Natural resource employers facing unique recruitment, retention challenges: Conference Board

Succession planning, share-based compensation can help
||Last Updated: 09/10/2012

Natural resource companies face unique challenges in recruiting, retaining and motivating the key talent they need to be successful, according to the Conference Board of Canada.

This is due to the volatile commodity prices and the long time between capital investments and shareholder returns, found Compensation Challenges for Natural Resource Companies.

“Retention issues exist during both high and low commodity price cycles. Paying for performance is challenging because volatile commodity prices can create misalignment between management pay and shareholder returns. And the long-term nature of the business makes it difficult to pay at an appropriate level in the short term,” said Christina Medland, the study’s principal author from Meridian Compensation Partners.

“Meeting these challenges requires advance planning, multiple strategies, clear communication with the shareholders, and discipline to hold a steady course through commodity pricing cycles.”

The report presents strategies to help organizations overcome these challenges in the areas of retention, pay for performance and creating a focus for employees on the company’s long-term success.

Retention strategies

Ensure sound succession planning: The cyclical nature of the market for talent makes succession planning vital to fill key positions as they are needed. A good succession plan positions the company to manage employee turnover when it becomes necessary.

Make long-term, share-based compensation a substantial part of compensation: The cyclical movement of commodity prices and the length of time between a discovery of a reserve and production make long-term compensation crucially important.

Balance share-based and cash-based incentives: A “portfolio approach” — consisting of options, restricted share units, performance share units and cash — mitigates the downside of any single method of compensation.

Pay-for-performance strategies

Balance absolute and relative performance: Compensation programs should have a mix of absolute and relative measures. Absolute measures reflect key drivers of shareholder value, while relative measures reward performance compared to other businesses that face similar external factors (such as commodity price fluctuation).

Align performance metrics: Metrics need to be aligned with the company’s long-term strategy, and the annual incentive plan should reflect specific measureable milestones tied to the strategic plan.

Communicate with shareholders: Natural resource companies need to communicate to shareholders how compensation programs support the business strategy and align pay with shareholder returns.

Strategies to enhance long-term focus

Ensure long-term incentives are truly long term: Long-term focus can be created through share-based awards that vest over time, share ownership requirements and requirements to hold the shares received under incentive plans for a period of time.

•Create employee-owners: Share ownership is key to retention. Employees who have enough skin in the game are more likely to stay through the up and down cycles. Share ownership also creates and supports a culture of employees who act and think like owners for the long term.

Pay for avoiding catastrophic risks: The potentially catastrophic consequences of an error require significant employee focus on avoiding risks. A large part of a successful compensation program is creating a culture of prudent risk taking and anticipating and managing risks.

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