Many are familiar with that key scene in the movie Jerry Maguire, in which football player Rod Tidwell shouts, “Show me the money!” In the movie, Tidwell’s agent, Jerry, attempts to convince Tidwell that he must be more flamboyant if he wants to make more money. Football is entertainment, not just a sport. Up until that iconic line, Tidwell disagrees and feels that he should be paid purely on his athletic performance and ability. 


While the film uses that line to weave several themes throughout the narrative—like the importance of money as a motivating factor—I was left wondering how a sales team (or a football team, in Tidwell’s case) should define the value of an individual’s performance.


While sales reps want us to “show them the money,” how they define performance may be very different from how others within an organization view it. Imagine the following: You’re kicking off incentive design for the coming year and you reach out to various stakeholders within your organization to understand what’s important to them when paying your sales force. Everyone says that they want to “pay for performance,” but that will not be very useful unless you dig deeper. When you ask each of them what they mean, you might hear some of the following responses:


Vice president of sales: “I want to pay my best people the most.”


Finance director: “We need to pay the people who drive our financial success.”


Member of the sales force advisory team: “I want to be sure I’m paid what I deserve.”


HR director: “Employees who exhibit the right behavior and company values should be rewarded.”


Which definition is correct? All of them are in some way, but they each would be fulfilled through a different compensation design component. The key is to figure out how to design for each one of these stakeholders. This can be accomplished by going beyond “pay for performance” so you can have a concrete objective. It may be possible to get to this level through interviews, but it may also require a workshop to bring key stakeholders together to define what “pay for performance” will mean in your compensation plan. For example, one company used a workshop to define “pay for performance” as “paying for results.” That company was then able to define which specific results mattered, and then ensure that the metrics were aligned accordingly.


At the end of Jerry Maguire, Tidwell eventually aligned with his employer and recognized the need for celebration and showmanship. For us, as compensation professionals, there are many more permutations we could consider for defining performance as it relates to the sales force. What’s important is aligning all of the key stakeholders up front so that everyone is working toward a common goal.