Multinational companies have enough complexities, why add to them? This is a refrain I hear from people who promote “global” programs in which a single tool is used across all regions to help build a corporate culture. For the sake of simplicity, let’s will call this the vanilla plan. In all the years I have been in this industry, I don’t think I have seen a vanilla plan work for more than a couple years. Tons of money can be spent in design and communication, but global markets, regulatory changes, management goals and other factors all change too fast to allow any long-term traction to this type of program.
I prefer a more flexible concept where everyone gets a similar tool. You can build in variations on the theme to ensure everyone gets something that works for their needs. Let’s call this the 31 flavor program. Everyone gets ice cream, but there are enough flavors to keep nearly anyone happy. Some flavors are always available and in use, while other flavors are traded out as seasons and tastes change. These programs allow better alignment with current rules and an easier path for making modifications to meet future changes.
Some companies claim to have these programs, but when you look closer they actually just have many different variations of vanilla. Handling these multi-vanilla programs is nearly as difficult as those with many flavors, but without the added flexibility.
Obviously, there are tons of reasons to stay away from 31 flavor plans, but few of them are based on the fact that they don’t work. Administration can be a real issue, but systems are getting better everyday. Communication, though, is not a valid argument. In fact, designing programs to better fit local norms can allow for a far more streamlined and effective communication effort.
Company A decides to roll out equity around the world. They read that RSUs (Restricted Stock Units)are fairly easy to get approved in most countries and design a typical US-style program with units vesting annually over three years. They roll out this plan around the world without regard for average tenure of employees in different locations. They work to create competitive global market differentials, but don’t put much research into the tools and associated features their non-US competitors are using to deliver those pay levels. They spend a ton of time and money explaining how the program works, why the international employees have a plan that does not take advantage of their local tax-qualified plans and how the plan is designed to motivate and retain them for the future. Employees get similar pay offers from competitors with tax advantaged plans, or plans that simply fit their cultural norms and key players slowly drift out the door.
Company B spends a bit more time working to create a more flexible framework. Not only does the plan allow for multiple variations of features on RSUs, but they also offer locally tax-qualified sub-plans in locations with large enough, or critical enough, populations. The plans are communicated by combined teams of professionals from the corporate headquarters and locals with experience and expertise in the specific plans and local culture. Employees see no reason to leave as long as the company performs, because both their pay levels and delivery mechanisms are competitive. More importantly, they can understand the programs and talk to friends or colleagues who have similar compensation. As rules change, headquarters stays updated via the local players. Changes are made when needed and desired employees become long-term team members.
Yes, the examples above are simplified. Of course, there are implementation and administrative costs associated with the 31 flavor approach. But imagine if you walked into a store that sold only ice cream and when you looked into the freezers you saw tub after tub of slightly off-white vanilla ice cream. No matter how great it tasted, you wouldn’t want to come back often. Most importantly, its unlikely you would ever recommend the place to your ice-cream loving friends.
Dan Walter is the President and CEO of Performensation an independent compensation consultant focused on the needs of small and mid-sized public and private companies. Dan’s unique perspective and expertise includes equity compensation, executive compensation, performance-based pay and talent management issues. Dan is a co-author of “The Decision Makers Guide to Equity Compensation”, “If I’d Only Know That”, “GEOnomics 2011” and “Equity Alternatives.” Dan is on the board of the National Center for Employee Ownership, a partner in the ShareComp virtual conferences and the founder of Equity Compensation Experts, a free networking group. Dan is frequently requested as a dynamic and humorous speaker covering compensation and motivation topics. Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter at @Performensation and @SayOnPay.