Why Long-Term 'Value Sharing' Matters

The following post is an excerpt from a  VisionLink White Paper (with the same title). To access the full report, click here.

Value sharing is an issue that, sooner or later, every enterprise leader must confront. For example, many responsible for driving business growth wonder whether some kind of long-term incentive will enable higher performance; and if so, which approach is best—stock, performance units, phantom equity or some other value sharing plan. This article offers five compelling reasons why long-term value sharing is critical for any company seeking breakthrough growth.

business-success-and-growth.jpgIt is not the intent of this article to make a judgment about which long-term plan is most effective or to describe the advantages and disadvantages of different value sharing approaches. Instead, we want to consider why such plans matter and how they make companies more productive while multiplying wealth for all stakeholders.

With that understanding as a “jumping off point,” let’s now move on to why long-term value sharing matters.

#1: Value Sharing Attracts the Best Talent and Magnifies Results

To achieve sustained success, companies must attract and keep talented people that know how to compete and are willing and able to assume a stewardship role in representing shareholder interests towards growth. For such a relationship to be properly fostered, owners and other stakeholders (in this case, key talent) must share both the risks and the rewards associated with value creation.

Those of superior talent are attracted to this idea. Individuals best equipped to contribute to the future success of the business will see it as an opportunity to have what amounts to a mini-entrepreneurial experience within the construct of someone else’s business model. As such, they view the company as a mechanism for wealth creation, not just a place to express their passion and talent. And shareholders should want employees with that perspective representing their interests.

#2: Effectively designed long-term value sharing plans reinforce the company’s business model

A sustainable business model depends, in large part, on a culture that is committed to and, ideally, “invested in” that model’s reinforcement and success. As a result, having key members of a workforce aligned financially with the business model makes both common and strategic sense. The importance of this concept stems from the nature of the virtuous cycles (revenue perpetuation) the model is intended to produce.

Four Seasons, Verizon and Amazon each have distinct business models and, by extension, unique virtuous cycles. So, it only stands to reason that their compensation strategies will be equally distinct. The metrics and measures that stand as gate keepers to payouts (or earned shares, as the case may be) in each organization must reflect and reinforce the virtuous cycles relevant to that business.

# 3: Value Sharing Protects against Bad Profits and Promotes Good Profits

In his book The Ultimate Question, Fred Reichheld, a Bain Fellow and founder of Bain & Company's Loyalty Practice, offers the following on the subject of profits:

"Whenever a customer feels misled, mistreated, ignored, or coerced, then profits from that customer are bad…Bad profits are about extracting value from customers, not creating value." (The Ultimate Question, Fred Reichheld, Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, 2006, 3-4.)

Long-term value sharing arrangements, if designed properly, become a self-enforcing means of perpetuating good profits. Everyone has an interest in good profits if everyone’s wealth multiplier rises or falls on the ability of the company to sustain the right kind of profitability.

#4: Long-term value sharing promotes an ownership mindset

Businesses need employees in leadership roles that understand “what’s important.” Such individuals must be able to embrace a stewardship role in aligning their focus with that of shareholders. They need to define what’s important in the same terms as ownership when they go about fulfilling their responsibilities. For most companies, a list of “what’s important” would include, but not be limited to, the following:

  • Drive growth (revenue, net income, EBIDTA or other measures)
  • Improve margins/profits
  • Manage costs

Each of those areas of emphasis has long-term implications. In that context, value sharing plays a key role in communicating “what’s important” and aligns key producers with ownership thinking.

#5: Value Sharing Builds Trust and Trust Accelerates Results

At its core, value sharing is about turning a company’s workforce into partners in building the future company. A culture of confidence is rooted in an environment of trust. Value sharing communicates and builds trust because, in part, it is a fair approach to rewarding those responsible for value creation—and trust is the key to accelerating results. In his book The Speed of Trust, author Stephen M. R. Covey makes the case this way:

"Whether it’s high or low, trust is the “hidden variable” in the formula for organizational success.

" …A company can have an excellent strategy and a strong ability to execute; but the net result can be torpedoed by a low-trust tax or multiplied by a high-trust dividend. This makes a powerful business case for trust, assuring that it is not a soft, 'nice to have' quality." (The Speed of Trust, Stephen M. R. Covey, Free Press, February 2008)

When you pay people in a way that communicates you want them as partners in building the future business, you are, in essence, saying: “I have confidence in you and trust your ability to get results. To prove it, I’m willing to share the value you help create.”

Start with a Clear Philosophy

Before considering which plan is “right,” wise leaders will begin with the development of a compensation philosophy that addresses how the company will nurture a culture of confidence through its approach to rewards. Such a philosophy should address the balance the company will maintain between short and long-term value sharing, and guaranteed versus at risk compensation. Determining the plan that will best reflect that philosophy then becomes much easier.

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