  • Provide a detailed explanation of the change – what, when, how, etc. – and its impacts.
  • Communicate the change to the affected participants through a variety of means (e.g., email, online) to make sure the message is widely disseminated.

While an incentive or employee recognition program sponsor cannot control how participants will react to program changes that inevitably need to be made over time, it can mitigate the negative impacts with an effective and thoughtful communication plan.

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