Editor's Note: Today's Café Classic post was first published on June 22, 2011. Who knew that a home workout app could teach us such valuable lessons about making variable pay successful? Dan Walter -- that's who! And as we continue to seek ways to use and improve our variable pay plans, these lessons still resonate.
I like finding unique training tools for compensation professionals. My newest addition is the P90X training system. For those of you who have not tried it, or seen the infomercials, I should describe the program. An individual works out at home using a series of DVDs that guide them through varying daily exercise programs. The sessions are lead by a dynamic leader named Tony Horton. Tony is in great shape and has very high energy. The program is very intense and requires a level of personal commitment from the individual. It is not easy, but those who complete the program seem to overwhelmingly recommend it. There are a few keys to the success of this system that can be applied to any variable compensation program.
- Ensure that people are “ready” for the program. Prior to starting P90X you are asked a series of questions and put through regimen of tests that must be passed at a minimum level before you are allowed to start the actual program. Make sure that you take the time and effort to ensure that staff members understand the program and are fully prepared and equipped to attain the goals.
- Show varying levels of achievement. Each session has three or four individuals performing the exercises at different difficulty levels or simple variations that keep you from getting bored. The easiest examples are realistic, but challenging. The most difficult levels are unlikely to ever be met by anyone but those in the very of best shape. They provide a goal regardless of the level of the participant.
- Give people some room to fail. The instructor constantly reminds that you can stop and rest at any time. The goal is to complete the entire program, not to make a big splash on the first couple of days. You are given room to learn and grow, while being constantly motivated to join back in and achieve. Autonomy must work hand in hand with safety. In the end, people must be held accountable, but as they learn the process they must be allowed wiggle room to find their own way.
- Make milestones and deadlines clear. A secret to the success of the program is the clock counting down for each day’s session. Some sessions are 15 minutes. Some are 90 minutes. Most make you want to stop long before the time is up, but seeing the clock counting down reminds you that there is a clear end to the process. This allows you to push through when you can and take short breaks when you have to. Seldom do you find yourself stopping in the middle (or beginning, or just prior to the end). People need to know how far they need to go and how close they are to the goal.
- Track progress and measure success. Throughout that P90X programs you are reminded to write down the number of repetitions and amount of weight used for key exercises. This process allows you to quickly see progress over time. It’s very difficult to measure success if there is no clear starting line and no understanding of the path taken to reach the finish.
- COACH! COACH! COACH! The instructor provides guidance to the people watching on TV and to those doing the exercises on the video. This makes it clear that even the best occasionally need instruction. It also allows you to adjust your own technique on a real-time basis. Instead of waiting until after the program to provide a critique, the frequent reminders increase the speed of improvement and reduce the impact of doing something wrong.
I wonder how many companies utilize all of these lessons consistently. I believe that more variable pay programs would succeed if we followed these six steps. Let me know how you have implemented some or all of these steps into your own programs. What impact have they had?
Dan Walter is the President and CEO of Performensation a firm committed to aligning pay with company strategy and culture. Do you want to know more about Performance-Base Equity Compensation? Dan’s new 20,000 word issue brief is now in print. Dan has also contributed to “Everything You Do in COMPENSATION IS COMMUNICATION”, with Comp Café writers, Ann Bares and Margaret O’Hanlon. And if you’re still not sick of Dan, he has co-authored “The Decision Makers Guide to Equity Compensation”and “Equity Alternatives.” Connect with Dan on LinkedIn. Or, follow him on Twitter at @Performensation and @SayOnPay.