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The Empuls Glossary

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

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Incentive Compensation Plan

Incentive compensation plans often provide an effective avenue for sales leadership to motivate their teams and encourage overperformance. Meaningful incentives influence behavior in any context, and sales is no exception. By extending some sort of performance-based financial reward, you can provide some extra motivation to encourage your reps to stay on top of their sales efforts.

What is an incentive compensation plan?

An incentive compensation plan is a type of compensation strategy where a portion of an employee’s pay is linked to their performance. This linked portion can be a part of the employee’s total compensation or an additional amount earned upon meeting certain performance criteria.

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Why is incentive compensation plan important for a business?

The reasons why incentive compensation plan is important for a business are:

  • Motivating performance: Incentive compensation plans motivate employees to perform at their best. When employees know that their hard work and achievements will be recognized and rewarded, they are more likely to meet or exceed targets and goals.
  • Aligning objectives: These plans align individual and team objectives with broader organizational goals and strategies. By setting specific performance metrics and targets, businesses ensure that employees' efforts contribute directly to the company's success and advancement of its strategic priorities
  • Driving results: Incentive compensation plans incentivize behaviors and actions that drive desired outcomes, such as increased sales, improved productivity and enhanced customer satisfaction. By rewarding performance, organizations can accelerate progress toward achieving key objectives
  • Attracting and retaining talent: Competitive incentive compensation plans can help attract top talent and retain high-performing employees. Offering attractive incentives demonstrates a commitment to recognizing and rewarding employees' contributions, enhancing the employer brand and reputation
  • Fostering accountability: Incentive compensation plans promote accountability among employees by holding them responsible for achieving specific performance targets and objectives. When employees know that their compensation is tied to their performance, they are more likely to take ownership of their work.
  • Encouraging innovation: Incentive compensation plans can foster a culture of innovation and continuous improvement that drive business success. By incentivizing innovation, businesses can stay ahead of the competition and adapt to changing market dynamics more effectively.
  • Enhancing employee engagement: Engaged employees are more committed, productive, and loyal to the organization. Incentive compensation plans provide a clear framework for recognizing and rewarding employees' contributions, which can increase their sense of engagement, satisfaction, and morale.
  • Managing costs: Well-designed incentive compensation plans can help businesses manage costs effectively by tying compensation directly to performance outcomes. Instead of fixed salary increases or bonuses, variable pay based allows businesses to reward employees, optimizing the allocation of resources.

What factors should be considered when designing an incentive compensation plan?

When designing an Incentive Compensation Plan, several factors need to be carefully considered to ensure its effectiveness in motivating employees and aligning their efforts with organizational goals. These factors include:

1. Organizational goals and strategy:

  • The incentive plan should be aligned with the overall strategic objectives of the organization to ensure that employee efforts contribute to the company's success.
  • It's important to identify specific goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) that the incentive plan will support.

2. Employee roles and responsibilities:

  • Different roles within the organization may require different incentive structures. Tailoring incentives to align with specific job functions and responsibilities can ensure relevance and fairness.
  • Recognizing and rewarding both individual and team contributions may be important, depending on the organization's culture and objectives.

3. Performance metrics and measurement:

  • Clear and measurable performance metrics should be established to determine how incentives will be earned. This might include sales targets, project milestones, customer satisfaction metrics, or other relevant performance indicators.
  • The metrics should be realistic, attainable, and within the control of the employees being incentivized.

4. Budget and resource allocation:

  • The organization's financial capacity to fund the incentive plan needs to be carefully considered. The budget allocated for incentives should be sustainable and justifiable in relation to the expected performance improvements.

5. Competitive benchmarking:

  • Understanding industry standards and benchmarking against competitors can help ensure that the incentive plan remains attractive and competitive in the talent market.
  • Benchmarking can also provide insights into best practices and help in designing a plan that effectively motivates employees.

6. Risk and compliance considerations:

  • Incentive plans should be designed to mitigate any potential risks, such as encouraging unethical behavior or excessive risk-taking to achieve targets.
  • Compliance with relevant labor laws, regulations, and industry standards is essential to ensure the plan is legally sound and ethically responsible.

7. Communication and transparency:

  • Clear and transparent communication about the incentive plan is crucial to ensure employee understanding, engagement, and trust in the fairness of the plan.
  • Employees need to understand the criteria for earning incentives, the potential rewards, and the impact of their performance on the organization.

8. Long-term vs. short-term focus:

  • Consider whether the incentive plan should prioritize short-term results or also include incentives that support long-term strategic objectives, such as stock options or profit sharing.

9. Flexibility and adaptability:

  • The plan should be designed with some degree of flexibility to accommodate changes in business conditions, market dynamics, and organizational priorities.
  • Regular reviews and adjustments may be necessary to ensure the plan remains relevant and effective over time.

10. Employee Input and Feedback:

  • Involving employees in the design or refinement of the incentive plan can provide valuable insights and increase their buy-in and commitment to the plan's success.

When should a company consider changing its incentive compensation plan?

Here are some situations that may warrant a review and potential change to the compensation plan:

1. Shift in business strategy:

If the company undergoes a significant shift in its business strategy, such as entering new markets, launching new products, or restructuring operations, the incentive compensation plan may need to be adjusted to align with the new strategic priorities and performance metrics.

2. Changes in market conditions:

Changes in market dynamics, industry trends, competitive landscape, or economic conditions may necessitate modifications to the compensation plan to ensure that it remains competitive, motivating, and responsive to market realities.

3. Performance misalignment:

If the existing compensation plan fails to effectively motivate employees or drive desired behaviors and outcomes, it may be necessary to reassess the performance measures, incentive structures, or payout mechanisms to better align with organizational objectives and employee expectations.

4. Employee feedback:

Employee feedback, concerns, or dissatisfaction with the current compensation plan may indicate the need for change. Gathering input from employees through surveys, focus groups, or one-on-one discussions can provide valuable insights into areas for improvement and opportunities to enhance motivation and engagement.

5. Retention and recruitment challenges:

If the company experiences difficulties attracting and retaining top talent or if turnover rates are higher than desired, the compensation plan may be a contributing factor. Adjustments to the plan, such as offering competitive incentives or revising reward structures, may be necessary to address retention and recruitment challenges.

6. Legal or regulatory changes:

Changes in labor laws, tax regulations, or compliance requirements may necessitate updates to the compensation plan to ensure compliance and mitigate legal risks. It's essential to regularly review the plan to ensure it remains compliant with relevant laws and regulations.

7. Performance evaluation results:

Regular performance evaluations and assessments of the incentive compensation plan's impact on employee performance and organizational outcomes can reveal areas of strength and areas needing improvement. Analyzing performance data and feedback can inform decisions about plan adjustments.

8. Organizational growth or restructuring:

As the company grows, expands into new markets, or undergoes organizational restructuring, the compensation plan may need to evolve to accommodate changes in workforce size, structure, roles, and responsibilities.

9. Technology advancements:

Advancements in technology, such as new software platforms or data analytics tools, may offer opportunities to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the compensation plan. Integrating technology solutions can streamline processes, improve performance tracking, and provide valuable insights for decision-making.

10. Periodic review:

Regardless of external factors or specific triggers, it's good practice for companies to conduct periodic reviews of their incentive compensation plans to assess their ongoing relevance, effectiveness, and alignment with organizational goals. Regular reviews allow for proactive adjustments and ensure that the plan remains a strategic tool for driving performance and motivation.

How does an incentive compensation plan work?

Here's how an incentive compensation plan typically works:

1. Goal setting:

  • The organization establishes clear and measurable goals, objectives, or performance metrics that are aligned with its strategic priorities and business objectives.
  • These goals may include sales targets, revenue growth, customer satisfaction scores, productivity improvements, cost reductions, or other key performance indicators (KPIs) relevant to the organization's industry and competitive landscape.

2. Plan design:

  • The incentive compensation plan is designed to outline the structure, eligibility criteria, performance measures, and reward mechanisms for employees.
  • It may include various components such as bonuses, commissions, profit-sharing, stock options, or other forms of performance-based incentives.
  • The plan may differ for different roles, departments, or levels within the organization, depending on the nature of the work and the strategic importance of specific objectives.

3. Performance measurement:

  • Employees' performance is measured against the predefined goals and performance metrics outlined in the incentive compensation plan.
  • Performance evaluation may occur on a periodic basis (e.g., quarterly, semi-annually, annually) or continuously, depending on the nature of the goals and the organization's performance review processes.
  • Performance metrics are typically tracked using objective data, such as sales figures, revenue targets, customer feedback, production output, quality metrics, or other quantifiable indicators.

4. Reward calculation:

  • Based on employees' performance results and achievement of goals or targets, their incentive payouts are calculated according to the predetermined formulas or rules outlined in the compensation plan.
  • The incentive payout may be a percentage of salary, a fixed bonus amount, or a combination of both, depending on the structure of the plan and the employee's performance level.
  • Higher levels of achievement may result in larger incentive payouts, providing greater rewards for exceptional performance and strong contributions to the organization's success.

5. Communication and transparency:

  • It's crucial for organizations to communicate the incentive compensation plan clearly and transparently to employees, ensuring they understand the goals, performance measures, eligibility criteria, and potential rewards.
  • Regular communication about performance expectations, progress toward goals, and updates on incentive payouts helps to keep employees engaged, motivated, and focused on achieving desired outcomes.

6. Evaluation and adjustment:

  • Periodic evaluation of the incentive compensation plan is necessary to assess its effectiveness in driving desired behaviors, achieving organizational goals, and retaining top talent.
  • Organizations may gather feedback from employees, managers, and stakeholders to identify areas for improvement or refinement in the plan's design, performance measures, or reward structures.
  • Adjustments may be made to the plan periodically to ensure its alignment with evolving business priorities, market conditions, and organizational objectives.

How can an incentive compensation plan motivate employees?

Incentive compensation plans are designed to motivate employees by aligning their performance and efforts with the overall goals of the organization. Key ways incentive compensation plans can motivate employees are:

1. Performance-based rewards:

  • Employees are rewarded based on their individual or team performance, providing a direct link between effort and reward.
  • Recognizing and rewarding exceptional performance can motivate employees to strive for excellence and contribute to the organization's success.

2. Goal alignment:

  • Incentive plans often tie rewards to specific organizational goals, fostering a sense of purpose and direction among employees.
  • When employees see a clear connection between their efforts and the company's objectives, they are more likely to be motivated to work towards achieving those goals.

3. Competitive spirit:

  • Incentive compensation plans can create healthy competition among employees, encouraging them to perform at their best to attain rewards.
  • Competitive elements can be effective in driving productivity and fostering a culture of continuous improvement within the organization.

4. Retention and engagement:

  • Well-designed incentive plans can help retain top talent by rewarding and recognizing employees for their contributions to the company's success.
  • Engaged employees who feel appreciated and fairly compensated are more likely to remain committed to their roles and the organization.

5. Ownership and accountability:

  • Plans that include stock options or profit sharing can create a sense of ownership and accountability among employees, as they have a stake in the company's performance.
  • This can lead to a greater sense of responsibility and commitment to the company's long-term success.

6. Recognition and appreciation:

  • Incentive compensation plans serve as a tangible form of recognition and appreciation for employees' hard work and achievements.
  • Feeling valued and appreciated can significantly boost morale and motivation among employees.

Employee pulse surveys:

These are short surveys that can be sent frequently to check what your employees think about an issue quickly. The survey comprises fewer questions (not more than 10) to get the information quickly. These can be administered at regular intervals (monthly/weekly/quarterly).

One-on-one meetings:

Having periodic, hour-long meetings for an informal chat with every team member is an excellent way to get a true sense of what’s happening with them. Since it is a safe and private conversation, it helps you get better details about an issue.


eNPS (employee Net Promoter score) is one of the simplest yet effective ways to assess your employee's opinion of your company. It includes one intriguing question that gauges loyalty. An example of eNPS questions include: How likely are you to recommend our company to others? Employees respond to the eNPS survey on a scale of 1-10, where 10 denotes they are ‘highly likely’ to recommend the company and 1 signifies they are ‘highly unlikely’ to recommend it.

Based on the responses, employees can be placed in three different categories:

  • Promoters
    Employees who have responded positively or agreed.
  • Detractors
    Employees who have reacted negatively or disagreed.
  • Passives
    Employees who have stayed neutral with their responses.

How often should an incentive compensation plan be reviewed and updated?

The frequency at which an Incentive Compensation Plan should be reviewed and updated depends on various factors, including the organization's industry, business environment, and internal dynamics. However, as a general guideline, an Incentive Compensation Plan should be reviewed and updated at the following intervals:

1. Annual review:

  • Conducting an annual review of the Incentive Compensation Plan allows the organization to assess the plan's effectiveness over a full performance cycle.
  • This review can encompass an evaluation of the plan's impact on employee motivation, performance, and alignment with the company's strategic goals.

2. Strategic planning cycles:

  • In line with the organization's strategic planning cycles, the Incentive Compensation Plan should be revisited to ensure that it continues to support the current strategic priorities and objectives.
  • This may involve aligning the plan with any shifts in the company's long-term goals or market positioning.

3. Market and industry changes:

  • Changes in market conditions, industry benchmarks, or competitive landscape should prompt a review of the Incentive Compensation Plan to ensure it remains relevant and competitive.
  • This review can be triggered by significant shifts in market dynamics, the emergence of new industry standards, or changes in talent acquisition and retention trends within the industry.

4. Employee feedback and turnover analysis:

  • Regularly seeking feedback from employees on their satisfaction with the incentive plan and analyzing turnover trends can provide insights into when adjustments may be necessary.
  • If employee feedback indicates dissatisfaction or if turnover rates are impacted by the incentive plan, a review and potential update may be warranted.

5. Regulatory and compliance updates:

  • Any changes in labor laws, regulations, or compliance requirements should prompt a review of the Incentive Compensation Plan to ensure ongoing legal and ethical compliance.

6. Financial performance and budget cycles:

  • Reassessing the Incentive Compensation Plan may coincide with the organization's financial performance reviews and budget planning cycles.
  • This allows for adjustments to be made based on the company's financial capacity and performance expectations.

7. Technology and process changes:

  • Advancements in technology, changes in work processes, or the adoption of new productivity measures may necessitate updates to the Incentive Compensation Plan to reflect these changes.

8. Mergers, acquisitions, or restructuring:

  • Following significant organizational changes, such as mergers, acquisitions, or restructuring, the Incentive Compensation Plan should be reviewed to ensure alignment with the new organizational structure and goals.

9. Employee demographics and preferences:

  • In response to shifts in the composition of the workforce or changes in employee preferences, the Incentive Compensation Plan may need to be updated to remain relevant to the current employee base.

How can the success of an incentive compensation plan be measured?

Here are several key metrics and methods to measure the success of an Incentive Compensation Plan:

1. Goal achievement:

Measure the extent to which employees are achieving their performance goals and targets set within the incentive compensation plan. Compare actual performance against predefined objectives to assess the plan's effectiveness in driving desired behaviors and outcomes.

2. Performance improvement:

Evaluate whether the implementation of the incentive compensation plan has led to measurable improvements in employee performance, productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness. Look for evidence of performance gains in areas such as sales revenue, customer satisfaction, production output, quality metrics, or other relevant performance indicators.

3. Financial impact:

Assess the financial impact of the incentive compensation plan on the organization, such as increased sales revenue, higher profit margins, cost savings, or improved profitability. Analyze the return on investment (ROI) of the plan by comparing the incremental gains in performance or revenue against the costs of administering the plan.

4. Employee engagement:

Measure employee engagement levels and job satisfaction to determine the plan's impact on morale, motivation, and commitment. Use employee surveys, focus groups, or feedback mechanisms to gather insights into employees' perceptions of the plan and its effectiveness in recognizing and rewarding their contributions.

5. Retention and turnover:

Monitor employee turnover rates and retention levels to assess the plan's impact on employee retention and loyalty. A successful incentive compensation plan should help attract and retain top talent by offering competitive rewards and recognition for performance.

6. Team collaboration:

Evaluate the extent to which the incentive compensation plan fosters collaboration, teamwork, and alignment among employees and departments. Assess whether the plan encourages cooperation, knowledge sharing, and mutual support to achieve shared goals and objectives.

7. Customer satisfaction:

Measure the impact of the incentive compensation plan on customer satisfaction levels and loyalty. Assess whether improvements in employee performance and engagement translate into better customer experiences, higher satisfaction scores, increased repeat business, or positive word-of-mouth referrals.

8. Quality and compliance:

Evaluate whether the incentive compensation plan maintains or enhances product quality, service standards, and compliance with regulatory requirements. Ensure that the pursuit of incentives does not compromise ethical standards, integrity, or legal compliance within the organization.

9. Feedback and adjustments:

Solicit feedback from employees, managers, and stakeholders to identify areas for improvement or refinement in the incentive compensation plan. Use feedback mechanisms to gather insights, address concerns, and make adjustments to the plan to enhance its effectiveness and relevance over time.

10. Long-term impact:

Assess the long-term impact of the incentive compensation plan on organizational culture, performance sustainability, and strategic objectives. Determine whether the plan contributes to the achievement of long-term goals, fosters a culture of continuous improvement, and supports the organization's vision and mission.

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