All in incentive pay

As I have written before, equity is not about being equal. And as I have covered many, many times before, I am a true proponent of performance-based pay. Call it variable, call it personalized, call it incentive pay. Whatever you call it, I have made the argument that some people should get paid far more than others.

I like envisioning pay transparency using the idea of windows. There is a great reason we created windows many ages ago. They let light in. They allow us to look out. They can be designed to let in the fresh air, and they can provide coverage for those things not meant for the eyes of others.

Could it be that we are designing and communicating incentives for our highest performance all wrong? A recent study titled “Reappraisal of incentives ameliorates choking under pressure and is correlated with changes in the neural representations of incentives” appears to show that the fear of losing a reward allows people to perform at the edge better than the desire for earning more award.

I began my compensation career in 1994. People still typed things (on typewriters). Email was a new thing used by only a limited few. Equity compensation was the wild west. It cost companies nothing. It was used as liberally as salt at a corner burger joint. Few companies knew all the rules and fewer followed them. Gains were expected and repricings were performed without much thought. Importantly, equity was used to fill sometimes massive gaps between cash compensation expectations and cash compensation realities. Stock options were a secret weapon of startups and IPOs to asymmetrically compete for talent against the tech titans and other big companies of the day.

Equity is a term that has become a keystone in the world of compensation. We use it in a wide-ranging list of topics including stock-based compensation, pay transparency, gender and race. I recently did a presentation about the topic titled “Three Buzzwords and One Truth. The buzzwords being fairness, transparency, and internal equity, the truth is the continued growth in variable (differentiated) pay.

On October 11, 2018, Uber filed a request (available from Axios) with the SEC to allow these workers to receive pre-IPO equity that is compliant with Rule 701 and allow those equity awards to be registered for post-IPO use and issuance under an S-8 Registration. This would be a fundamental change to equity compensation and change the playing field for companies active in the gig economy.

The more useful type of tension can be as magical as the tug of a helium balloon on the string in a child’s hand. It can also be equally difficult to control and similarly capable of escape. It can also be as dynamic as launching from a trampoline. Learning to use it properly takes practice, but the results can be pretty impressive. This is the tension that effectively links pay and performance. It is also the tension that links groups, and entire companies, together into a stronger, more cohesive entity.