Rewarding Your Top Performers: Creating an Incentive Program With Experiences They’ll Never Forget

How do you reward the top performers in your company? How do you reward those who are always going above and beyond for you? How do you push your employees to see what’s possible?

“What is an incentive program? An incentive program is the structured use of rewards and recognition to motivate desired behavior from a specific group of people.

Incentives are a behavioral modification tool that can be used for a variety of reasons. By assigning rewards for demonstrating desired behaviors, those behaviors will be repeated more often. This is a psychological principle known as Operant Conditioning

Incentive programs generally make use of non-cash rewards, instead of commission or cash compensation. This is because non-cash rewards are more effective motivators of long-term behavioral change. They have social and emotional value that cash does not.” - Incentive Solutions

Incentive programs, in the scenario we are talking about, are for rewarding your top performers. Your top performers are not getting rewarded for just doing their job. You’re rewarding them because they have gone above and beyond. So when it’s your turn to reward them, you also need to go above and beyond. Not just meet the minimum standard. Incentive programs are about the extras, the attention to detail. 

In most cases incentive programs are about rewarding your top performers, executive or leadership committee by taking them somewhere amazing and treating them to experiences beyond what we experience in our everyday lives. 

For the most part, today’s top performers come from a generation that want experiences. They are looking for moments in their lives they can talk about and remember fondly. 

The key to an incentive program being successful is to create an experience right from the start.


When someone has worked so hard, receiving just another email might fall short on creating a truly rewarding experience. Why not send a branded and personalized invitation by mail? How about having a special delivery mailed to their home - a cute box with a slew of items that they will be able to use for their trip like flip flops, sunglasses (if it’s a tropical experience you are providing of course)? Can you imagine how exciting it would be to receive an unexpected but highly anticipated delivery like that?



If you are going really high-end, how about having a car pick them up from home to get them to the airport?

When they arrive at the airport, have someone there to greet and congratulate them. That person can be in charge of helping them get in the right line and move through the airport quickly and efficiently. 

If you are sending enough people on this trip, you may have some bargaining power with the airline to get pre-boarding status for all of your guests. And an upgrade that most only ever dream of is getting their seats upgraded to premium or first class. 

Something fun and most certainly memorable would be to ask the pilot to do a private welcome to your group before taking off. 


Once they land there will be some details they are already aware of because you likely had to provide them with those details, for example, that there will be transfers available for them at the airport. 

But what they don’t know is:

  • There are people in fancy suits waiting for them with their names on a fancy card, like we see in the movies
  • There are limos instead of buses
  • There are welcome signs
  • There are people there to help with grabbing their luggage off the plane and making sure they get loaded in the transport vehicles

When your guests arrive it is important to remember that they have likely had a long day - preparations at home before leaving, sitting around at the airport, several hours of flight time. When they get in the car or the bus to make their way to their destination, you’ll want to make sure there is water and a light snack available for them. Some extras to include would be warm towels so they freshen up a bit, some mints or gum. 

This suggestion will depend greatly on the travel day your guests have had and if they will be arriving during daylight or at night. You may want to include a tour guide who will give them the lay of the land as they make their way to their destination from the airport. It might be too much if it was a long trip but if it was only a couple of hours, it might be a welcome greeting and introduction to this new location. 

When they arrive at the resort or venue, you can lay your welcome on thick. 

  • Welcome and congratulations signs where the cars/buses will pull up or in the lobby
  • Staff waiting to greet them
  • Someone to take their luggage directly to their rooms
  • A private check-in area
  • Beautiful cocktails with a local flair
    • But do not forget that not everyone drinks alcohol, so be sure to have a just as beautiful and delicious mocktail option
  • Branded key cards or bracelets
  • A welcome bag with t-shirts and hats
  • When they open the door to their hotel room they see a personalized welcome letter along with a bottle of something special along with a plate of local fresh fruit
    • Again, a reminder that not everyone drinks alcohol and not everyone drinks wine or champagne. Personalize this experience so everyone feels included and seen.

It’s easy to get caught up in giving them all the special stuff upon arrival but don’t. It is so fun to spread out the love throughout the entire stay. Do room drops every day so that as they return to their room every evening there is something new for them to enjoy. It will feel like the surprises and excitement never end. 


Throughout the days that your guests are with you it is important to build out a program that includes opportunities for relaxation and experiences. See our blog post The 8 Must Haves for Your Incentive Program Agenda.

Remember, these are your top performers. Those top performers are usually the most likely to not take holidays, work extra long hours and put your business ahead of just about anything else. This is your opportunity to make sure that they see what balancing hard work and rewards is like. 

A few key moments you’ll want to include for your guests will be a welcome reception and a farewell dinner. Both can be set up as cocktail receptions or full on dinners with entertainment. It is really up to you. We do think that it is important to include local flair for the welcome reception, especially if you are visiting a foreign location. 

Another component you’ll want to consider is including a charity function or activity. Companies that can afford to fly employees around the world for experiences can most certainly afford to make a donation to a local charity. There are many ways to include a charity in your program and we would be happy to help coordinate that experience for you. 


Need some help creating a program that will land with your top performers? We can help. Let's chat.

Julia O’Grady has big vision, fresh ideas and a proven track record in the events industry. She and her team work hard to exceed client expectations and push ITM Events to achieve greater heights. A driven entrepreneur, Julia also manages the business side of ITM Events including human resources, finances, marketing and writing grant and sales proposals. In taking a high level approach to event management, Julia is able to visualize a project from inception to successful execution. She attracts valuable sponsors by offering meaningful opportunities to engage with participants. Julia uses her keen analytical mind to create incredible events that maximize the available budget. When Julia isn’t planning unforgettable events, she loves travelling the world with her family, staying active, and enjoying fine food and martinis.

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