One of the biggest challenges to a small business isn’t found on a balance sheet. Instead, it’s an issue of human capital. The process of keeping good people is an ongoing test for the small business owner.
As the founder and CEO of my own firm, a public relations and financial communications agency, I face this situation over and over again. Even as my company grows, I find my best people are often tempted by the bigger players in my field. What can I do to keep my best talent at home? I’ve found the most effective way to do this is to align my bottom line with their bottom line.
To do this, I initiated a Commission for Life™ compensation plan. Any of my employees who set up a successful new business meeting – that’s it, just simply sets up the first meeting with a potential client – gets 5% of the revenue from that account for the life of the business as long as they remain with the firm.
I created this system initially as a strategy to encourage the kind of behaviors I needed. I wanted my staff to constantly be on the hunt for new business, and so I created a compensation system that rewarded that work. But Commission for Life does more than just drum up new business. It’s also become a very successful retention strategy for my firm.
Why it works:
It’s democratic. Anyone in the company can participate. In fact, I want everybody in the company to participate. This sets Commission for Life apart from other reward plans such as those that only reward executives or only benefit outside sales reps.
It’s easy to understand. Transparency is an important part of my corporate architecture and Commission for Life underscores this commitment. There are no hidden ‘gotchas’, no hoops to jump through, no exceptions to the pay out. Set up the new business meeting and you’re up for the 5% - if we win the client (and in most cases we do).
It’s inspirational. One year a summer intern who is now an Account Supervisor with the firm, scored the biggest new business account of the quarter and had a commission check to prove it, and boy, did word get around. Everyone started to flip through their Rolodexes and scroll through LinkedIn and Facebook pages trying to think of who they could target for a new business meeting. And that’s just the kind of response I like to see: employees, motivated, out beating the bushes for new business. Not because I ordered them to do it, but because I motivated them to do it – for all of us.
While a pay strategy is important, I also make sure I focus on offering “psychic” compensation -- compensation that doesn’t come in monetary (or really any tangible) form. I offer my employees autonomy. I offer them complex and challenging work to keep them engaged and learning. I am generous with my praise and my appreciation. If you don’t have those elements that make people feel good about working for you, no pay strategy will hold them indefinitely.
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