Board management

Megan Nail

Megan has a knack for getting to the heart of a company’s culture and goals, and designing compensation structures that attract, engage, and retain the talent to achieve those goals. She is currently a leader in NFP’s Total Rewards Practice, advising clients on compensation strategies, pay equity, incentive pay structures, and how to use compensation as a key component of the employee value proposition. Megan’s career has been focused on professional services firms, and she is passionate about creating total rewards structures that support growth and scalability. Megan holds a range of professional certifications, is a board member for the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM’s) Indiana chapter, and is the co-author of Joy Powered Organizations. She’s also an active volunteer, sports fan and mom of two sons.

Why are you so passionate about helping people-based businesses?

People are the core of every business – but with people-based businesses, the connection is undeniable. I love working with services businesses because they are willing to invest in their talent, which they know is the only way to achieve their goals and ultimately success. This allows us the opportunity to think broadly and creatively about total rewards strategies, including compensation programs, that recognize and reward their greatest asset.

You’ve advised a lot of organizations on their sales compensation strategy over the years. How should CEOs and CROs think about compensation as they move upmarket and to larger accounts (>$1M+)?

As you move up market and grow your team, it’s important to make your sales compensation plans and strategy more sophisticated. An important note – this does not mean to make it more complicated! Sales compensation plans need to be simple and straightforward enough so they are easily understood by the team, but also clearly motivate and drive the behavior and performance you want.

The first step is to reassess your sales targets and cycles. Larger sales typically take longer to sell – and less frequent payments and achievements will impact your sales team if plans aren’t structured well. Then, evaluate your profitability on larger sales. Do you need to adjust your plan to account for different levels? If teams will be working on a sale, how will you share the credit and payments?

Finally, formalize your plan. In a start-up environment, it’s common to have little (or no) formal documentation of your sales compensation plans. Clearly communicating a plan so everyone is on the same page is key – and will avoid questions, dispute and ill will in the future!

What advice do you give to companies who are rolling out an equity incentive program to their employees for the first time?

Equity is a powerful tool – and employees are attracted to opportunities that provide equity because of its unique opportunity to create sustainable wealth. However, studies have shown again and again that equity compensation recipients do not understand their rewards. My advice is to take the time to educate your team on the awards and how they create value – and the important details like tax consequences. Also, invest in a meaningful and equitable way to structure the grants based on tenure, job level or whatever factors are most important to your business. The bottom line is intentional and clear communication around equity incentives will help ensure you and your team both perceive the high level of value that exists in these programs.

What impact do you think the move to remote work as a more acceptable practice will have on companies’ total reward programs and policies in the long term?

For many years, remote work was a key differentiator for consultancies; but that competitive advantage is fading as more and more companies are moving to remote or hybrid work cultures. For those jobs that can be done remotely, I believe this will become an expectation by employees and an imperative for companies to compete for talent. Total rewards programs and policies will become more consistent across the employee population and less focused on physical events and perks (such as free food, swanky offices and happy hours). Employers are demanding that all benefits be equitable for both remote and in office employees. Businesses must continue to evolve and rethink their employee value proposition.

How can companies structure their compensation and workforce policies to appeal to a more diverse workforce?

The workforce will only continue to become more diverse over time – which is a huge advantage. However, we have to recognize that with this diversity comes different needs and opportunities to structure compensation and programs. Giving options and flexibility will allow employees to customize a total rewards package that works for them. For example, while older workers may value a rich retirement contribution and the stability of a higher base salary, younger workers may value student loan repayment programs and a lower base salary with higher upside potential.

Emma Sprague

Emma Sprague is co-founder and director of Upswing Strategies, a media and communications firm focused on coaching good people with good ideas to deliver their message with impact. Emma specializes in coaching entrepreneurs and policy experts on how to craft a compelling message, deliver it effectively, and feel confident in front of any audience. In the 2016 US Presidential cycle, Emma directed training for spokespeople in 20 states and all 200+ speakers at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. She is a member of the Bates College Board of Trustees where she co-chairs the Communications and Marketing Committee and serves as a mentor and coach for Bates’ Bobcat Ventures entrepreneurship competition.

Why are you passionate about helping entrepreneurs?

It takes guts (and time, and heart, and so much resilience) to launch an idea out into the world and fight for it to thrive. A lot of that has to come from the entrepreneur, but there are places where guidance and investment from others are essential. I’m grateful to be in a position to help entrepreneurs, both with my first-hand experience launching a business and because that business is focused on helping good people with good ideas deliver their message, tell their story, and make their pitch with the impact they desire. I am animated by the process of helping people shape their most authentic and compelling way to communicate and to lead, and to feel confident in both.

You’ve done a lot of social science research into why people listen to and follow some leaders more than others. How can founders hone their speaking and presentation skills to be a more inspirational leader?

Leading is a lot easier and more effective when people want to follow, when they are inspired, when they admire you and feel you’re headed somewhere together. That feeling is informed by the emotional character judgements we innately make about one another. Is she my kind of person? Does she have the ability to influence my world? One of the best ways to inform that judgement and inspire is by communicating your vision, your values and your story well and authentically. Becoming a magnetic speaker demands deliberate attention to how you prepare, how you show up, and how you deliver. That approach requires harnessing your individual strengths and personality, honing strategies that align your words, body language and voice with your message, and building a routine that ensures you approach each engagement with energy and poise.

During the pandemic companies had to shift quickly from in-person to virtual events. What can we learn from the companies who’ve been successful in this new format? How do they keep engagement high?

The first thing to do is acknowledge that virtual engagements – while powerful in a lot of important ways – are a really difficult mechanism for holding people’s attention and making true connections. That means the bar is much higher and you have to be all the more intentional in building a plan that meets your goals and captivates your participants. And that’s exactly where you start – what is your team hoping to get out of this and what do you want others to get out of this? If those answers aren’t crystal clear, you will flop and be lost in the sea of virtual panels rattling on behind someone’s email screen. Once your goals are set, some good things to consider: shorter presentations and shorter events; super engaging speakers only; incorporate multiple formats; get people on their feet; find ways to break through the screen; and build individual follow up into the plan.

You are a mentor and coach for Bates’ Bobcat Ventures entrepreneurship competition, and are deliberate about reaching leaders early in their careers. What advice would you give to founders on how to help and source future leaders?

I love working with students and young people. Confidence in public speaking, and so many other skills that make better leaders, better entrepreneurs, are ultimately a matter of routine and practice. The sooner you introduce and build those habits, the more they become second nature, muscle memory and mindset. I like to introduce students to a more holistic way of communicating – not just the words, but your energy, your movement, how you feel about what you’re saying – tactics for welcoming and handling nerves, and telling stories as a tool for persuasion. My advice to founders: think about what skill you wish you’d mastered earlier in your career and pass it on. Where to start: connect with schools you attended, incubators in your region, and by word of mouth. Coach one person and more will come. The long view goal is to create better prepared leaders for our teams and our world.