Ask Mike: Back Office Incentives

one large and one small carrot
Mike Neill, CSE Photo
ServiStar Consulting

4 minutes

Don’t get caught up in “fairness.”

Do you have a question about improving sales, employee performance or sales cultures? In our new column, Michael Neill, CSE, will take your questions and offer his best advice. Neill is president of Michael Neill & Associates, Franklin, Tenn., and a CUES strategic partner in offering ServiStar

Question: How Can We Offer Incentives to the Back Office?

Frequently, when credit unions decide to implement an employee sales incentive program, they worry about being “fair” to the back office.

First of all, employee incentives do work. It’s just a shame that they do. Leadership and coaching work better to encourage the results you’re looking for. Read why in my previous article

But, back to the back office. We do want to offer incentives for the support areas. But those incentives need to reflect the work back office employees actually do rather than just trying to make front and back office incentive dollars equal for the sake fairness.  

When we think in terms of fairness, we start to do really tortured things to make the support employees get money. For example, I’ve seen cases where front line sales staff partner with back office support staff and share their incentive dollars. That makes no sense, whatsoever. The problem is that the support employee has done nothing to earn that incentive. It’s like a tax. You’re taxing the front line person by saying “you couldn’t function without the support person.” Well, we couldn’t function without the support areas. But there’s not always a direct line of support from the back office employee to the front office employee. An employee whose job is in accounts payable can’t offer much more support than encouragement along the lines of “Keep it up, Tracy! I like this money!”

You want to use incentives to change behavior. But in the above scenario, the accounts payable employee earns the incentive when Tracy succeeds. He gets the money whether or not his behavior changes. 

A second problem with back office incentives is that each support area has very different job functions but in branches the job functions are very similar to each other. A member service representatives in branch A does the same kind of work as the MSR in branch B. The support area has no corollary like that. 

So how can you create a single incentive program for support people when in fact their jobs are so dissimilar? 

What we want to do is recognize and reward our support employees for what they do that is within our expected culture. I am a big proponent for support employees being able to earn incentives but they should earn incentives for what they do to participate in culture. 

Ever wonder why employees can’t wait to get off the front line? They want to work in a department where they can work 9-5 Monday-Friday, and in an area where they don’t get yelled about by members. Frequently, employees see moving off the fontline as a promotion. When you promote your best and brightest employees to the back office, you’re left with inexperienced employees in member-facing roles. How can you create an outstanding member experience that way? It’s important to provide a reason for employees to stay on the frontline. So please don’t make them share their incentives with back office staff.

Here are my suggestions for back office incentives:

  • Define how the support department impacts culture and recognize outstanding performance in those behaviors. For example, use an internal service survey. If an employee’s or department’s score is X or higher, they receive recognition. This provides the opportunity to recognize individuals and departments for what they are doing within culture, relative to their expectations, to make things better for everybody.
  • Pay employees for every money-saving idea the credit union adopts. 
  • Pay back office staffers an annual bonus based on the overall financial performance of the credit union. Back office employees who make IT systems run well, pay the bills, design marketing materials, audit, manage inventory and supplies, etc., have a lot of impact on overall credit union performance.
  • Finally, you could create performance goals for each department. The IT department’s goals might be things like response time to help desk phone calls or meeting system “up time” goals. But the marketing department’s goals could be tied to new memberships or traffic to the credit union’s website. The goals are completely disparate because they are completely disparate departments and functions. 

Michael Neill, CSE, is president of Michael Neill & Associates, Franklin, Tenn., and a CUES strategic partner in offering ServiStar. Contact him at

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