08/28/2013 02:44 pm ET Updated Oct 28, 2013

What Britney Spears Can Teach You About Improving Your Employee Referral Program

Your employees are busy people. Some of them go above and beyond their job duties, some stay late, some even work on the weekends. Essentially, they already have a lot on their plates. You know else is a busy person? Britney Spears. And I'm betting she has no problem keeping herself -- and her team -- engaged.

As an HR leader, you may have issues keeping attention spans intact. When you want your employees to participate in external processes like an employee referral program, it can be difficult for them to stay engaged, especially if your employees don't see it as a priority.

So, like Britney, your employees may want you to "Gimme More" in order to see the worth in the referral process. And because referrals are commonly noted as the No. 1 source of hire and retention, you essentially need your employees to kick it up a notch and get to referring. How can you persuade them to participate in an employee referral program and give you more?

Incentivize at each step

From assistants to managers, Britney Spears incentivizes her team pretty well. It's how to keep everyone motivated and engaged to produce the level of work you're looking for. The same goes for your employee referral program, and every step of the way is crucial. From finding leads to the interview process to making an offer, getting your referrals from Point A to Point B isn't a simple walk in the park. That's why it's important to ramp up your rewards in each stage of the process.

Let's say an employee refers a candidate who then goes on to become a qualified lead. This opens up the door to the first set of rewards, which may be a gift card or social recognition. If the lead does well in an interview, your employee may receive a higher caliber reward, such as a day off or a parking space. If the candidate is actually hired, cash incentives can be offered. When you incentivize each step, you encourage the idea of quality over quantity -- because the better a candidate is, the greater the chances of more rewards for the referrer.

Vary your rewards

Britney is all about changing it up -- from her music to her wardrobe to her hair, she tends to keep things fresh and different. Varying your rewards is a similar tactic, which does a few things. First, it's an overall incentive for your employees to participate. In addition, when they know they will receive different rewards, it keeps things fresh. After all, how many movie tickets can you give away until the reward loses its luster?

Though cash rewards are the No. 1 incentive for getting employees to participate, differing the kinds of rewards you offer your employees can get them to jump headfirst into the referral process. So in addition to money, you can offer your employees public recognition, a simple thanks, time off or product rewards.

Use gamification

You've seen Britney participate in television game shows, like X Factor. In it, participants essentially take part in game-like processes in order to win the glory. Gamification is essentially the same thing. The strategy uses the thinking, learning and mechanics from games to increase engagement. When you involve your employees in these games, you keep their attentions piqued, while at the same time understanding they get a prize if they play their cards right.

For example, leaderboards are a great way to gamify your rewards process. Once employees start participating in a referral program, you can note who's winning and who's at the top, as well as what prizes they've won so far. In addition, offering fixed incentives in your rewards program to anyone who has reached a particular status in the leaderboard reinforces their decision to take action.

Go beyond your internal network

Britney is the queen of knowing people. Not only has her network of colleagues, friends, and fans gotten her to where she is today, she continues to create relationships with each album and venture. In the same light, your employee referral program doesn't have to be exclusive to your internal network. Your business partners, old colleagues, or vendors can also participate in the referral process, which is something you want because they typically bring in great leads. However, for someone on the outside, it's not something they have to do. In fact, it's on their own volition that they participate.

Rewards are a great way to get them to act, especially if these rewards are out-of-the box. You could feature a referrers company in your employee newsletter. You can also bring light to their cause or put their name down in a donation. Cash rewards are, of course, another attractive offer. Tailoring your rewards to people who put in that extra effort, like your external network, is yet another way to get them to get on board.

You may not have realized it, but Britney Spears can teach you a thing or two about improving your employee rewards program. By taking lessons from her achievements, you put yourself and your team on the path to gaining great leads and acknowledging action over inaction, both of which rewards quality over quantity.

What do you think? What are some other ways to implement rewards in an employee referral program?

Ziv Eliraz is the Founder and CEO of Zao, social employee referral management platform. Connect with Ziv and Zao on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.