Meyners Pays for Performance

Changing a compensation system is a sensitive undertaking. Here’s how one firm handled it.

MEYNERS INSTITUTED A PAY-FOR-PERFORMANCE system to get employees involved in the firm’s growth efforts. It includes an annual salary increase that reflects a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) and three bonus pools related to three areas: core values, core competencies and meeting goals.

EMPLOYEES UNDERSTAND WHAT'S EXPECTED of them and embrace the core values of collaboration, balance, commitment to quality and responsive customer service, commitment to the greater good, continuous and never-ending improvement, creativity, fun, innovation, integrity, profitability, risk taking and mutual respect, honesty and trust.

THE FIRM'S EVALUATION SYSTEM MEASURES how well employees work with peers, managers and subordinates. Supervisors and employees coordinate the selection of six individuals who regularly work with the employee to evaluate his or her performance.

THE FIRM GIVES EMPLOYEES A CORE-VALUES BONUS based on the percentage of possible points each earns on the evaluation multiplied by a predetermined bonus based on the employee’s staff level, years with the firm and level of responsibility.

THE FIRM AWARDS A CORE-COMPETENCIES BONUS calculated from the percentage of possible points employees earn on an evaluation multiplied by the employee’s predetermined bonus.

WIN-WIN AGREEMENTS ARE TAILORED to each individual and set targets tied directly to generating income or some other benefit for the firm. Partners and managers may have win-win agreements that deal with bringing in business. A staff accountant’s may involve developing capabilities to better serve the firm. Employees who achieve 75% of the total possible points available in the win-win agreement are eligible for a bonus.

PHAEDRA BROTHERTON is an Arlington, Virginia-based business writer who specializes in career, management and workplace issues. Her e-mail address is .
t was no small feat for Meyners and Co.’s leadership to offer employees nonstop support and guidance while both management and staff refined the firm’s core values and worked out what behaviors demonstrating them would consist of at different levels of the workplace hierarchy. As productive as the process was, it was only the foundation. Next, Meyners had to successfully increase employees’ commitment to the firm’s overall marketing and revenue-growth goals. To accomplish this the firm designed and implemented a pay-for-performance system in July 2002.
To Do…
A pledge to strengthen staff—existing and new—topped the “must-do” list for the top 100 CPA firms in 2003.

Source: Accounting Today , 2003.

The new compensation program includes a yearly salary increase that reflects a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) and three bonus pools. It calls for the firm to evaluate employee performance in three areas: core values (workplace behavior), core competencies (business skills) and meeting goals (performance-measures win-win agreements). Early indications are that the individualized evaluation process is motivating employees. Janet McHard, CPA and manager in the litigation and business valuation services department, says the new system helps underscore what the firm values. If you contribute, not only will your efforts be recognized, but “you’ll be compensated for having worked hard to meet those goals,” says McHard. “This system puts my job destiny in my hands. It removes the uncertainty of: ‘If I do a good job, will anyone know?’ From my perspective, that’s the coolest thing about it.” Here’s how it works.

Meyners’s core values—which employees across the board had developed, defined and adopted—clarify the firm’s goals, standards of etiquette and many other aspects of day-to-day work. Those values— collaboration; commitment to maintain self, team, firm and customer balance; commitment to quality and responsive customer service; commitment to the greater good; continuous and never-ending improvement; creativity; fun; innovation; integrity; mutual respect, honesty and trust; profitability and risk taking —represent the organization’s behavioral and interactive norms. The firm’s new performance evaluation system measures how staff members live up to them as they work with peers, managers and subordinates.

For core-value assessments, which take place during an employee’s anniversary month, Meyners uses “360-degree” feedback. The process includes peer-to-peer input that results in a thorough, well-rounded evaluation. It works this way: To evaluate a staff member (the subject), his or her supervisor selects four individuals who regularly work with that person, who has a say in which four are chosen. Each subject selects two additional evaluators, one who works inside his or her department and one from another section. Using a form that describes what living a particular core value consists of at that person’s level in the firm, the six people “grade” the staff member. For instance, for the value “commitment to maintain self, team, firm and customer balance,” a level-one-employee action would be: “Takes appropriate time away from work (including lunch, vacation, breaks) as needed.”


Managing partners considering altering their firm’s compensation system should keep the following in mind:

Use bonus pools to link employees’ pay to performance and increase their commitment to the firm’s overall marketing and revenue-growth goals.

During any reorganization process, communicate constantly using e-mails, meetings and handouts. Give employees a say in how a new system will operate.

Develop a list of core competencies and link them to specific job-related skills in the following important categories: client development, client management, business management, technical expertise, professional development, leadership and administration.

A “360-degree” performance evaluation includes peer-to-peer input; to encourage candor, subjects and supervisors should not see individual evaluators’ ratings.

Each employee and supervisor should create an agreement that includes specific performance targets. Make personal and professional growth part of daily and long-term activity.

Reassure staff members you aren’t taking anything away when you reorganize—and don’t. They are sensitive when it comes to salary.

Each evaluator then rates how successfully the subject has lived the value by checking one of three ratings: “Needs mentoring” (individual is not meeting expectations); “lives the core value” (he or she is meeting expectations) or “role model” (he or she has clearly and consistently surpassed expectations). The results are tabulated and electronically scored. To encourage candor, subjects and supervisors do not see individual evaluators’ ratings but instead see a summary of the results in each area. The human resources clerk coordinates the process and maintains and files the evaluation records.

Employees receive a core-values bonus based on the percentage of possible points they earn on the evaluation. For example, someone who earns 70 points out of a total of 100 possible points gets 70% of $1,000 (the predetermined maximum), or a bonus of $700. The executive committee sets the baseline bonus, which is linked to the employee’s staff level, years with the firm and responsibilities. Employees feel they get credit for a range of professional interactions under the new system (see exhibit 1 , below).

Exhibit 1: Core Values and Linked Behaviors
For illustrative purposes some sample core values are stated below with descriptions of behaviors that demonstrate how the value manifests for levels one, two and three. Level-one behavior is the baseline expected of all employees. Level two raises the bar and applies to midlevel or professional employees. Level three applies to executive-level or partner-level employees. Each level is accountable for the one(s) below it. For instance, midlevel and professional employees are accountable for all level-one behaviors, and executives and partners are accountable for all level-one and level-two behaviors.
Level one: Exhibits a desire to work with others in a team environment.

Level two: Assists others to rally around a common goal, regardless of their experience, level or education.

Level three: Fosters a team environment within a department and among other departments across all staff levels.

Commitment to maintain self, team, firm and customer balance.
Level one: Recognizes the need to maintain balance between professional and personal roles.

Level two: Clearly communicates job or engagement expectations of employees.

Level three: Considers the global impact on staff and firm resources of commitments made to clients.

Commitment to quality and responsive customer
Level one: Listens to customers and asks questions to determine and serve their needs.

Level two: Makes resources available to staff and others to ensure the performance of high-quality work.

Level three: Ensures performance and review systems that demand quality work are established and operating.

Commitment to the greater good.
Level one: Makes personal choices/actions in the best interest of the client, group and firm.

Level two: Considers the needs of other department members to prevent making unreasonable commitments to clients and others.

Level three: Considers impact of commitments and decisions on other departments and firm as a whole.

Level one: Seeks opportunities to do things better.

Level two: Refrains from responding, “That’s the way it’s always been done.”

Level three: Researches “best practices” for possible implementation in department and firm.

Mutual respect, honesty and trust.
Level one: Communication with peers demonstrates respect.

Level two: Consistently delivers what is promised to clients.

Level three: Consistently demonstrates respect for clients.

Level one: Demonstrates commitment to meeting billable-hours goals.

Level two: Considers revenue opportunities and expense-reduction opportunities in decision-making process (cost/benefit).

Level three: Establishes atmosphere of high productivity and accountability.

Risk taking.
Level one: Owns up to mistakes and learns from them.

Level two: Is daring and adventurous in thought process.

Level three: Encourages others to devote the necessary time/resources to research, develop and implement new ideas.

To help Meyners focus on its profitability goals, consultant Coral Rice of the Growth Partnership (TGP)—who has worked on the firm’s growth program from the beginning—used information collected in an earlier phase to develop a list of general categories for core competencies. Those competencies represent the specific job-related skills employees need to “get results now and develop the firm’s ability to get better results in the future,” she says. The general categories are

Client development.
Client management.
Business management.
Technical expertise and work quality.
Personal participation and professional development.
Leading and developing others.

At all levels, the first step for each department was to determine its core competencies for every position. To do this, staff members revised their job descriptions and listed specific tasks associated with every competency according to the categories. The core competencies for comparable jobs—managing, for example—are very similar, but they differ based on specific departments and other duties.

Each department chose its own approach to the process of expressing the competencies for each of its positions. Janet McHard was on the management team in the litigation and business valuation department and helped develop the competencies for the positions of principal, director, manager, senior accountant and staff accountant. “In each area we developed performance-based competencies or core criteria” and listed 6 to 10 bullet points for each position, McHard says.

As an example of how the client-development competency differs according to employee level,

For senior managers (level three), the competency is: “Take a leadership role in firmwide marketing efforts.”

For senior staff (level two), the competency is: “Develop prospective client relationships as skills allow” (see exhibit 2 , at left).

For staff (level one), the competency is: “Recognize prospective client relationships and seek ways to develop them.”

Steve Comeau, JD, director of litigation and valuation services, says that while the process of defining competencies and job duties for each position took more than six weeks of drafts, meetings and discussions with everyone in the department, the time was well spent. The process not only clarified what the firm expected individuals to do, but it was “helpful in getting the group on the same page,” says Comeau. He believes that having everything down on paper simplifies the process of determining promotion eligibility and helps with recruiting and hiring people.

The core-competencies evaluation process is similar to a traditional supervisor-employee performance review. On the employee’s anniversary, the supervisor completes job performance forms that will be the basis of the evaluation. Supervisors rate employees on the six-part scale: “Far above expectations,” “Above expectations,” “Meets expectations,” “Below expectations,” “Far below expectations” and “Not applicable.”

Exhibit 2: Core Competencies for One Senior Staff Position
Each of the seven general core-competency categories below has examples of three core competencies for supervisory senior staff (level two) in Meyners’s litigation and valuation services department.

Client development.
Participates in firmwide marketing initiatives.
Actively seeks opportunities to introduce additional services to existing clients.
Continues to build up network of business contacts.

Client management.
Assumes increased responsibility for client services, including responsibility for selected small and medium engagements.
Continues to develop working relationships with appropriate client personnel.
Understands engagement requirements and unique industry aspects.

Business management.
Understands and communicates the types of risk associated with each engagement.
Recognizes and manages scope of each engagement.
Monitors chargeability, profitability and/or realization goals for each engagement and assigned personnel.

Technical expertise.
Demonstrates a well-rounded knowledge of selected specialty areas.
Efficiently and accurately prepares engagement analyses and reports.
Demonstrates high-level analytical and problem-solving skills.

Personal participation and professional development.
Pursues leadership roles in the community.
Seeks out and takes advantage of speaking, teaching and writing opportunities.
Acquires marketing skills such as learning to use PowerPoint and developing speaking skills.

Leading and developing others.
Assists and supervises staff in performance of engagement and departmental procedures.
Demonstrates the ability to recognize supervisory needs of subordinates.
Assists managers and/or principals in the preparation of staff evaluations as requested.

Follows and communicates all policies and procedures.
Understands department goals and strategies.
Participates in administrative responsibilities of department.

Employees receive a core-competencies bonus based on the percentage of possible points they earn on the evaluation multiplied by the employee’s predetermined bonus (bonus x percentage), just as they receive for their core-values evaluation. As part of the annual core-competencies review, the employee and supervisor discuss the individual’s development plan, which includes goals for professional development, such as earning a special certification, and pinpoints skills to strengthen or develop, such as writing and public speaking.

Core competencies are specific skills and duties employees must be able to perform well to meet the firm’s profitability goals, says Rice. Each employee and supervisor create a win-win agreement that includes specific performance numbers or other measures to meet. Tailored to each individual, the win-win agreement is “the product of the consensus of management and the employee,” Comeau says. “It’s a way to make personal and professional growth part of daily and long-term activity,” he says.

For example, a competency to “participate in departmental strategic objective teams,” might result in a “win-win” goal with a measurable element such as: “Participate in the (name of team) with 90% attendance.” Another example: For the competency “pursue/accomplish professional certification,” a win-win agreement goal might be: “Obtain CVA certification no later than 12/31/03.”

The goals in win-win agreements may be similar for people in comparable roles, but the actual numbers or measures likely will differ. Many targets will be tied directly to the profitability of the firm and have to do with generating income. The supervisor and the employee specify the measures and numbers based on what each thinks is possible.

Partners and managers have win-win agreements that deal directly with the firm’s financial performance as well as department and individual goals. For instance, a partner may agree to bring in a certain dollar amount of business in his department. Or a staff accountant may agree to take a set number of courses toward a certification by a certain date. This increases the employees’ professional capabilities as well as those the firm has to offer clients.

If the firm shows a profit at the end of the calendar year, employees who achieve 75% of the total possible points available in the win-win agreement are eligible for a bonus. Each department determines profitability goals during the annual budget process based on their billable hours, revenue goals and anticipated expenses.

The partners who make up the executive committee approve the departmental budgets in November to coincide with the start of the profitability bonus year, which runs from November through October. In December the executive committee meets to allocate the profits among all the stakeholders. The committee determines a gross allocation for each department. How well a department met its profitability goals determines how much of the profits it will be allocated. The department heads use agreed-on organizational criteria and their own judgment to allocate that profit to the employees.

Although the hard numbers for measuring the effects of the new pay and evaluation system aren’t in yet, Meyners’s litigation services partner Thomas Burrage, CPA, says it has improved morale and increased commitment to the firm’s goals. The overhaul of its compensation and performance process—sensitive issues for employees—will continue to require time, effort and patience on the part of the entire firm as it plays out.

For firms thinking about undertaking a similar effort, professionals at Meyners say to keep the following pointers in mind.

Prepare to take time. Meyners has invested a substantial amount of time to define values, core competencies and goals as well as to analyze and describe exactly what is expected of employees. Burrage says the firm has spent “thousands of hours” in meetings to come up with the core values, define the job descriptions and explain each part of the process to staff. Because the performance evaluation system is well defined and staff members understand what is expected of them, “ultimately, the process is going to be automatic and simple to use,” says Comeau.

Frequent communication is paramount. Instituting a new pay-for-performance system has required constant communication because the change involves people’s money—and extends into every aspect of work life. “Until you understand the process and the system, it appears complex,” says McHard, so we keep answering the questions that come up. Meyners has done this through FAQ sheets, posters and meeting after meeting. Under the old system, salary increases were “some percentage” of an employee’s salary, says a Meyners document explaining the new three-part pay-for-performance plan. “While the increase was intended to reflect past performance, it often was difficult to assess performance accurately and consistently throughout the firm.”

Employees are particularly sensitive when it comes to salary, says Burrage. “Any time you modify someone’s compensation system, you have to work hard to reassure them you aren’t taking anything away,” he says.

Have adequate administrative support. Because many more people are involved in giving evaluations—especially of core-values performance—and because each employee gets three evaluations—core values, core competencies and the win-win agreement—there is a great deal of work involved to keep track of evaluation dates, distribute and tabulate the various forms and calculate the bonuses. The firm has hired a human resources clerk who does this and attends to other compensation and payroll duties involving the new pay-for-performance process. Prior to the new process, many such duties had been handled by a senior administrative professional, but Meyners created a new position to handle the growing amount of HR-related work as the company grew. The firm uses an HR computer program to process the evaluations.

Develop measurement systems. The firm would like to measure many things—such as the number of referrals shared between departments—but it has found the most important things to measure have been the various goals outlined in win-win agreements. “You need to have the systems in place to measure the things you hold people accountable for,” says Comeau (see “ Accountability by Numbers ,” JofA , Jun.03, page 61).

Comeau believes the new pay-for-performance system sends a strong message to employees that the firm cares about them as well as profits. “The new system takes a global approach to giving incentives for behavior. It’s not just about dollars,” says Comeau. “The process identifies behavior that not only helps us make money but also evolve as a firm—and get better professionally and personally at every level,” he says. “It’s about the future as well as the present.”

For the next stage of the firm’s development, says Burrage, Meyners will determine specific marketing strategies and train staff to carry out duties to support and reach the firm’s business goals. The JofA will report on the results.

This is part two of the JofA’s multipart series about a major development initiative at Meyners and Co.—an 80-person, seven-partner, 45-CPA firm in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In part one, we looked at the firm’s first steps in a reorganization program designed to bring in more business. It focused on training staff members in methods to help the firm internalize its values and, ultimately, play a more active role in handling additional work (see “ Meyners Mines Its Talent, JofA , Sep.02, page 47). Part two describes how Meyners set up an evaluation and payment system to reinforce staff commitment to reaching the firm’s engagement- and revenue-growth goals.


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