I’m paying out $1 million in bonuses for my top five people – what’s in it for me?

James E. Moniz |

October Benefits Installment by Jim Moniz:

When Jack Welsh left GE, he received – and by the way continues to enjoy – a retirement benefit valued at about $ million a year, plus perks. Lots of press attention and much controversy followed, but the reality is Welch’s package amounted to less than 3/100s of 1% of the shareholder value that was created while he was at GE. In fact, his total compensation during Welch’s entire time at the company was less than 2/10ths of 1% of the value created.

OK so what’s my point? The Welch example illustrates a fundamental premise in examining the value of compensation. If you juxtapose Welch’s compensation arrangement with GE’s results during his tenure there, it hardly seems exorbitant…that’s because his “rewards” are being evaluated in the context of the bottom line. While the numbers may not be as dramatic in your business, the same premise and principles still apply. Compensation should drive and be tied to results that are quantifiable and measurable.

Here’s the big question – what are you getting right now for what you’re paying out? You’re getting the current result, whatever that may be. But if the results you achieve this year are not measurably different than what you had last year, what are you going to do next year to drive a different performance level? And how will pay differ in regards to these changes? Growth implies different results and by extension the strategies you’ve used to get current results can’t be the same in the future if a different result is desired or expected. Because compensation is one of the strategic tools in a business’ arsenal to affect change, companies looking to develop different performance results can’t expect to achieve forward motion if their rewards programs don’t match up to their goals.

Let’s break it down a little. If your company sets its target on growing net income by 20% per year over the next three years, you need to ask yourself a few important questions. What part of our compensation and rewards plan communicates that goal to employees? If we achieve or exceed that number how much are we willing to share? Who will get their fair share and then some if we meet our financial targets? To what extent will key employees’ participation fuel this desired growth? In other words, what comes first – growth or employees that are motivated by incentives to create growth?

For growth to occur sustained performance must be achieved…and since these results are largely a function of your key employees, compensation becomes a focus. As a business owner you have to determine the right mix of compensation components. These elements should include a strategic mix of core benefits, executive benefits, qualified retirement plans, supplemental retirement plans, salary, short-term incentives, long-term incentives and long-term equity incentives.

Ultimately the proverbial “rubber meets the road” when a rewards plan prompts employees to rise to a higher level of performance. For rewards to be effective they have to create increased focus on the part of participating employees – this focus is a direct result not only of financial reward, but also of a positive work environment and the path that you, as company owner, have drawn for their personal and professional development. Remember, money may be motivating, but so is an atmosphere where a culture of confidence exists.

At the end of the day, compensation can only do its part in changing results within an organization if the model and the compensation plan are understood and valued, results are achievable, and if employees are committed and feel a sense of ownership.

Results must also be concrete and measurable and communicated regularly. If these elements fall into place you will know that you’re paying your key people appropriately and you will also know what you’re getting in return.