Remember that time you spent weeks modeling a new incentive plan only to have it shot down? They explained that any goals needed to be based on RESULTS! You maintained that the reason interim goals were included, was to ensure that success could be achieved and communicated throughout the process. Remember that other time you explained to your managers that they needed to have frequent conversations on the new pay for performance program? And, when it didn't work they told you there wasn’t time for all those conversations. They simply explained the program up front and waited to inform people of results at the end.
Remember that time you told yourself (again) that you were going to 35 pounds? This was the time you would stick to the program. You even lost the first 15 pounds in a couple of months of good eating and consistent exercise. But, then you were at the holiday party buffet lines and bounced back to where you were.
Intuitively, you knew the correct approach needed for each of the above tasks to be successful. You even worked (maybe not enough) to execute that approach. So, what went wrong?
Harvard Psychologist Amy Cuddy explains that the reasons most goals are missed is because they focus on the outcome, not the process. (Yep, you were right.)
It’s difficult to stand your ground when a CEO or department head pushes back on a new incentive plan. They want results and want their people to stay focused on those results. They point all of the reasons your “small steps” are distractions, too expensive, slow down production or cannot be fully communicated and supported before the (often arbitrary) defined rollout date. Faced with abject failure or watering down a plan, the latter is often selected just to keep moving forward.
As a consultant, there have been times I have presented similar recommendations to those same individuals, only to have them accepted and moved forward. The internal comp team will walk out and express their frustration because they said the same thing weeks or months prior.
Consultants are not magic. We usually know the same things you know. Sometimes we have better data. Sometimes we have more polished techniques and tools. Sometimes we have more complete answers for questions. Mainly, we have an air of outside credibility (and the weight of a decent consulting fee) that makes people believe they should listen.
Here are the facts you need. I understand you know them, but now you can say, “This is what a consultant and this Harvard Psychologist say we should do.”
Make sure you can explain your business case using terms, images and figures that your audience already understands.
Show the end goal and explain that the plan is designed to get participants and the company exactly there.
If you are aware of concerns that will arise, mention them at the onset and explain they will be addressed during your presentation.
Show the milestones that must be met to get the participants to the end goals. Use imagery and processes from your own business or services as a model.
Make it clear which are simply checkpoints on the road, which are places to refuel and provide new communication and which are designed to allow for adjustments or alignment with new programs.
Don’t dismiss stakeholder concerns. Explain how solutions for those concerns have been built into the design or be willing to go back and evaluate those concerns before proceeding.
Be prepared to give a bit away, but know where the line must be drawn (before you ever walk into the room.)
Be confident that you are good at what you do and know how to align the program with success. (Or, hire a consultant to do this for you.)
This will work more often than it fails. But, be aware that when it fails it is not a good reason to avoid doing this in the future. Sometimes you need to give the same message multiple times and in several ways to get the results the company wants. You know you’re right. Just be consistent and patient.
Dan Walter, CECP, CEP is the President and CEO of Performensation. He is passionately committed to aligning pay with company strategy and culture and has been deeply involved in equity compensation for a long, long time. Dan has written several industry resources including the recent Performance-Based Equity Compensation. He has co-authored ”Everything You Do In Compensation is Communication”, “The Decision Makers Guide to Equity Compensation”, “Equity Alternatives” and a few other books. Connect with Dan on LinkedIn. Or, follow him on Twitter at @Performensation and @SayOnPay.