Total Rewards: Maybe We Need to Just Execute Rather Than Innovate

Design is a hot topic now, spurred in no small part by Steve Jobs’ legacy (certainly that was one of my key takeaways from the Walter Isaacson biography of him).

So is innovation. So much so, in fact, that we’re starting to witness some overdue innovation blowback (see yesterday’s Harvard Business Review blog post Please, Can We All Just Stop “Innovating?”). In the latter, Fast Company co-founder Bill Taylor strongly suggests that “it’s time we all stopped ‘innovating’ and set our sights on something more meaningful and real.”

I think this is good advice for those of us working in employee rewards. Too many of us spend time chasing rainbows, yearning to be cutting-edge, leaping to implement the latest big idea. Too few of us are focusing on simply doing an outstanding job of refining, aligning, and communicating the programs we already have in place.

A mediocre job of execution

This point is reinforced in the findings of AonHewitt‘s recently published 2012 Total Rewards Survey. According to the report, one-quarter of survey respondents want to be early adopters and innovators in total rewards — positioning themselves on the leading edge of new ideas in order to gain first mover advantage.

And yet, as the report notes, most of the responding companies admit to doing a decidedly mediocre job of executing on what should be the fundamentals of total rewards. A few statistics nail down this point:

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  • Some 87 percent of respondents say that it is critical to align total rewards strategy to business strategy, but only 56 percent are actually doing so.
  • In fact, 75 percent of respondents do not have a strategy to manage total rewards.

What is going to ultimately deliver value to our organizations, not to mention a return on the enormous investment they make in employee rewards? Being the first to put in place a cutting edge practice — or doing the admittedly difficult and less sexy work of carefully inventorying, assessing and (as necessary) realigning our reward plans and practices with business needs and priorities?

Perhaps it is time for us to get meaningful — and real.

This was originally published on Ann Bares’ Compensation Force blog.

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


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