One of the hardest issues facing remuneration committees is how to structure executive remuneration packages in such a way as to promote value creation, and reward performance that advances the organisation’s business strategy. All too often, the performance measures in the executives’ incentive schemes differ from those in the strategy. As a result, we find organisations asking executives to do one thing yet paying them to do another.
Speaking at the launch of a position paper authored by the Institute of Directors in Southern Africa’s Remuneration Committee Forum on Paying for sustainable performance, its chairman, Ray Harraway introduced the problem. “Over the years, our understanding of performance has deepened and broadened—financial performance alone is no longer considered to be a complete or adequate proxy for sustainable organisational performance. The trouble is that organisations and their shareholders, especially institutional investors, find it hard to agree on what actually constitutes performance and thus what should be measured.”
As a result, many remuneration committees adopt remuneration policies and metrics that conform with industry benchmarks rather than the organisation’s unique strategy and the context in which it is operating. In other words, remuneration is often tied to metrics that do not actually create value for the organisation.
“This can be called the ‘strategy-remuneration’ gap,” Mr Harraway said.
Principle 14 of King IV spells out what remuneration committees have to aim for: The governing body should ensure that the organisation remunerates fairly, responsibly and transparently so as to promote the achievement of strategic objectives and positive outcomes in the short, medium and long term.
The IoDSA paper proposes a three-step process to help remuneration committees bridge this strategy-remuneration gap:
Define the value outcomes. What these are and how they are measured will differ from organisation to organisation. Remuneration committees should consider measuring not just the outcomes, but the actions taken to achieve them, notes Tim Anderson, an independent governance consultant and one of the paper’s authors. “The reason is that outcomes can be achieved by ‘good’ or ‘bad’ actions and are open to manipulation” he explains. Clearly, remuneration should be linked to the positive actions.
Develop the strategy. This step confronts the question of how the organisation will achieve its defined value outcomes. The key step here is to identify the value drivers, the activities that will produce the desired value outcomes. It’s critical that each organisation positively establishes that there is a cause-effect relationship between value drivers and value outcomes.
A challenge here is to take into account the fact that long-term projects initiated during an executive’s term of office may only come to fruition long after he or she has moved on. This means that executives would have to be assessed throughout his or her tenure on meeting key milestones rather than on the final result.
Link to executive remuneration. The final step is to link the incentive design to the organisation’s strategy. In practice it is usually found to be the weakest of the three steps, and thus where remuneration committees need to do some deep thinking—this weakness is the origin of the strategy-remuneration gap. One key element is to ensure that the link between what is measured in determining remuneration is truly aligned with the business strategy but, counselled Mr Anderson, care must be taken not to include too many metrics.
“The skill comes in identifying the metrics that have the most impact on the organisation’s results—too many metrics and you risk confusing the executive and diluting the effectiveness of the remuneration design for creating value,” he said.
According to Chad Schaefer, People Advisory Services Africa Leader at EY (the sponsor of the forum), “Getting pay for performance right is hard, but it is the main task facing remuneration committees at the moment, especially given the high profile of executive remuneration. If you can credibly link the salaries and incentives you pay to performance and value creation, you can defend your remuneration policy successfully.”
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