A friend was discussing his “merit increase” at his job. Seems that the HR department at his firm toes the line pretty firmly on that terminology. But they also have failed to implement any sort of formal evaluative compensation program, thus making it difficult for him to understand exactly what merit (“demonstrated ability or achievement”) he was being rewarded for. Coupled with the fact that in a corporate lean year, he received no “merit increase” (while doing above and beyond work), his thoughts were that perhaps it should be renamed a “cost-of-living increase” instead. What should have been a “go out to dinner and enjoy the cash” moment gave reason to question the motivation of The Firm.Compensation and rewards are touchy. What would take $10,000 to compensate one person might be had for an extra day off to someone else. Two people doing the same work are not paid the same, have different needs, and don’t even want the same things. Even a commission plan is flawed by territories, product lines, and incentives that can be beaten (I know of one story where sales personnel were rewarded only for “new sales” and actually sold solutions that cost their company revenue just to sell something “new”). Since we are playing under different assumed rules it’s difficult to score the game the same.And lest we become money mongers, we should be reminded the philosopher would say that if you’re reading this, you’re probably in the 98th percentile of world wealth, so quit your whining and get back to work!But that doesn’t mean that communication should be thrown out. When you use words like “merit”, “achievement”, “profit sharing”, and “commission”, they need to be tied to understandable and measurable objectives. You could pass out 15% raises and confuse your employees enough to actually cause them to be miffed about it. A commission plan that could increase take-home pay by 50% could be so unfairly (although just, not fair) administered that loyalty could be completely undermined.The other truth relates back to a fundamental principle of any communication — know your audience. As much as you are able, try to meet the needs of your audience. In compensation, this means knowing what your employee values and trying to accomodate that as the business is able. In communciation-only situations, this involves knowing what your audience needs/wants to hear, and as much as you are able, providing them that value. If they want inspiration, don’t just inform.

Communicate cause and effect clearly and meet your audience’s need(s).

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