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Luisa has a communication problem.
Somewhere along the way, Superado
stopped making it clear that bonuses are
tightly linked to overall growth targets,
and the notion took hold that bonuses are
a guaranteed part of salary rather than a
reward for superior work.
Clearly the company’s bonus system
needs to be overhauled. Luisa should start
by creating a structured decision-making
process for compensation issues of this im-
portance. At Delhaize Group, we typically
discuss bonus payouts first in the full ex-
ecutive committee. Recommendations are
then reviewed by the remuneration com-
mittee of the board before being submitted
to the board of directors for approval.
Also, I would advise Luisa to get rid of
Superado’s “all or nothing” bonus scheme.
The retailer could, for example, set a
target for minimum company performance
below which employees would receive no
bonus, an intermediate target at which
they’d receive half the bonus amount, and
a challenging target at which they’d get the
full bonus. I would add an additional range
for exceptional performance. Luisa and
her management team should continually
communicate to employees throughout
the year about performance against the
targets. Setting employee expectations
from the outset would certainly have made
it easier for Luisa to find a bonus solution
that signaled the downturn in company
performance and also provided an incen-
tive for the next year.
Now, to the question of whether Su-
perado should pay a full bonus, my answer
is no. Given that the company’s revenues
fell to €220 million, a bonus payout of
€200 million is far from prudent from an
economic perspective, even assuming that
Superado is still a private company.
It’s also true that paying no bonus at all
is out of the question. Superado’s employ-
ees have played a big part in making the
company successful, by working hard and
smartly. Moreover, they have become so
used to receiving bonuses that they might
see nonpayment as a breach of trust. In
the retail food business, store employees
are absolutely critical to the customer ex-
perience. It is incredible how fast customer
satisfaction can plummet if the in-store
experience with the staff is bad. I believe
that interactions with salespeople are even
more important to the customer experi-
ence than the products themselves. Luisa
also can’t ignore the fact that a competitor
is out there poaching her employees.
I understand that this is not an easy situ-
ation. My advice to Luisa is twofold. First,
Superado’s executive team and its board
must decide on a reasonable total amount
to pay out in bonuses. They should then
allocate that money in a differentiated way
across the levels.
For example, Luisa and her execu-
tive team could take no bonus, middle
managers could receive 25% of their target
bonus, and store-level employees could
receive 50% of theirs. This would send
a clear signal that Superado recognizes
the hard work and effort of its employees
but at the same time would communicate
the very real economic pressures on the
business. “We are in danger,” should be
the message, “and if we don’t work even
harder, the competition may put us out of
business.”
The Experts Respond
Nicolas Hollanders is the executive vice president
of human resources, IT, and sustainability at the
Belgian food retailer Delhaize Group.
Setting employee
expectations from the
outset would certainly
have made it easier for
Luisa to find a solution.
WHat Would You do?
SoMe ADvICe FRoM The hBR.oRG CoMMuNITy
to Give bonuses only to those who
have performed exceptionally well
would be fraught with danger. True
meritocracies take years to build
and require agreement on what
constitutes achievement and how it
is measured.
Charl Cloete, COO,
Clearance Capital
tHe CoNfliCt comes not from the
economic downturn, new competi-
tion, employee entitlement, or any
other circumstance. The conflict
is people versus policy. Policies
provide legal and ethical guardrails
for a corporation, but when they
prevent it from practicing its values,
they become roadblocks to success.
erich Roehl, Venntis, LLC
luisa sHould enlist the front-
line employees in innovation. If
she asked them to help Superado
cut costs by, say, $50 million and
promised to apply any savings to
bonuses, she’d get a committed
workforce actively engaged in mak-
ing Superado more profitable. using
bonuses to focus employees on
uncovering consumer insights and
generating ideas helps the company
in the long run.
Katie Konrath, Innovation Process
Specialist, Ideas To Go