Category Archives: Commissions

It’s Not a Tip

It’s that time of year again. Spring is in the air. Birds are beginning to sing. Bees are beginning to buzz. It’s that time of the year when everyone’s thoughts turn to their favorite topic. It is the topic that they have actually been thinking about all winter. Yes, you are correct. It is time for the annual bonuses to be calculated.

People who are not fortunate enough to be sales people and on a direct sales commission plan, are usually on some sort of an annual management bonus plan. This plan can be complex or simple. It can have multiple factors associated with it, or possibly just a few. It is in essence a methodology for those that are not associated with direct sales to be able to either positively or negatively participate in the performance of the business or organization.

I have seen many different sales commission plans and many different performance incentive plans. One of the conclusions that all of this performance based compensation experience has led me to is this:

The simpler the compensation plan the better, for all involved.

It doesn’t matter if it is a commission plan based on orders for a direct sales person, or a management performance bonus based on the attainment of specific goals. The simpler the better. We need to remember that simple does not mean “easy”. Simple means that there are specific defined objectives and directly correlated rewards associated with obtaining those objectives. It has been my experience that selecting the appropriate goals and objectives that drive the desired behaviors and performance is not an easy task.

Sales commission plans are in general a little bit easier to figure out than are management incentive plans. There are usually some very specific and well defined numbers associated with the desired goals. These can include items such as orders, revenues and margins. The numbers achieved are divided by the goals and the performance percentage is hard to argue with and is well understood.

Management performance goals are a little bit trickier. The further into the organization away from senior management that you go, the smaller that individual’s ability to affect corporate performance. Based on this fact you would think that actual corporate performance should not have a great deal of affect on the majority of management incentive receivers. On the other hand everyone is contributing to the organizations performance. If the overall organization does not achieve its objectives and goals, it is difficult if not problematic to provide a management bonus to the individual team members.

However, it should also be noted that most sales people do in fact receive some portion of their commission structure rewards at performance levels that are less than one hundred percent achievement of their targets. It would not be difficult to accept the need to provide some sort of similar type management reward for partial goal attainment that works along those same lines.

The point behind all this stage setting is pretty simple. Notice how everything I have discussed up to now is based on the measured attainment of specific defined objectives. When you attain them you get paid and when you don’t attain them you don’t get paid. It should be a well understood arrangement for all involved.

As an example I will hearken back to a simpler time. A time when we were in school. A time when we did our school work and we got grades. We should all remember that time. Depending on where you went to school, a passing grade could either be a “D” or a “C”. I will note as an aside that neither of these letters were acceptable when it came time for my parents to review my report card. There were no acceptable excuses. It’s funny, but I sometimes hear the same words when speaking to my children regarding their scholastic performance. I wonder where they are coming from.

In any event, a certain numeric percentage of the available one hundred percent were assigned to these grades. That meant that regardless of how hard you may have worked, if you didn’t achieve the sixty or seventy percent threshold, you failed to achieve your objective and received no credit for the course. This was a given.

It is not unreasonable to expect any commission or bonus plan to also employ certain threshold before any compensation occurs.

Just to be clear, if commissions and bonuses are based on the achieving of specific goals, it should be expected that a certain threshold will need to be attained before any commission or bonus is paid. Below the threshold, regardless of how hard the individual works, nothing will be paid.

Many organizations follow this policy. There are also those that do not. It is best to be aware of the policy when either setting or participating in a compensation structure.

I have been in several organizations in the past where individuals have commented that they worked incredibly hard in the previous year, and that they were hoping for a good compensation check.

I couldn’t help but look at these people with awe.

I would always ask if they were aware of the specifics regarding the commission plan or the management bonus plan. They would say “yes”. I would ask if there was anything so qualitative (as opposed to quantitative) about their percentage attainment of their goals that would make it difficult for them to measure how they performed against their goals. They would say “no”. I would then ask how they could expect anything but the correctly calculated amount. They would then again reiterate how hard they worked.

I would then inform them that what they were expecting was not a calculated performance bonus, but a “tip” similar to that which is provided to someone who provides a personal service. Much like the wait-person that brings the food, but must suffer due to the poor performance of the kitchen, or the cab driver that must deal with unexpected traffic when the ride is in a hurry. They performed their work as well as could be hoped for, and even though the objectives of a hot and timely meal, or arriving in time to catch a flight were not achieved, quite possibly to factors outside of their control, they would still expect a tip for the service they rendered, especially if they worked hard.

I would then inform these people that to my knowledge most organizations do not participate in the practice of “tipping”. They pay for achievement. People need to know that going in. I think that for all of us hard work is a given and is expected. A bonus is just that. Something extra that is predicated on the measurable performance and achievement against defined goals and objectives.

It may take hard work to achieve the goals and earn a bonus. But in business if you don’t achieve your objectives you usually won’t get a “tip” just because you worked hard.

There is No “Tipping” in Business

A good friend of mine, John Schlueter, provided me with some topics for this blog. Here is one of them.


If you go to a restaurant and the waiter is late with your order, and you can see that he is working very hard in a busy section with many demanding customers, will you still tip him?


Most of us, pretty much without exception will tip the waiter based on the situation and the obvious effort he is putting out. Unfortunately in a performance based role such as management, or sales, this would not be the case.


In past sales roles there have been years where I have worked some of my longest and hardest hours pursuing sales, only to be not rewarded when the sale did not come in. Everyone knew how hard I was working, that I had difficult customers and significant competition. It didn’t matter.


I didn’t get a “Tip”(commission).


A “tip” is an incentive commission to drive a desired behavior in business. It is not an entitlement.It is there to drive a desired outcome – either fast and courteous service, or achievement of a sales objective – as the case may be.


Despite that position, I would still probably leave a tip, but I have been in roles where my bosses didn’t feel that way at all.