VisionLink Blog

Ken Gibson

What is a “Fair” Compensation Plan?

Who doesn’t want to be called fair, right?  A desire to be considered fair is in our bones and to be called unfair is one of life’s ultimate insults. (Unless of course it’s your teenager claiming something is unfair; in which case you know you’re on the right track. But I digress.)  Likewise, we instinctively sense unfairness when we experience it.

Fairness in compensation, however, is a topic almost no one seems to want to think about.  How can we objectively determine if a pay plan is fair and do we even want to “go there?”  Well, I think we can (determine it) and should (go there).  Here’s a list of questions I think a company should consider to determine if their compensation package is “fair.”

I suppose other questions and categories could be added to that list, but that’s a pretty good start.  I believe most companies have more control over the sense of fairness employees feel about compensation than they sometimes allow.  For example, many are confronted by employees who have looked at market pay data online and concluded they are under paid for their positions.  Never mind that there is a range of variables in evaluating such data, and that employees who are overpaid will never make that known to their employer.  The overriding issue is that most companies don’t have a philosophy driving their pay strategies.  They are not armed with a cohesive approach, so they are left sensing that such employees feel the company is “unfair” when it comes to pay–regardless of the logical explanations that are offered in response to their challenges. Such business leaders need an approach to rewards that will allow them to respond in such situations with something like the following:

“Our company’s philosophy about compensation is that we will pay salaries at the 45 percentile of what market pay data indicates for the positions in our organization.  (By the way, our last check of that data indicates you are at the 47% for your position, based on an average of four surveys we evaluated.) However, we also believe in providing significant upside potential through the two value-sharing plans you are eligible for.  Our annual bonus plan allows you to earn an additional 25% plus of salary if you and the company meet the performance standards we have set and communicated. Likewise, you participate in a phantom stock plan that allows you to earn an additional 30% of your salary in phantom shares of stock which, if we continue to meet our targets, will grow in value and be paid out to you in five years.  You also are part of our company’s deferred compensation plan which has a performance match of up to 25% of your contributions.  That is not counting the match we give all employees on their 401(k) program contributions. All told, your pay package has a value of $1.7 million over the next five years.”

I think most people would not only would consider such an approach “fair” but would likely find it a compelling reason to join and or stay with such an organization.  And by the way, the “self-financing” approach to the value sharing described here makes CEOs and shareholders happy to write incentive payout checks. Value is being paid out of superior value created–and nothing is paid if certain performance thresholds aren’t met.  So it is not only a fair approach for employees but for the business as well.

Companies that give this much thought to their approach to pay communicate the value they place in the relationship with their people and a respect for the unique contributions individual members of the workforce make. That sense of partnership makes fairness self evident.

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"VisionLink has helped us successfully navigate a number of complex issues regarding our rewards programs. It has dealt with all facets of these varied issues with a high degree of competence, integrity, and straight forward advice. VisionLink's experienced team has consistently delivered first class results in a timely, professional manner and has become a valued Storm partner."

Thomas K. Grzywacz
President/Chief Executive Officer
Storm Industries, Inc.

"VisionLink has helped us successfully engineer a long-term incentive plan that has empowered our company to reward and retain key talent while increasing shareholder value. The knowledge, patience and deep experience of its team members helped us navigate a road that was unfamiliar to us. Ultimately, VisionLink designed a plan that met the high standards of both stockholders and key management employees. We have further engaged VisionLink to address our business succession and transition planning needs."

Reggie Dupre'
Chief Executive Officer
Dupre Logistics

"Over the past several years, National Technical Systems has engaged VisionLink to provide insight and direction on a number of executive compensation issues, as well as a performance evaluation of our 401(k) plan. Under its direction, NTS completely revamped executive level rewards to align with our business growth objectives and the strategic plan of the company. VisionLink's insight and direction have been invaluable. NTS has achieved its growth objectives and our executives feel appropriately rewarded for their performance."

Bill McGinnis
President/Chief Executive Officer
National Technical Systems

"VisionLink arrived on the scene just in time for us. We needed a new framework for our short-term and long-term incentive plans. VisionLink's modeling and forecasting process broadened our horizons and expanded our view of how to use a good incentive system to build, retain and strengthen our senior management team. We remain impressed by their expertise, professionalism and great service."

James Keng
Jimway, Inc.

"Our firm has had a long-term incentive plan for over eight years but we never quite felt like it was firing on all cylinders. We hired VisionLink to re-energize our plan, and they did it! We now have a cohesive awards strategy that's fair to shareholders and valued by our employees. VisionLink's team is technically skilled and very creative. We're happy to recommend VisionLink to firms looking to upgrade their management incentive programs."

John M
FTO Inc.

"Our company was like VisionLink's typical clients. We were great at sales and haphazard at how we compensated our people. VisionLink's process brings great clarity and confidence to our growth planning - and makes compensation a great growth capability."

Dan Sullivan
Founder and President
Strategic Coach ©

"The team at VisionLink helped our company structure a long-term incentive plan that parallels the company's strategy for continued growth as a global market leader within our industry. Their approach resulted in a program that our corporate team and executives embraced on both a professional and personal basis. Through VisionLink's guidance and execution, we were able to create both a motivational tool for current team members and a recruiting device to attract future executive level associates. Well done!"

Mark Rhoades
Fluidmaster, Inc.

"As a leading direct seller of scrapbook photo albums and supplies, Creative Memories has independent consultants across the country. And for over six years now, VisionLink has helped us to stay connected and administer a voluntary 409A non-qualified plan for them. VisionLink has provided support for all aspects of our plan from notification of eligibility through registration and distribution. The VisionLink support team has offered suggestions for improving processes and provided us with outstanding service year after year."

Guy Walker
Creative Memories North America

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