Understanding LTI Compensation: Designing an Effective Plan for Employee Motivation‍

Casey Fenton

|

According to a compelling study by Aon Hewitt, companies that effectively communicate their Long-Term Incentive (LTI) programs experience a 20% increase in employee engagement. This is not just a figure to glance over; it's concrete evidence that suggests the impact of a well-designed LTI plan extends far beyond the balance sheet and into the very heart of your company culture.

In a fiercely competitive business landscape where the cost of employee turnover can be astronomical, this 20% bump in engagement is a game-changer. An LTI plan isn’t just a perk to dangle in front of prospective hires; it’s a strategic tool for long-term success. By motivating and retaining your key talent, you're not just filling seats—you're fueling the very engine that drives your startup forward. So, how do you design an LTI plan that resonates with your team and aligns with your long-term vision? Read on to find out.

What is an LTI Compensation?

Long-Term Incentive (LTI) Compensation isn't just another line item on your expense sheet; it's a strategic initiative that aims to create a symbiotic relationship between your employees and your startup. While standard salaries and short-term bonuses incentivize immediate tasks and short-sighted goals, LTI serves as a bridge to the future. It is inherently designed to look beyond the here and now, anchoring your employees' financial well-being to the long-term prosperity of the company.

Think of LTI Compensation as a growth pact between you and your employees. When your business scales, so does the value of the incentives that your team holds. This concept flips the standard paycheck paradigm on its head. Rather than working solely for a static salary, employees also become informal 'investors' in your startup. They gain a form of capital that will only be appreciated if they contribute to long-term business objectives like market expansion, technological innovation, and sustainable profitability.

In essence, LTI Compensation moves the focus from mere employment to ownership. Your employees don't just clock in and clock out; they become stakeholders who have a vested interest in shaping the company’s future. It’s a financial arrangement, yes, but it’s also a psychological contract—one that can galvanize your workforce to think and act like true partners in your entrepreneurial journey.

By introducing LTI Compensation into your startup's reward ecosystem, you're doing more than just adding another layer of benefits. You're sending a message: that you're committed to sharing the fruits of long-term success, not just the low-hanging rewards of short-term gains. This approach fosters a culture of sustained commitment and aspirational thinking, steering your entire team towards a shared horizon.

Components of an LTI Compensation

An LTI plan isn’t a one-size-fits-all concept; it can be customized to fit your organization’s needs. The primary components of an LTI plan generally include:

1. Vesting Schedule

This is the timeframe over which the incentives become the employee’s property. A typical vesting period may last 3-5 years. The longer employees stay, the more they stand to gain.

2. Types of Rewards

These can range from stock options to performance shares and even deferred cash. Each has its benefits and drawbacks, which you’ll need to weigh carefully.

3. Performance Metrics

Decide on the metrics that will be used to measure performance. This could be anything from sales targets and project completion rates to customer satisfaction scores.

4. Eligibility Criteria

Clearly define who will be eligible for the plan. Is it just the C-suite or does it extend to middle management and other key personnel?

Who Are Eligible for LTI Compensation?

Generally, senior executives and key contributors are the primary recipients of LTI compensation. However, don’t limit your perspective. Consider offering LTI plans to middle management or high-potential employees who can significantly impact your business’s long-term growth. Assess the potential and performance of your employees carefully before setting the eligibility criteria.

Reasons Why You Should Offer LTI Compensation

1. Strategic Alignment for Long-Term Success

When you offer LTI compensation, you're signaling that the organization is committed to long-term objectives. This is not just a benefit for employees; it’s a strategy for aligning everyone’s goals. Employees become more motivated to contribute to initiatives that will yield sustainable growth, such as innovation, customer retention, and quality improvements. They’re not just working for this month’s paycheck; they're invested in a future where everyone wins.

2. Attracting and Retaining the Best and Brightest

In today's competitive job market, attracting top-tier talent is challenging. When you have an LTI plan in place, you're setting your startup apart from the masses. Talented individuals are more likely to choose your company over a competitor if they see the potential for long-term rewards. Furthermore, the LTI plan keeps them anchored, reducing the likelihood they'll jump ship when the next shiny opportunity comes along.

3. Empowering Employee Performance

LTI compensation isn't merely a retention tool; it's a catalyst for elevated performance. When employees know that their financial future is directly tied to their contributions and the company's long-term health, they are more inclined to go the extra mile. Whether it's improving processes, helping to mentor younger staff, or taking the initiative on new projects, LTI spurs a proactive work culture.

4. Boosting Team Morale and Cooperation

You'll often find that LTI plans promote a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose among employees. When everyone has a stake in the game, petty conflicts and short-term thinking give way to teamwork and shared vision. Departments are more likely to collaborate, and inter-team communication often improves, all of which contribute to a more harmonious and productive work environment.

5. Enhancing Corporate Governance and Ethical Behavior

By linking rewards to long-term performance and ethical benchmarks, you can create an environment that discourages shortcuts and unethical behavior. For instance, clawback provisions can be implemented to retract incentives in cases of misconduct or poor performance. Employees, then, are not only motivated by gains but also conscientious of the risks involved, contributing to a culture of ethical responsibility.

Different Types of LTI Compensation

The variety in LTI types allows you to choose what best fits your company's needs:

Stock Options

This allows employees to buy a set number of company shares at a fixed price. The upside is enormous if the company performs well.

Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)

RSUs are company shares given to an employee, but they don't become theirs until after a specified vesting period.

Performance Shares

These are tied to company performance metrics and are awarded only if these metrics are met or exceeded.

Deferred Cash Bonuses

Rather than immediate cash bonuses, deferred cash vests over time, offering another way to incentivize long-term employment.

Designing RSUs as LTI Compensation

RSUs have become increasingly popular because they're straightforward and easy to understand. Here’s how to design an RSU-based LTI plan:

Step 1: Identify Eligible Employees

The first decision you'll need to make is who should be included in your RSU program. This is where you get strategic. Do you limit eligibility to key management roles, or do you open it up to all employees? Or perhaps you offer different tiers of RSUs to various positions based on their impact on your business. The main point here is to align RSU allocations with long-term strategic goals. Whomever you deem eligible should be individuals whose sustained performance will likely contribute to those goals.

Step 2: Set the Vesting Schedule

The vesting schedule is more than a timeline; it's a commitment plan. A standard vesting schedule might last 4 years with a 1-year cliff, meaning employees must stay for at least one year to receive any RSUs. But you can get creative here. For example, you could introduce accelerated vesting milestones tied to corporate performance targets or even individual achievements. The trick is to balance employee motivation with company interests.

Step 3: Determine the Number of Shares

Determining the number of RSUs to offer can be tricky. You can opt for a flat-rate number across all eligible employees, or introduce a sliding scale based on seniority, job function, or past performance. Another approach is to make it dynamic, adjusting the number of RSUs based on predefined performance metrics. Whatever you choose, make sure it aligns with both your budget and your strategic goals.

Step 4: Communicate Clearly

Transparency is crucial in any compensation plan but especially so in a tool as complex as RSUs. Clearly articulate what RSUs are, how they work, and what the vesting schedule looks like. Educate your employees on the tax implications of their RSUs and what scenarios could lead to their forfeiture. The more comprehensible and transparent you are, the more likely employees will value what they're being offered.

Step 5: Monitor and Make Adjustments

This isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it situation. You need to consistently monitor the effectiveness of your RSU program. Are your employees staying longer? Are performance metrics improving? If you're not seeing the desired outcomes, don't hesitate to make adjustments. This could mean tweaking the vesting schedule, re-evaluating eligibility, or even changing the types of incentives offered. Regularly solicit feedback from your team as well, as they’re your primary stakeholders in this initiative.

If designed wisely and implemented effectively, your RSU program can serve as a compelling manifesto for why anyone would want to commit their talents and energies to your cause in the long run.

Want an easier way to navigate the RSU equity compensation game? Book a demo with Upstock today and enjoy a seamless integration with your compensation management system.

Retain your key employees

Ensure your team is awarded based on contributions and results with Upstock’s KPI inegration feature.

Learn More
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Casey Fenton

Founder, Upstock & Couchsurfing, AI and Equity Innovator

Casey Fenton, the founder of Upstock & Couchsurfing and an AI and equity innovator, has revolutionized how we perceive and implement equity in the workplace. His foresight in creating platforms that not only connect people but also align their interests towards communal and corporate prosperity has established him as a pivotal figure in technology and community building. Casey speaks worldwide on topics including ownership mindset, worker equity, With Upstock and Couchsurfing, he has demonstrated an unparalleled expertise in harnessing technology for the betterment of community interaction and organizational benefits.

Previous: Understanding Liquidation: Definition and Relevance in OpenAI's Context‍ Next: Understanding Market Volatility: Tips to Optimize Employee Equity Compensation