Sales Performance Management

Lessons learned from recent incentive compensation management war stories

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In my travels to clients, I hear many war stories. Recently, these have come from new clients with recent wounds. These wounds often go deep – there are tales of long days, lost weekends, and swaths of frustrated team members. I am reminded of the Greek fable of Sisyphus, who discovered and shared the secrets of the gods with others, punished by being chained to a giant bolder, forced to push it up a hill each day, only to roll down, and start back over. Someone in the organization discovers just how powerful it is to adjust the variable compensation to encourage good behaviors, they are chained to a spreadsheet, forced to repeat filling it in, and correcting it during every pay cycle.

Sustainability is priority

These stories seem avoidable in retrospect. So, what lesson can I share to save you from such a cruel fate? Described in one word, I would say – sustainability. I love this word, especially when applied to incentive compensation management. We all want our plans to be reasonable, defendable, and justifiable. Our systems should be aligned with a conservationist approach, they need to endure, provide a livable condition, support others, and have tolerable thresholds to survive harsh conditions. Besides, sustainability can also mean that something is true and real. The accuracy of what we provide is critical to the payout, points, or percentage of our pact with those earning. For instance, in recent years, I have heard difficult stories from clients who did not work on sustainable systems. The first warning signal is lack of a sustainable vision, resulting into a lack of investment and delivery communicated in the roadmap of the systems. Ideally, even a homegrown system needs to have a path forward with a clear executable vision for delivery. Considering basic requirements within the system like systems fixes, updates, and grooming efforts, these are all positive signs for viable growth.

Map out your future

Roadmaps should have an empathy component built into their strategy for making the lives of the operators or the end users easier with a goal for continuous improvement.

I would call that a basic roadmap. What one should really look for in a roadmap is a vision to take the community forward. This can be balanced with a series of executable milestones to show that these are not empty words, but in reality, it builds trust. In the absence of these elements, clients have expressed frustrations as part of their stories from the past.

Some stories have expressed a lack of sustainability through budget. There are some systems which will manage work for you in a way that works against your interests. These are what are referred to as “black box” operations. A process and system are designed and set into place and if something in that process, say, a rate table, needs to change, it will need special services. In fact, these managed systems look very appealing because they are very hands off but they become very expensive very quickly. As aspects need to change regularly for onboarding, market shifts, plan alterations, and/or exceptions, attached comes a growing fee associated with it. One of the stories recently told includes desire to leave a system with the inability (both technically and legally) to retrieve the client’s data. This provider was going to hold their five years of historical data hostage just because they were “breaking up.”

Set realistic goals

One recurring war story I have been hearing from new clients was one about the broken promise of being able to deliver. This story started with a happy and long relationship, years of good roadmap and investments, with a satisfactory personal relationship. Then, infrastructure changed radically and promises were left unkept. This team, who could handle all the technical aspects themselves, was now being asked to learn entirely new skill sets. There were years of predictable outcomes and time frames, but now there is this unexplained urgency to switch to something they couldn’t control or have insight into in terms of how it operated. It was a big, and a high risk task, and the worst part of all, they felt alone. They no longer had a support system in place with trusted advisors and advocates. They felt abandoned to do the work on their own as some giant batch process. They felt duped for not seeing the warning signs earlier.

War stories can be fun to tell over an icy beverage after a productive day, but they can also be modern day fables that teach us all a good lesson. With one word – sustainability – we can find important areas to focus on and make certain those payments for our top performers are in place.

We need to build sustainable relationships where trust and communication is the foundation. Similarly, we need to build sustainable systems that provide reliability, clear ownership rights, and support reason.

Talk to us!

Let’s connect if you are interested in seeing our Sales Performance Management roadmap, how we help clients recognize a cognitive compensation experience, or would like to share your favorite war stories.

Portfolio Offering Manager, IBM Sales Performance Management

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