Natalie Dawson, wearing all black and seated behind a desk, speaks into a microphone about the importance of incentives for top performers.

How To Incentivize Your Top Performers, Part 1

June 10, 2022

How do you really help people grow in your organization?

Properly incentivizing any employee in your organization is an important process for you and all of your managers to understand how to execute, but knowing how to effectively incentivize your top performers is especially important.

All of this really boils down to another crucial aspect to keeping your team healthy and productive: career progression. How deeply have you thought about what career progression looks like in your organization? 

Too many make the mistake of considering this concept on an individual level, but if you were to zoom out a bit, you would see that you can really align your company’s 5 to 10 year plan with the growth and progression of the different roles — existing and new — your company contains. 

Trust me, I understand that for most business owners, the idea of having all of this mapped out to create total clarity for yourself and everyone else in the business is beyond overwhelming. Because it is

So if, in the meantime, you’re looking for a quick fix to this problem, you’re in the right place! This incentivization method really works. We use it in Cardone, but we also have our career progression process fully mapped out, called the Employee Maturity Model, which you can see for yourself by purchasing a copy of my best-selling book, Teamwork

How do I incentivize my top performers?

While you’re waiting for your new book to arrive, let’s talk about incentivizing your top performers. How do we get them excited and engaged in the mission of the business? Worse yet, what do we do if our best performers decide to leave? 

As a real quick aside, let me address that last question before diving into incentive strategies. If you’re really, truly worried that your top performers are always on the verge of burnout or of leaving you, then odds are you’re not doing enough to make them a part of your long-term vision for the company. 

What do I mean? Well, if you’ve got big, aggressive revenue goals, say going from $3 million to $30 million over the next five years, have you clearly articulated to them what that means for them financially? My guess is that if you’ve told them that reaching these goals very realistically means a seven-figure payout for them, that they’d stay pretty motivated and aligned. Money isn’t everything, but money is hardly nothing. Make them a part of the vision!

Your team needs to see that they have a place and a future in the organization. But just as importantly…

Your top performers deserve clarity (And so do you!)

You have some top performers, and right now you want to make sure that they’re committed. So it’s crucial that you have total clarity around their base salary. There’s a number of different ways in which you can create incentive structures, but if you don’t have clarity around their base salary as it relates to their job description and responsibilities, then creating an incentive plan is kinda pointless. 

This lack of clarity happens more often than you think. How often have you heard about organizations (or have found yourself) giving a team member incentives or bonuses for things that fall under their basic job description? It happens all the time! But it shouldn’t. That’s what their salary is for. 

If you don’t have this clearly mapped out and communicated, you’re going to set the expectation that you dole out bonuses for things that fall within the scope of their day-to-day responsibilities and you’ll be overpaying for things that they’re already supposed to be doing. 

So, step 1 when it comes to incentives is to not even think about incentives until you have base salary expectations clarified first, and then you’ve laid out what other financial opportunities exist. 

Set appropriate expectations for what incentives might look like

At Cardone Ventures, we’re very intentional about setting these expectations. For instance, depending on how much somebody is making in their base, we target between 10-25% of additional opportunity if they hit their incentive metrics.

So, let’s say that someone is making $80K and has a 10% incentive plan in place, then this means that they have the opportunity to make an additional $8K on top of their base salary. It’s not a given, but the opportunity is there! 

Additionally, if they’re in a sales position or are in a position where they’re on a commission plan, then they have the opportunity to make a certain percentage of their sales, as well. 

Ideally, as a business owner, you have all three of these feathers in your quiver to draw from — base salary, incentives, and commission — and you’ve clearly illustrated the opportunity that exists as well as the requirements needed to earn them. 

This will help your employees feel less boxed in by their salary while giving them a certain level of autonomy to earn beyond that. And this can apply to any role in the organization.

Incentives aren’t just for salespeople (but everyone should be able to sell)

Remember, I’m making a distinction between base salary, commissions, and incentives. Not all roles are applicable to a comp program, but incentives can apply to just about any top performer in any role in any business.

The point is that you need to have total clarity around every role in the business, what their standard performance expectations are (the ones that apply to their salary), and then you need to document what metrics need to be hit in order for them to earn beyond their salary. 

When it comes to the “above and beyond,” it’s not about the person, it’s about the role. What does the ideal performance for that role look like? Make sure that you’ve considered and documented and communicated your expectations regarding the activities and metrics related to an acceptable performance, an ideal performance, and an exceptional performance.

Now that you have that documented, you can apply the appropriate incentives to each level that merits them. 

One of the baselines for incentives that we have here at Cardone Ventures is that everyone in every role should be able to articulate the vision, mission, and values of our organization. They should know how to sell Cardone Ventures to our clients and represent us at the highest level in every interaction that they have. 

If they can’t, then they’re not really top performers and probably need training instead of financial incentives. 

Look for the people who are showing initiative and incentivize them accordingly

Every business wants ambitious go-getters who understand the mission and vision and values of the organization, are articulate salespeople, and can easily toggle between executing tasks while also leading a team, doing it all humbly and with a sincere sense of leadership. 

We also know these types of team members tend to be few and far between. But here’s the thing: When these folks do pop up, and they will, you need to invest in them! Just be sure you’re investing in the right ones!

There’s a big difference between those who say that they want significant career growth vs. those who are doing the work to create that growth for themselves and for the organization. 

Again, this is why documentation and regular one-on-ones with your employees is so important. These folks are the ones who are doing their job at the highest level, are making your processes more efficient, are mentoring other folks on their team, and they’re actually selling things and increasing the organization’s revenue. 

These folks are showing a level of belief in the company beyond a standard contributor. As you already know, there’s an enormous amount of difference between an office coordinator who sucks at their job and one who is a total rockstar. It’s obvious which one you’re going to invest in, but what’s less clear is how far they want to go if you’re not having the right conversations with them. 


There’s so much to cover on this topic, that we’ve broken things up into two blogs, so join me for part 2 of How To Incentivize Your Top Performers where we’ll get into even more detail about how you can be an even better leader for your teams, so you can all win together! 

In the meantime, if you’re looking for more ways in which you can inspire, motivate, and propel your team forward, check out my book, TeamWork, where you’ll learn strategies for building, engaging, and managing great teams!

Recommended Posts