In a previous life, I worked as a pre-sales engineer specializing in network restructuring. As such, I was attached to the sales organization, and always participated in sales conferences, meetings, etc. I was paid a base salary, plus had a comp plan for bonuses–though I had more of an 80/20 split in salary/bonus potential, whereas the sales folks had a more traditional 30/70 or so split.
Every year, right after the hustle and bustle of the holidays had settled down, the same drill would begin again for the new year: the forecasting and associated compensation plan roll-out. Luckily enough, this was usually somewhere nice, like a posh resort in Scottsdale, so I didn’t really mind much. Of course, I also had a little less on the line than the true sales folks since most of my bonus split was based on the entire region in total, and not on a particular vertical market or small territory.
Inevitably, after the glow of the open bars, sunshine, expensive dinners, and golf outings had died down, reality would sink in. No one would make as much as the legendary (and usually fictitious) rep from last year who had landed the big whale account; we’d all be lucky just to make the mortgage payment. Some people would talk about leaving and others would just worry.
Then there were the experienced reps; the ones who had been around for a few years or more and understood the game. Sure, they may have a complaint or two about the forecasting numbers or something, but they largely weren’t flipping out like the new guys. If you asked them why, or what their secret was, the answer was one you’ve heard before: work the comp plan.
Let me explain. Ostensibly, the company sales leadership has crystalized the strategy for the next year into goals, targets, etc., based on what’s been deemed to be important or critical for success, down into specific targets for each territory and sales rep. They have decided how much to pay in bonus money, sales multipliers, etc., based on this. The stuff that was less important would be paid less lucratively.
Hence, the experienced sales people would mostly ignore whatever speeches, memos, or strategy discussions came from the mouths of the leadership team, and instead focus like a laser on how they were being paid: the comp plan. I get a 10% for selling vendor X’s product, but only 5% for vendor Y? Then Vendor Y doesn’t exist for all intents and purposes. Work the plan.
This usually had the predicted outcome, of course, with goals and compensation wildly swinging from one extreme to the other as targets were hit, missed, or wildly exceeded. Often the company would have to perform some sort of course-correction mid-year to overcome the errors made manifest in a system like this. Through it all, the veterans would smile and keep “working the plan” as the younger, newer folks burned themselves out trying to keep up.
Why do I bring this up now? As the head of IT at a company in the enterprise space, I’m not selling anything, at least not in the traditional sense. I still have customers, however, and I still have a bonus structure. In fact, we just finished up this process internally and so this was all on my mind.
You would expect that my goals–and those of my team–would be based on critical company goals, distilled and crystalized over many planning sessions, with a lot of thought behind them, right? You would think that, yes, but you would be wrong–or at least partially wrong.
Sometimes, in both the VAR world and the enterprise or ISP spaces, the gap between the high-level company goals and the individual departments’ goals get run through a blender of sorts (will it blend?). High level company goals of “maximizing shareholder value through increased paradigm-shifting cloud strategy” sounds great if you’re a recently minted MBA getting paid by the word, but it translates into exactly as much gibberish as you’d expect by the time it gets to be time to make it an actionable metric. So, you get random goals and projects as your key metrics instead of a more measured and appropriate metric.
For instance, as the guy in charge of IT for the entire company–world-wide–you might expect that a major goal of my team and I would be… uptime. It’s a fairly standard measurement of how reliable the overall architecture of the network is, and it’s relatively fair and has the benefit of being easy to quantify. Do I have uptime as any kind of metric this year? No. In fact, most of the goals I have are special projects that pull in stakeholders from other parts of the functional side of the business, but very few are actual, real, quantifiable IT metrics.
I asked about this and was told that that “other stuff” just goes without saying. When I asked what things during the year, and at the end of next year, would contribute to any possible bonuses, raises, and good reviews I was told that the goals are the metrics by which my team and I will be assessed. All of that redundancy stuff? Nope. All of that failover, uptime, increased efficiencies, lower staff hours, quicker help-desk resolution? Nope.
So why am I still smiling? Because I’ll be working the comp plan.