How to get a great bonus

Just because your company has a bonus program, don’t assume your staff knows how to make the most of it. These tips can help your employees get better bonuses.

— Make sure your employees truly understand how the bonus system operates. Some companies, particularly large companies, use standardized performance objective systems rather than the less rigid merit bonuses. Consider yourself lucky if your company uses a standardized bonus performance program, as more people tend to earn their bonuses under such systems.

Brian Hobbs, director of MIS services and support, explains how this type of bonus system works at window-covering vendor Hunter Douglas in Denver. “We set objectives at the beginning of the year, review midyear and pay out at end of the year. You have to have the skills to meet objectives, and we put some stretch objectives out there. Managers can’t randomly change percentages or additional bonuses without good justification for it,” he says. “I think it’s fair for people. They know what they have to do to get their bonuses.”

— With merit bonuses, underscore that managers are looking to reward initiative. “We do annual bonuses in our company and also merit bonuses. Merit is at my discretion and is something I reward the employee with if a project has been done over and above the outcome originally expected. It’s for when the employee has gone the extra mile to prove that he’s owned the project from the get-go — as opposed to doing something I just asked him to do,” says Lauren Anders, IT director at Sunwest PEO of Florida in Tampa.

— Help employees to think in terms of a project’s bottom-line impact and to throw their grandest bonus-earning efforts into projects that can save, or make, the most money. If they are unsure, let them know that you will support their efforts to research a project’s cost implications — this is one of the ways to show initiative.

Merit bonuses tend to go to those people who consistently take the initiative on big, successful projects. Employees who turn themselves into merit-bonus earners discover, as the saying goes, that excellence is a learned skill.

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