Spot Rewards Can Drive Performance, Improve Business Results

It’s no secret that everyone likes and anticipates good surprises – a thank you gift from a recent house guest, tickets to a concert or sporting event from your company, or a bigger-than-expected tax refund from Uncle Sam.

According to a report in Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, “The element of surprise has been proven to be a powerful motivational tool. Scientific studies show that unexpected incentive rewards stimulate areas of the brain connected to behavior development and learning.”

At All Star Incentive Marketing, we fully embrace the concept of spontaneous rewards. With work-from-home arrangements still in effect at many companies, causing what many reference as the “Groundhog Day” effect, employees are the perfect audience for incorporating surprise rewards. This is an important part of an incentive program to keep remote teams engaged and company performance at a high level.

While a company’s current incentive program may already be linked to a quarterly goal or performance threshold in place for individuals and teams, we’ve found that adding unexpected rewards to the program mix can be particularly effective for actions like quick thinking, closing a deal, demonstrating safe work habits, or going above the call of duty to help a colleague. 

What makes unexpected rewards so effective?


Infamous experiments on mice, psychologist B.F. Skinner observed that the act of a random reward triggered the most dramatic changes in their actions. The mice would press a lever and sometimes they’d get a small treat, other times a large treat, and other times nothing at all. Unlike the mice that received the same treat every time, the mice that received variable rewards seemed to press the lever compulsively.

More recent studies have revealed that humans have similar reactions to surprise rewards – specifically the anticipation of the reward. The pleasure center of the brain is highly activated by the possibility of receiving an award, while unpredictable patterns of rewards create the motivation to continue demonstrating positive behaviors.

The magazine Psychology Today suggests that if you really want to see spot rewards in action, go to a casino. Slot machines are a very effective example because casinos have studied the science of rewards and they use them to get people to play and keep playing.

In short, surprise incentive rewards are powerful because they’re universal. You can use them as a tool of instant engagement to make the reward experience more meaningful, which in turn can motivate individuals and teams more effectively.

Our team at All Star Incentive Marketing has the experience of successfully incorporating spontaneous rewards into any new or existing incentive program across a wide range of industries. Contact us, and we’ll make the element of surprise work for you.

Brian Galonek


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