Health and Growth

Culture Trumps Competency, Every Time: 3 Ways to Tie Compensation to Culture

William Vanderbloemen shares three practical ways we tie compensation to culture.

One of the most challenging questions about building an irresistible culture at your organization is how to make it sustainable and scalable. What do you do to make it stand out and cause team members to perk up and pay attention?

There are many practical ways to do this - everything from celebrating examples of culture lived out on your team, to physical displays like putting them on the wall of your conference room.

But the thing that really gets the attention of most people? It’s money.

When you tie living out your organization’s cultural values to a paycheck, people pay attention. It’s a tangible way to communicate the seriousness of your organization’s culture. That’s when culture gets real.

This might sound like an uncomfortable concept, especially in ministry - and in a way, it is. Talking about money has long been a really personal subject, and a lot of people have been trained to see it as directly tied to performance. 

Performance and ministry are also hard subjects to reconcile. How do you measure an employee's’ performance when his or her goals are tied to discipleship and evangelism? Furthermore, how do you tie compensation to goals related to something only the Holy Spirit can do?

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It’s tough, which is why tying culture to compensation can work so well. It motivates your employees in a fresh way, but still with a way to quantifiably measure results. It creates an atmosphere of accountability for living out cultural values, and it helps you identify key culture problems.

If you compensate people based solely on hitting their numbers or other goals, you could be encouraging great results but with bad behavior. On our team, we recognized we could offset this potential issue by making culture a key part of compensation.

Here are three practical ways we tie compensation to culture:

#1. We have crystal clear cultural values.

Our cultural values are established and communicated to everyone. 

In fact, each employee has a plaque on their desk with all nine core values. Every time they look at it, they’re reminded of what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. 

If you don’t have cultural values in place, you won’t have anything solid to measure culture against. What you end up with instead is unclear measurements against unclear values. If you’re going to tie compensation to how well someone lives up to your values, you have to first make sure they’re clear on what the measuring stick is.

#2. We tell our stories regularly about how our values are lived out.

Telling a story about how a peer lived out culture is a vital part of creating motivation and accountability, which are incredibly important structural pieces to shifting to a culture-driven compensation methodology.

Without motivation, your people won’t live up to the culture. Without accountability, they won’t continue to live up to the culture.

Related: 4 Ways to Build a Culture of Generosity in Your Church

An employee should be able to tell a story that illustrates how he or she lived out the values of the organization. An individual’s reflection of those values through those stories should be measured and documented throughout the year, not just in an annual review.

Have someone from your team regularly contribute a “core values spotlight” during staff meetings, highlighting a way that they saw a part of the culture being lived out. Establish a way for employees to call it out in each other - one small way we do this is through an app where employees can award each other “culture badges” that are collectable on their profile.

This sets in motion a year-long process of infusing culture into everyday tasks and work—culture permeates into everything you do.

Additionally, if you have someone who is doing just enough good work to not get fired but something is still off - having a rhythm around talking about culture and highlighting it will also highlight where potential trouble spots are with employees who aren’t a good culture fit. This will help you identify problems well before they become major issues.

#3. We have a structure for staff performance reviews that points back to culture.

At the end of the year, whether or not an employee has lived up to the culture well or not is no surprise. There’s something to look back on. Think of it like a savings account—you’re regularly putting something in, so later, when you want to buy something, you have something to spend. 

When you regularly think about culture, you live it out. You’re putting something of value in, and knowing you’re doing it affects how you do your work. When you have multiple reviews—perhaps in April, September, and the end of the year—you’re checking on your progress. If something needs to change or improve, an employee knows well before their conversation with their manager about compensation. Doing this builds up a measurable record, and it ensures everyone is on the same page well before the end of the year.

Over to you

The roadmap to creating an irresistible workplace isn’t necessarily easy to follow, and you have to be willing to put your money where your mouth is. That means tying compensation to culture. Culture trumps competency, and it trumps performance. 

Goals will ebb and flow—some seasons will be great, and others not so much. But cultural performance doesn’t depend on anything but your own actions in relation to the values of the organization so that your team can reach the full potential God has called it to be.

Editor's Note: This is a guest post by William Vanderbloemen. William is the founder & CEO of Vanderbloemen Search Group, an executive search firm that helps churches and ministries build great teams and build winning cultures. The following article is adapted from his book Culture Wins: The Roadmap to an Irresistible Workplace.
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Culture Trumps Competency, Every Time: 3 Ways to Tie Compensation to Culture