Are You Getting Any Value From Your Profit Sharing Plan?

Jack Stack, founder, president and CEO of SRC Holdings, and the author of The Great Game of Business and considered by many to be the father of open-book management, has this to say about discretionary profit sharing plans (bold emphasis mine):

By profit sharing, I mean the practice of taking a percentage of a company’s profits, putting it into a pool, and disbursing it to the company’s employees, usually sometime after the close of the year. Understand, I’m not saying that this is a bad thing to do, just that the benefits of doing it are limited. For openers, the recipients seldom know exactly how they helped generate the profits, beyond just doing their jobs. No doubt, they enjoy getting the money. They may even be grateful for it. But they aren’t likely to think or act differently because of it or to be greatly motivated by it.

What’s more, if they keep getting it, they will eventually come to expect it, depend on it. If they don’t know what they’ve done to deserve the extra money, they will begin to view it as part of their regular compensation — that is, as an entitlement program. At that point, the profit-sharing check is a bonus in name only, no matter how much the amount may vary from year to year. Meanwhile, you’re getting results that are the opposite of what you’re paying for. You’re promoting the same attitudes you had hoped to change by moving to variable pay in the first place.

Many thanks to Mr. Stack, not only for the variable pay wisdom, but for coining a useful new term.

Article Continues Below

Has your profit sharing plan become a BINO?

This article originally appeared on CompensationForce.

Ann Bares is the Managing Partner of Altura Consulting Group. She has over 20 years of experience consulting in compensation and performance management and has worked with a variety of organizations in auditing, designing and implementing executive compensation plans, base salary structures, variable and incentive compensation programs, sales compensation programs, and performance management systems.

Her clients have included public and privately held businesses, both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, early stage entrepreneurial organizations and larger established companies. Ann also teaches at the University of Minnesota and Concordia University.

Contact her at


1 Comment on “Are You Getting Any Value From Your Profit Sharing Plan?

  1. Great points about seeking to understand what does (and does not) motivate employees from a financial incentives perspective. However, as Mr. Stack mentioned, there must be a strong line of sight between performance and reward for the employees. This point is backed up by research that showed contingent reward leadership as being primarily effective in elucidating this line of sight and allowing employees to maintain high levels of performance-reward expectancy, which may predict job performance in the case of profit sharing programs (Han, Bartol, & Kim, 2015). Bottom line – profit sharing programs can significantly increase an employee’s job performance because they may view these plans as the organization’s attempt to invest in employees. However, managers must clarify role expectations via performance management to strengthen the performance-reward expectancy for employees!

    Megan Lowery, M.A.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *