Where is compensation headed in the future and why? It's a compelling subject for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that pay programs represent the largest budget item most business leaders have to manage. And the trends so far have American companies paying attention to this issue probably more than they ever have before. Why is that? Well...much of it has to do with the economic environment of the past three plus years that has fundamentally altered the way business leaders, employees (or potential employees) and the public (through the eyes of the media) look at financial rewards within the business. Owners and CEOs are worried about locking key producers into high salaried positions. Talent that has been sitting on the sidelines is concerned about coming back into the labor force and getting locked into a salary that is far below what it earned at its peak. And the public (the media) is concerned about "fairness." So this leaves everyone looking for effective solutions and asking where this is all headed from here.
To understand where compensation is headed, we must first understand where business is headed; specifically, what kind of people are businesses going to want and need to attract to remain competitive. The key word in this regard is innovation. The focus on creative energy within organizations both large and small is bigger than it has ever been--and it will only increase in the future. Pick up any business publication these days and you would be hard pressed to find one that doesn't have multiple articles on innovation--how it happens, who is most innovative or how to breed greater levels of this quality within a company. So how does this relate, first of all, to the kind of talent businesses are looking to attract? Consider this insight offered by Scott D. Anthony in the September issue of Harvard Business Review. Mr. Anthony is the managing director of Innosight Asia-Pacific and the author of The Little Black Book of Innovation (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012):
"It’s early days still, but the evidence is compelling that we are entering a new era of innovation, in which entrepreneurial individuals, or 'catalysts,' within big companies are using those companies’ resources, scale, and growing agility to develop solutions to global challenges in ways that few others can...These companies have pushed into territory that was once the province of entrepreneurs, NGOs, and governments—from delivering health care technology, clean water, and new agricultural capabilities in developing countries to managing energy, traffic, public transit, and crime in the world’s major cities." ("The New Corporate Garage", Harvard Business Review, September 2012, Scott D. Anthony)
The trend that this article and others point out has to do with the focus businesses have adopted on hiring entrepreneurial individuals (catalysts) that can leverage the company's resources to create and innovate. And the article goes on to point out that "Whereas the inventions that characterized the first three eras [of innovation development in American companies] were typically (but not always) technological breakthroughs, fourth-era innovations are likely to involve business models. One analysis shows that from 1997 to 2007 more than half of the companies that made it onto the Fortune 500 before their 25th birthdays—including Amazon, Starbucks, and AutoNation—were business model innovators."
If you take just these two elements--catalysts and business models--it becomes clear where compensation needs to go if it is going to support the need for businesses to innovate. Pay strategies need to attract people with entrepreneur capabilities and reward them for leveraging the ability of the company to expand, magnify or otherwise accelerate the virtuous cycles of the company's business model. Intuition will tell you that this need is not going to be addressed by simply paying competitive salaries or even generous bonuses. Catalysts are going to seek a compensation structure that will reflect the entrepreneurial experience they are seeking within the business. They want a stake in the value they help create. For some, this may mean--at least initially--that they will ask for equity in the business. And in a certain number of cases, sharing stock might be appropriate. However, there are multiple ways to share value without sharing equity--and companies will become more and more interested in understanding how that can be done. At a recent CEO2CEO conference that I attended on innovation, more than one business leader talked about how their companies had developed a venture pool within the business that is awarded to producers that ignite relevant, profitable innovation that further fuels or enhances the business model. Phantom stock, profit pools, SARs, Performance Unit Plans and their variations will also play a larger and larger role in shaping the total value proposition that a "catalyst" employee is offered and will demand.
In short, the compensation of the future will not necessarily involve only new pay "schemes" that have never been used before, although some such plans are emerging (e.g. the internal venture capital fund just mentioned). Rather, it will be a matter of companies paying more attention to the range of pay elements they combine to create a financial opportunity that matches what the innovators of the future will seek. It will become both a question of how much those individuals are paid and how that compensation comes to them.
To learn more about the compensation trends for the future, tune into our webinar on December 10 entitled "The Compensation of the Future: Where is Pay Headed?"