Beware the Golden Handcuffs

Gold HandcuffsSuccessful, profitable organizations are able to offer competitive pay, flexible hours, and attractive benefits. It is much easier for those organizations to attract, recruit, and secure top talent than it is for organizations that offer average or below average compensation packages. Naturally, organizations that offer competitive salaries are also able to retain their employees longer and experience lower turnover.

But is that always a good thing?

When it comes to compensation, too much of a good thing is possible.

I recently met with a colleague with an interesting problem. His sales people, paid only on commissions, were so successful that a large portion of them are now millionaires. Clearly these individuals are aggressive, knowledgeable, and successful. Their customers love them and their retention rate is superior. The problem is that these highly successful, high performers are disengaged.

They own nice homes. They drive nice cars. They’ve built up savings and can travel/entertain as much as they’d like. They have enough money to live very comfortably, and therefore they’ve become very comfortable in their job as well.

It turns out that a carrot isn’t a motivator when you already have a field full of carrots at home.

While the organization wants them to keep pushing and growing their customer base by double digits each year, they’re already millionaires. They are living comfortably on their passive commissions and no longer need to grind for each dollar. They don’t give 100% anymore. But they haven’t completely disengaged either. They do just enough to keep their jobs.

These sales people have become comfortable wearing a pair of golden handcuffs.

They’ve built a book of business too large to leave, but are no longer motivated by money alone. They don’t care about the overall growth of the organization. They make too much money to leave, but aren’t motivated to work harder than the bare minimum.

This is no different than an employee who quits, but stays.

If your employees are primarily motivated by money (as many sales people are), then it’s critical that you balance an attractive compensation package with a clearly defined future career path. There must be something more than an unlimited income to keep an employee engaged, inspired, and driving for success. Otherwise, the golden handcuffs you’ve designed in their compensation package will become shackles that keep your burnt out, disengaged employee from leaving on their own.