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What are Individual Incentive Plans? (benefits + drawbacks)

According to this WorldatWork survey, 90% of companies use some form of variable pay, such as bonuses or incentives.

Organizations often use incentive programs to encourage and reward their workforce. These programs may include commission-based pay, performance-based pay, bonuses, promotions, and recognition schemes.

Understanding how individual incentive schemes operate will assist you in achieving your objectives. This helps you realize your full potential, whether you’re an HR professional, manager, or an employee.

At the end of this blog, you’ll learn what to keep in mind while designing your incentive programs and how to execute them the right way.

What are individual incentive plans?

An individual incentive plan is an incentive program that focuses on individual performance, productivity, and accomplishments. This plan helps motivate and reward employees based on their performance, productivity, and achievements.

Employees who meet or exceed specific goals or objectives are typically rewarded with individual incentive plans.

Types of individual incentive plans

Here are the common individual incentive plans for any team in a company (mainly sales and customer success).

  • Commission-based pay: Employees are paid a percentage of sales or revenue from their efforts.
  • Performance-based pay: Employees are compensated based on their performance against predetermined performance metrics, such as sales targets, customer satisfaction ratings, or production targets.
  • Bonuses: Employees receive a one-time payment to meet a specific goal or finish a project.
  • Promotions: Employees who exceed performance expectations are given a higher job title and salary.
  • Recognition Programs: Employees receive recognition or rewards for exceptional performance, such as employee of the month or a gift card, through recognition programs.

Additionally, it’s critical to ensure that the performance metrics used are fair, accurate, and relevant to the employee's role and responsibilities. The incentive plan does not encourage unhealthy competition or a focus on short-term gains at the expense of long-term goals.

Individual and group incentive plans - an overview

Here's a quick breakdown of individual and team incentive plans in an organization:

Comparison of Group and Individual Incentive Plans
Group Incentive Plans Individual Incentive Plans
Rewards based on team performance Rewards based on individual performance
Encourages collaboration and teamwork Focuses on individual achievement
Suitable for projects requiring collective effort Suitable for roles with measurable individual output
Examples: Profit-sharing plans, Team-based bonuses, Group-based recognition programs Examples: Commission-based plans, Bonus plans tied to individual performance goals
Provides a sense of unity and shared responsibility Provides clear accountability and recognition for individual contributions
May lead to free ridership issues where some team members contribute less May foster competition among employees

Top 5 benefits of individual incentive plans

Individual incentive plans, which provide a clear and tangible reward for good performance, can effectively increase employee motivation and productivity.

Here are the top 5 benefits of implementing incentive plans:

1. Boosts employee productivity

Individual incentive plans can be a powerful motivator for employees as they provide a clear and tangible reward for good performance. This can result in increased effort and focus on the most important tasks for the organization.

Offering incentives can encourage employees to take on new challenges, learn new skills, and collaborate to achieve their goals.

Increased motivation and productivity from individual incentive plans can lead to better organizational outcomes.

2. Increases retention

Incentive plans can also be used to retain top talent.


Employees are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs and stay with the organization if they believe their hard work and contributions are recognized and rewarded.

Furthermore, incentive plans can help foster a culture of recognition and appreciation, which can lead to increased employee loyalty and commitment.

3. Reduces costs

The organization's costs can be reduced by using individual incentive plans. This means that people will be compensated for things that matter to the organization rather than ad-hoc efforts.

For instance, if your sales representative is supposed to bring 6 enterprise deals but has only closed 3 startup deals, then you can refuse to compensate them.

This can boost efficiency and decrease wasted effort and time spent on doing ad-hoc tasks. Additionally, by incentivizing employees to remain with the company and deliver their best work.

These plans reduce attrition and recruitment expenses.

4. Promotes healthy competition

Competing for objectives can motivate reps to do their best and earn their individual incentives.

Top performers get rewarded and recognized for their accomplishments, encouraging them to perform even better. On the other hand, underachievers can feel compelled to work harder to gain their incentives. This can encourage them to observe the high performers’ actions and learn from them.

Overall, every rep is motivated to do better than the other – driving healthy competition.

However, you need to create these plans carefully to avoid dishonesty and sabotaging behaviors.

5. Increases clarity

Incentive programs provide workers with a clearer understanding of their roles and responsibilities. Setting clear goals and objectives can help workers perform better and better grasp what is expected of them. This allows them to work and deliver required results, earning rewards and recognition – boosting job satisfaction.

In addition, incentive programs can support goal alignment between employees and the organization, improving commitment and engagement.

These advantages show that individual incentive plans have the potential to improve:

  • Employee motivation.
  • Productivity.
  • Retention.
  • Organizational performance.

However, incentive plans must be carefully designed and implemented to ensure they align with the organization's values and objectives and avoid negative consequences.

Let’s look at the drawbacks while crafting incentive plans.

3 major drawbacks of individual incentive plans

A study by Cornell University found that individual incentives can also lead to unhealthy competition, increased stress, and a focus on short-term goals at the expense of long-term success.

Therefore, these plans should be implemented carefully so as not to deter your team’s performance.

Let’s look at the 3 drawbacks or common pitfalls when implementing incentive plans:

1. Lack of teamwork

Individual incentive programs may persuade individuals to concentrate entirely on their own objectives and incentives rather than working collaboratively with their coworkers.

As a result, employees are less inclined to exchange expertise or help one another in a segregated workplace.

As a result, there may be a less cohesive team and a collaborative work culture.

2. Quality issues

Incentives tied to specific targets or goals can lead to employees prioritizing quantity over quality. Sometimes, employees may cut corners, take shortcuts, or sacrifice quality to meet their targets and earn incentives.

This leads to lower quality work, which can hurt the organization, such as decreased customer satisfaction or increased costs due to rework.

3. Can lead to conflicts

Individual incentives can result in competition among sales reps, leading to conflicts and tensions within the team.

When employees compete for the same rewards, those who do not receive the incentive may feel unfair or resentful, ending in conflicts and even a drop in team morale.

Furthermore, if employees believe that their performance is being unfairly compared to others, it can lead to stress and pressure, which can have a negative impact on their work.

That’s why it’s important to remember that Incentives are not a one-size-fits-all solution. They must be implemented with care, taking into account factors like employee needs and capabilities, organizational culture, and objectives.

Individual incentives must be balanced with the need for teamwork, quality, and collaboration within the team.

Should you implement individual incentive plans?

Individual incentive plans can be a powerful tool for increasing employee productivity, improving retention, lowering costs, and more.

However, it’s critical to be aware of the potential drawbacks, such as a lack of teamwork, quality issues, and conflicts that can arise when such plans are not implemented the right way.

You can mitigate these disadvantages by implementing team-based incentives, quality control measures, and open employee communication. This helps create a workforce that is motivated, productive and engaged.

Ultimately, the organizational culture, objectives, and employee needs, determine individual incentive plans' success.

Consider these factors carefully and implement these plans to create a positive and rewarding work environment!

Frequently asked questions on individual incentive plans

What is an example of an individual incentive plan?

An example of an individual incentive plan is a commission-based system where salespeople earn a percentage of the revenue they generate from sales.

What is the individual incentive scheme?

An individual incentive scheme refers to a compensation plan that rewards employees based on their individual performance, such as achieving sales targets or completing tasks.

What are the three types of incentive plans?

The three types of incentive plans are monetary (e.g., bonuses, commissions), non-monetary (e.g., recognition programs, extra time off), and combination plans (a mix of monetary and non-monetary rewards).

What are the advantages of individualized incentive plans?

The advantages of individualized incentive plans include increased motivation, better performance alignment with organizational goals, and the ability to recognize and reward individual contributions effectively.

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