Incentive Compensation Management for Rewards Professionals | Guide 2023

March 21, 2023
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Incentive compensation management designs implement and administer programs that align employee behavior and performance with organizational goals and objectives. Rewards professionals are responsible for developing compensation and benefits packages that attract, motivate, and retain top talent.

Reward professionals must be familiar with various tools and techniques to effectively manage incentive compensation, including performance metrics, goal setting, and communication strategies. They must also be able to navigate complex legal and regulatory frameworks, such as tax laws and compliance requirements.

In addition to designing and administering incentive compensation programs, rewards professionals must also monitor and analyze their effectiveness, making adjustments to ensure that they continue to drive employee performance and contribute to the organization's success. By doing so, they can help organizations build high-performing teams and achieve their strategic objectives.

The challenges faced by rewards professionals in designing and administering effective incentive programs

When designing an incentive program, it is essential to avoid common mistakes such as:

1. Skimping on research and development

2. Bypassing S.M.A.R.T goal setting

3. Setting impossible standards

4. Proceeding by threshold rather than continuous

5. Including too many measures in the plan

6. Recycling another company's sales compensation plan

7. Creating unnecessary commissionable events

8. Using a flat-rate commission structure

When designing an incentive program, several common mistakes should be avoided to ensure the program's success. One mistake is skimping on research and development[source]. Researching what motivates employees and what types of incentives will be most effective is essential.

Another mistake is setting impossible standards. If the program is too difficult, participants will feel discouraged and lose its value. On the other hand, if the program is too easy, it may not achieve the desired change in behavior.

Also, only a few measures are used when designing an incentive program [source]. Plans with three to five measures can provide balance and focus. Too many measures can make it difficult for participants to understand what they need to do to earn rewards.

Tying commission or bonuses to activities that don't lead to business outcomes is also one of the  mistakes professioanls commit. For example, tying commission to forecast accuracy may incentivize reps to spend time gauging timelines instead of selling.

What are the critical steps to designing a successful incentive program?

Designing a successful incentive program involves several key steps, including:

  1. Setting clear and measurable goals: The first step is to define the specific objectives of the incentive program. What do you want to achieve? Do you want to increase sales, improve employee performance, or encourage customer loyalty? Defining the objectives will help you design a program tailored to your goals.

  1. Establishing a fair and transparent rewards structure: Once you have defined your objectives, you must choose the right incentives to motivate the desired behavior. This could include cash rewards, gift cards, trips, or other non-monetary rewards such as recognition, promotions, or flexible work arrangements.

  1. Defining performance metrics and targets: Setting realistic and achievable targets is essential. If the targets are too high, employees or customers may become demotivated, while targets too low may not provide enough motivation to achieve the desired outcomes.

  1. Communicate effectively: Communicating the incentive program clearly to all participants is vital. This includes explaining the objectives, the rewards on offer, the targets to be achieved, and the criteria for earning rewards. Clear communication helps ensure everyone understands what is expected of them and how to earn rewards.

  1. Monitor and evaluate the program: Regular evaluation of the incentive program is essential to ensure it achieves the desired outcomes. This includes tracking progress toward targets, measuring the impact of incentives on behavior, and assessing the program's overall effectiveness. Feedback from employees, customers, or participants can also help identify areas for improvement.

  1. Ensuring compliance with legal and regulatory requirements: To ensure compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, organizations should regularly review and update policies, procedures, and training programs, establish internal controls and monitoring systems, and seek guidance from legal experts and regulatory authorities when needed.

Best Practices in Incentive Compensation Management


Providing ongoing communication and feedback

To design an effective incentive compensation plan, it is essential to start structuring it months out (at least) and create a definitive framework that employees can understand and reliably work within. The plan should be appropriately tailored to align with the company's goals. It is also crucial to review the plan periodically to ensure it is aligned with the company's goals[source]. A scalable incentive compensation process requires reliable software.

The first step is to seek feedback from top organizational leaders to determine what kind of behavior should be rewarded. The goals set for employees to earn incentives should be achievable but straightforward enough to be realistic.

It is also essential to make the plan adaptable, as company strategies and goals will change over time[source]. However, it is essential to refrain from constantly shaking up the plan because most employees will need some time to build up success in the incentivized tasks.

Some of the critical steps include:

  • Seeking feedback from top leaders within the organization.
  • Establishing objectives and outlining a strategy.
  • Measuring performance and setting targets for variable compensation.
  • Identifying key performance indicators (KPIs) that align with the company's goals.
  • Determining the appropriate mix of cash, equity, and other rewards.
  • Communicating the program clearly to employees and providing ongoing support and training.

Balancing short-term and long-term objectives

Incentive compensation management aims to align employee behaviors with the organization's goals by linking rewards to performance. To balance short-term and long-term objectives in incentive compensation, rewards professionals must consider immediate performance and sustained results over time.

Short-term objectives could be achieved through bonuses and commission-based incentives, while long-term objectives may require more strategic incentives, such as stock options or profit-sharing plans. By balancing immediate and sustained performance, incentive compensation management can motivate employees to achieve short-term and long-term objectives while driving organizational success.

Aligning incentives with organizational strategy and values

Aligning incentives with organizational strategy and values is crucial for motivating employees to work towards achieving the company's goals while adhering to its values.

To achieve this alignment, rewards professionals must ensure that the incentives offered are tied to specific performance metrics directly linked to the organization's strategic objectives. Additionally, incentives must be consistent with the company's values and ethical principles, ensuring employees are rewarded for behaviors that align with the company's culture and ethical standards.

Incentives should also be designed to promote teamwork and collaboration rather than individual competition, which can lead to conflicts and undermine organizational unity. Moreover, rewards professionals should evaluate the effectiveness of the incentives program regularly to ensure it remains aligned with organizational strategy and values.

By aligning incentives with organizational strategy and values, organizations can create a strong employee culture of performance, motivation, and ethical behavior, driving long-term success and growth.

Offering flexibility and customization based on individual preferences and circumstances

Offering flexibility and customization based on individual preferences and circumstances is an effective way to create a rewards program that caters to employees' unique needs and desires. A personalized reward approach acknowledges that employees have different preferences and circumstances that affect their motivation and engagement.

Flexible rewards programs offer employees the freedom to choose the incentives they receive, such as cash bonuses, gift cards, extra time off, or other benefits that align with their needs and goals. Customization allows employees to tailor their rewards program to their circumstances, such as choosing to work from home, adjusting their work hours, or taking on different responsibilities that better align with their interests and strengths.

Technology and Tools for Incentive Compensation Management

The benefits of using technology to automate and streamline compensation management processes

The use of technology to automate and streamline compensation management processes offers several benefits to organizations, including:

  1. Increased Efficiency: Automated compensation management systems can streamline the compensation process, reducing the time and resources required for manual processing. This helps HR teams to focus on more strategic activities and save time and resources.

  1. Enhanced Accuracy: By automating compensation management, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of human error. Automated systems can accurately calculate compensation based on pre-defined rules, reducing the risk of errors in data entry, calculations, and payouts.

  1. Improved Transparency: Automated systems provide real-time visibility into the compensation process, allowing employees to track their performance and compensation progress. This increased transparency can help to build trust and confidence between employees and employers.

  1. Better Data Management: Automated compensation management systems provide a centralized location for managing compensation data, making tracking, analyzing, and reporting on compensation-related data easier. This can help organizations to identify trends and insights, enabling them to make data-driven decisions.

  1. Enhanced Compliance: Automated compensation management systems can help organizations to comply with labor laws, regulations, and internal policies. Organizations can ensure that they follow fair and consistent compensation practices by automating processes.

Key features to look for in a software solution for Incentive Compensation Management

When considering a software solution for incentive compensation management like Compport, some key features to look for are:

  1. Performance Metrics Tracking: Tracking and monitoring performance metrics is essential for incentive compensation management. The software should allow for the tracking of individual and team performance and provide the ability to set goals and monitor progress toward achieving those goals.

  1. Flexible Incentive Plan Design: The software should allow for the customization and flexibility of incentive plans to align with the specific needs and objectives of the organization. Creating different incentive plans for different roles, departments, or teams is also essential.

  1. Automated Calculations: The software should be able to automate incentive compensation calculations based on pre-defined rules, considering various factors such as sales, revenue, or customer satisfaction. This reduces the risk of errors and ensures that compensation is accurate and fair.

  1. Real-time Reporting and Analytics: The software should provide real-time reporting and analytics to enable managers to monitor and analyze performance, track progress toward goals, and identify areas for improvement. This feature helps to optimize incentive plans and improve overall performance.

  1. Integration with Other HR Systems: The software should be able to integrate with other HR systems, such as payroll and performance management, to ensure consistency and accuracy of data across systems.

  1. Security and Compliance: The software should have robust security features to ensure that data is protected and compliance requirements are met, such as GDPR or CCPA regulations.

The importance of effective incentive compensation management in achieving organizational goals

Effective incentive compensation management is essential for achieving organizational goals by motivating employees to perform at their best and aligning their efforts with the company's strategic objectives.

Incentive compensation management programs that are well-designed and effectively implemented can drive employee engagement, productivity, and job satisfaction. By linking incentives to performance goals and rewarding employees for achieving them, organizations can create a high-performance culture, leading to improved business outcomes, such as increased sales, improved customer satisfaction, and enhanced profitability.

Effective incentive compensation management also helps attract and retain top talent, as employees are likelier to stay with an organization that recognizes and rewards their contributions. Effective incentive compensation management is critical for achieving organizational success and sustaining competitive advantage.

The role of rewards professionals in designing and administering incentive programs

Here are the critical roles of rewards professionals in designing and administering incentive programs:

  • Analyzing organizational goals, market trends, and employee needs to design incentive programs that align with the company's strategy and values.
  • Defining performance metrics, incentive targets, and payout structures to ensure that incentive programs are effective and aligned with business goals
  • Developing communication strategies to inform employees about the incentive program's objectives, mechanics, and performance metrics
  • Ensuring compliance with legal and regulatory requirements when designing and administering incentive programs
  • Monitoring and analyzing program data to evaluate program effectiveness and make improvements as needed
  • Collaborating with other HR functions, such as performance management and compensation, to ensure that incentive programs are consistent and integrated with other HR processes
  • Educating managers and employees about the incentive program and providing support to address questions or concerns
  • We are conducting benchmarking studies to compare the company's incentive programs with other organizations and identify best practices.

The potential benefits of adopting technology and best practices in incentive compensation management

There are many benefits to adopting technology and best practices in incentive compensation management, including increased efficiency, accuracy, and transparency, improved compliance, and enhanced ability to attract and retain top talent. Additionally, technology enables better data management and analysis, allowing organizations to identify performance gaps and opportunities and optimize their incentive programs for better business outcomes.

  1. Motivation: Incentive compensation can motivate employees to perform at a higher level by tying their pay to specific performance goals. This can increase productivity, improve quality, and drive innovation.
  1. Attraction and retention: Offering competitive incentive compensation can help organizations attract and retain top talent. Employees are likelier to stay with an organization that recognizes and rewards their contributions.

  2. Alignment with business goals: Incentive compensation can be designed to align with business goals and objectives, ensuring that employees are working towards the same goals as the organization.
  1. Performance measurement: Incentive compensation programs clearly measure employee performance against specific goals, making it easier to identify top performers and those needing improvement.
  1. Cost-effectiveness: Incentive compensation can be a cost-effective way to motivate employees, as it is often less expensive than increasing base salaries or providing other forms of compensation.
  1. Flexibility: Incentive compensation programs can be designed to be flexible, allowing organizations to adjust goals and rewards based on changing business needs and priorities.


Incentive compensation management is a crucial responsibility for rewarding professionals that requires a delicate balance of art and science. By designing and implementing effective incentive compensation programs, rewards professionals can create a win-win situation where employees are motivated to perform at their best and organizations achieve their business goals. With the help of technology, data-driven insights, and best practices, rewards professionals can unleash the full potential of their workforce and create a culture of performance and excellence.

Find out how Compport can help you manage all your Compensation Management processes, book a demo today!

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