Recently, we faced a fairness challenge in our business. One of the company’s sales representatives had left a few months earlier, and despite efforts to make things more appealing (including starting the process — but not confirming — an income support/sustainment offer), the individual effectively disappeared from the scene. I set out to find a replacement, and after quite a bit of searching, selected a finalist candidate, who agreed to work on pure commission for a six month evaluation period. As part of the process of making the opportunity real and meaningful, I offered this person the territory and inbound leads for the entire market served by the sales representative who had departed.
Then as we were finalizing (but had not signed) the independent contractor agreement with the new representative, the former salesperson returned, saying she was now ready — because of changing personal circumstances, which she explained — to work with the business. She asked for residual commissions for a sale she completed just before she left, and indicated she would welcome having the income support we discussed in the dying days of her work with us.
Achhh. From no one, to two reps, in the territory, in a matter of days. (We had held the fort with others in our organization, but there really was need for at least one person to work in the area.) What to do?
I considered several variables in seeking a resolution. First, the salesperson who had departed previously, was quite effective in building markets and pulling orders. The new representative, while sincere and ready to work, had not proven herself yet. We were under no firm contractual obligations to anyone.
I expressed my thoughts to others in our organization, who suggested the matter should be discussed at our weekly staff meeting.
This meaning revealed a healthy business. Employees and contractors made suggestions and observations, and helped define the process by which we would assign territories and compensation. I relayed the news to both of the affected sales contractors, and they are satisfied with the conclusion.
The experience reminded me of several points:
- We aren’t all equal; we are all different, and there are differing capacities and levels of ability — and some people will accordingly earn more than others. As well, it is right that success be rewarded and recognized.
- Everyone should be treated fairly. This means, the rules of engagement and commitment should be balanced and opportunities provided for anyone ready to work.
- While personnel matters (such as individual salary/compensation details) should remain confidential, there is a place for company-as-a-whole thinking about the broader parameters of compensation and opportunity. Ultimately, I believe, if you treat everyone as owner/shareholders (and ultimately give them the opportunity to enjoy that status) you’ll achieve much better results than if you regard employees and contractors as disposable serfs.
How do you handle fairness issues in your business? I welcome your thoughts either by email to email@example.com or through a comment below.