Defenders Of The Status Quo: Compensation And Culture II

This is the second in a two-part series. Read Part I here.

Every company has its defenders of culture who – for better or for worse – maintain the status quo. Close inspection of what these people are defending reveals the root values of the organization. The root values branch out across the company and manifest as various practices by each function, from sales to finance.

But culture is organic. It evolves. And sometimes you have to prune it back a bit to keep it in shape. Not surprisingly, changes to the sales compensation plan inevitably breed conflict.

In our work with companies, a few compensation challenges stand out:

1. Job roles. Conflict can arise from inconsistent definitions of job roles. A company we worked with recently said, “We want to put a new business developer role – an aggressive hunter role – in the organization.” But that was very contradictory to the service-oriented, account management culture they had encouraged for years. So there was a question of whether to move current people into those roles or bring in new people. Current people felt threatened and worried about a potential loss of income.

2. Paying top performers. Compensation issues such as pay mix and threshold present questions as well. An aggressive job role demands a certain pay mix and threshold, which might conflict with a moderate culture. Certainly if we have plans that provide less pay on the downside and more pay on the upside (so you’re paying a significant amount more to top performers) can conflict with a culture that’s accustomed to less disparity.

3. The timing and urgency of the plan. We recently worked with a company that has two different organizations. One is paid on bookings; the other is paid on billings. They have very dissimilar dynamics and very distinct cultures because of differences in the way they’re paid (they’re paid that way because of separate features in the business). The part of the company that uses bookings has more contracted revenue. So they can pay on bookings and the rep can move on to the next deal. With billings it’s not a hard contract, so it takes a while for that revenue to actually show itself. And the company wants the rep to be involved. It creates a very different level of urgency and a different level of account management. The selection of a mechanic or a measure like that can make a big difference in terms of how that aligns with culture.

4. Governance. When you make a change in the plan, how do you accomplish it within the company’s cultural tolerance for change? For example, if a company wants to put in a new customer selling role, or really make that a focus in the organization, how fast should we make that change? Is that something we can afford to do right away or should we do that over a period of steps in order to make it a little easier for the organization to handle that change?

Even though change is inevitable, every company has its defenders of the status quo. In fact, according to research, when implementing a cultural shift, 20% of the people will be change friendly, 50% will be fence-sitters but 30% will deliberately resist or try to make the change fail.


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