What is a Short Term Incentive Plan?

Short Term Incentive Plans (STIPs) are structured, performance-based compensation strategies designed to reward employees for achieving specific business goals within a short timeframe, typically within one fiscal year or less.

Unlike basic salary structures, which provide a fixed compensation amount based on an employee’s role and responsibilities, STIPs offer variable pay that directly correlates with performance outcomes. This distinction is crucial, as STIPs are designed to motivate and reward employees beyond the scope of their regular duties, encouraging them to contribute to immediate business objectives in a more significant and focused manner.

STIPs also differ from long-term incentive plans (LTIPs), which are aimed at aligning employees’ interests with the long-term goals of the company, often through stock ownership or options that vest over several years. While LTIPs are designed to retain employees and invest them in the company’s long-term success, STIPs focus on short-term objectives with immediate rewards. This immediate reinforcement serves as a powerful motivator, as employees can see the direct impact of their efforts in a relatively short period.

STIPs encompass a variety of incentive structures, typically focused on a timeframe of one year or less. These STI bonuses are directly tied to the accomplishment of predetermined performance metrics, which can range from individual, team, to company-wide achievements. The essence of STIPs lies in their ability to offer tangible rewards, such as cash bonuses or stock options, for meeting or exceeding specific targets within a short timeframe. This immediacy of reward for effort and achievement is what sets STIPs apart from long-term incentive plans, which may take years to materialize.

The importance of STIPs in the modern workplace cannot be overstated. They serve not only as a mechanism for enhancing employee motivation but also as a strategic tool for aligning employees’ efforts with the company’s immediate business goals. By offering a clear and direct link between performance and reward, STIPs encourage employees to focus on key priorities, drive productivity, and contribute to the organization’s success in a significant and measurable way.

Moreover, beyond merely boosting performance, STIPs play a crucial role in attracting and retaining top talent. In a competitive job market, the promise of immediate rewards for performance can make a company more attractive to high achievers. Furthermore, by recognizing and rewarding outstanding performance, STIPs help to foster a culture of excellence and achievement within the organization.

Short Term Incentive Plans are an essential component of a comprehensive compensation strategy, offering benefits that extend beyond the immediate financial gains for employees. Through the effective implementation of STIPs, companies can motivate their workforce, align employee efforts with strategic objectives, and ultimately, drive the organization towards achieving its short-term and long-term goals.

Objectives of STIPs

The primary objective of STIPs is to enhance employee performance by directly linking rewards to the achievement of short-term business goals. This direct link serves multiple purposes:

  1. Motivation: By offering tangible rewards for specific achievements, STIPs motivate employees to prioritize and focus their efforts on critical tasks and projects that contribute directly to the company’s immediate objectives.
  2. Alignment: STIPs help align the efforts of individual employees with the overall strategic goals of the organization. This alignment ensures that every employee’s work contributes to business growth and success in a measurable way.
  3. Flexibility: Given their short-term nature, STIPs provide organizations with the flexibility to adjust goals and rewards based on changing business needs and market conditions. This adaptability is crucial for staying competitive and responsive to external challenges.
  4. Retention and Attraction: Competitive STIPs make an organization more attractive to high-performing individuals looking for opportunities where their contributions are quickly recognized and rewarded. They also play a significant role in retaining top talent by providing ongoing STIs for high performance.
  5. Culture of Performance: Implementing STIPs fosters a culture of performance and excellence within the organization. It encourages a proactive approach to goal achievement and rewards those who go above and beyond, setting a benchmark for success within the team or organization.

In essence, STIPs are not just compensation tools but strategic instruments that drive employee performance and business growth. They create a dynamic environment where employees are encouraged and rewarded for directly contributing to the organization’s immediate success, fostering a mutually beneficial relationship between the company and its workforce. Through well-designed STIPs, companies can achieve targeted outcomes more efficiently while building a motivated, engaged, and high-performing team.

Key Components

Short Term Incentive Plans (STIPs) are a crucial tool for motivating employees and aligning their efforts with the company’s immediate goals. Understanding the key components of STIPs is essential for designing an effective incentive plan. Let’s delve into these components: performance metrics and KPIs, eligibility criteria, payout structure, payout frequency, and the determination of payout amounts.

Performance Metrics and KPIs

The heart of any STIP is its performance metrics or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These metrics are quantifiable measures used to evaluate success in achieving targeted business goals. Common metric categories include:

  1. Production: Measures output or accomplishments, such as the number of units produced or tasks completed within a specific timeframe.
  2. Profit: Focuses on the bottom line, evaluating the financial gains after subtracting expenses from revenue.
  3. Revenue: Assesses the total income generated from business activities before expenses are deducted. Common metrics for developing incentive plans
  4. Quality: Evaluates the standards of products or services, including customer satisfaction and adherence to quality benchmarks.

Choosing the right metrics is crucial. They should be closely aligned with the company’s strategic objectives, clearly defined, and easily measurable. This ensures transparency and fairness in how employees are evaluated and rewarded.

Eligibility Criteria

Not all employees may qualify for STIPs. Eligibility can depend on several factors, including the employee’s role, level of responsibility, and direct impact on the performance metrics. Typically, STIPs are designed for employees who are in a position to significantly influence the company’s performance, such as sales staff, project managers, and senior executives. Setting clear eligibility criteria ensures that each STI target is meaningful to those who can contribute most directly to the company’s objectives.

Payout Structure

STIPs can be paid out in various forms, each with its advantages. The most common payout structures include:

Cash Bonuses: Immediate and tangible rewards that provide direct financial benefits to employees.

Stock Options: Offer long-term value and align employees’ interests with the company’s success, potentially turning into significant financial gains as the company grows.

Contributions to 401(k) Plans: This method not only provides a tangible benefit to the employee but also encourages a culture of saving and financial planning within the organization. For the employer, making a contribution to an employee’s 401(k) can be tax-efficient, potentially offering tax deductions on the contributions.

Gift Cards and Experiences: Gift cards provide employees with the flexibility to choose their own rewards, whether it’s for shopping, dining, or entertainment. Experiences, such as travel vouchers, spa days, or tickets to events, offer memorable rewards that employees can enjoy and value beyond monetary terms.

Choosing the Right Payout Structure

Ultimately, the effectiveness of a STIP payout structure lies in its ability to motivate employees towards achieving business objectives while aligning with their personal goals and preferences. By considering a mix of immediate and long-term incentives, including financial contributions and personalized rewards, companies can create a comprehensive and appealing STIP that meets the diverse needs of their workforce.

The choice of payout structure should consider the company’s financial situation, strategic goals, and the preferences of its employees. For instance, startups might lean towards stock options, while established companies may prefer cash bonuses for immediate impact.

Payout Frequency

Determining how often incentives are paid is another critical component. STIPs typically follow a regular schedule, such as quarterly or annually. The frequency should balance the need to provide timely rewards with the company’s ability to accurately measure and evaluate performance. Frequent payouts can offer immediate feedback and motivation, while less frequent payouts may allow for more significant rewards tied to substantial achievements.

Many companies overlook the benefits of more frequent incentive payouts due to the perceived complexity and administrative burden of their existing processes. Frequent payouts can significantly enhance motivation and employee satisfaction by providing immediate rewards for their efforts, reinforcing positive behaviors, and keeping goals top of mind. However, the logistical challenges of administering such a system often deter organizations from leveraging these advantages. This is where Plentive comes into play. Plentive revolutionizes the way companies manage their incentive payouts, streamlining the process to the point where completing a STI bonus payout takes less than five minutes. By simplifying the administrative process, Plentive enables organizations to more easily reap the benefits of offering more frequent incentives, ensuring employees feel continuously recognized and rewarded for their contributions.

How Much: Determining Payout Amounts

Deciding on the amount to pay in STIPs involves considering the company’s budget, the level of achievement above baseline expectations, and the competitive landscape. A common approach is to set a target percentage of the employee’s base salary, which can vary based on the employee’s role and the degree to which they exceed their STI targets. For example, payouts might range from 5% to 20% of the employee’s annual salary, depending on their performance level and the impact of their contributions.

Another common practice among companies is to earmark a percentage of their net profit for STIPs, with the amount varying significantly based on the company’s performance and strategic priorities. Typically, companies may allocate anywhere from 10% to 30% of their net profit towards STIPs. This approach ensures that the incentive payouts are directly tied to the company’s financial health, creating a strong alignment between individual performance and the overall success of the organization.

The key to determining the right percentage lies in balancing the desire to motivate and reward employees with the need to ensure the financial sustainability of the business. By tying STIP payouts to net profit, companies can create a transparent and scalable framework that adjusts incentive payouts based on actual performance, ensuring that employees are rewarded commensurately with the company’s success. This method also serves to communicate a clear message about the importance of collective effort towards achieving financial goals, fostering a culture of accountability and shared success.

In conclusion, designing an effective STIP requires careful consideration of performance metrics, eligibility criteria, payout structure and frequency, and the determination of payout amounts. By aligning these components with the company’s strategic goals and ensuring they are fair and transparent, organizations can motivate employees, enhance performance, and achieve business success.

Designing an Effective STIP

The effectiveness of a Short Term Incentive Plan (STIP) hinges not only on its structure but also on how well it is designed to align with the company’s goals, motivate employees through realistic targets, and is communicated and administered. Here’s how to ensure your STIP is effective and impactful:

Aligning with Business Goals

The first step in designing an effective STIP is ensuring it is tightly aligned with the overarching goals of the organization. Every aspect of the incentive plan should be geared towards advancing these goals, whether they relate to financial performance, customer satisfaction, operational efficiency, or innovation. This alignment ensures that the efforts rewarded through the STIP directly contribute to the company’s strategic objectives, creating a win-win situation where both the company and its employees benefit from the achieved outcomes.

Setting Realistic Targets

For a STIP to effectively motivate employees, the STI targets set must strike a balance between being challenging and achievable. Targets that are too easy may not push employees to their full potential, while those that are overly ambitious can demoralize and disengage. The key is to set targets that stretch employees to go beyond their normal performance levels without being so high as to seem unattainable. Regularly reviewing and adjusting these targets can also help maintain their relevance and motivational power over time.


Clear communication plays a crucial role in the success of a STIP. Employees need to understand not only what the STIP is and how it works but also what is expected of them and how their performance directly impacts their rewards. This involves transparently communicating the criteria for earning incentives, how these incentives will be calculated, and when they will be paid out. Effective communication ensures that employees are fully aware of the opportunities available to them and what they need to do to seize these opportunities.


Beyond the initial communication of the STIP’s framework, maintaining transparency throughout the incentive period is essential. This means providing employees with regular updates on their progress towards meeting their targets, any changes to the plan, and the overall performance of the company in relation to its goals. Such transparency not only keeps employees informed and engaged but also fosters trust in the STIP and the broader organizational leadership.


Plentive’s live dashboards are a game-changer for achieving transparency in Short Term Incentive Plans (STIPs). These dashboards provide real-time visibility into the performance metrics that drive STIP payouts, allowing both employees and managers to monitor progress towards targets at any given moment. This level of accessibility ensures that everyone involved has a clear understanding of where they stand in relation to their goals and what is required to achieve their incentives. By demystifying the criteria and progress toward incentives, Plentive fosters an environment of openness and trust. Employees can see the direct impact of their efforts on their potential rewards, enhancing motivation and engagement. Furthermore, this transparency aids in identifying and addressing any discrepancies or misunderstandings immediately, ensuring that STIPs remain fair and aligned with organizational objectives.


One of the critical challenges in administering STIPs is their complexity and the significant administrative effort required to manage them. Many incentive plans fail not because they are poorly designed but because they are too difficult to implement effectively. This is where the role of automation, facilitated by platforms like Plentive, becomes invaluable. Plentive streamlines the process of  tracking performance, calculating incentives, and distributing rewards, significantly reducing the administrative burden and minimizing errors. Its sophisticated yet user-friendly technology ensures that the STIP runs smoothly and efficiently, allowing employees to focus on achieving their targets rather than getting bogged down by procedural complexities.

In conclusion, designing an effective STIP requires careful consideration of how the plan aligns with business goals, sets realistic targets, communicates expectations, maintains transparency, and leverages automation for efficient administration. By incorporating solutions like Plentive, companies can address these key areas more effectively, creating STIPs that not only motivate employees and drive performance but also enhance engagement and contribute to a culture of achievement and success. The integration of such technology ensures that STIPs are not only strategically aligned and well-communicated but also seamlessly executed, making the entire process more efficient and impactful.


The implementation of Short Term Incentive Plans (STIPs) can bring about transformative benefits for an organization, impacting everything from productivity levels to the overarching company culture. Here’s a closer look at the key benefits of implementing effective STIPs:

Increased Productivity

Evidence abounds that Short Term Incentive Plans (STIPs) can significantly enhance employee productivity by aligning incentives with specific performance metrics. This alignment encourages employees to direct their efforts towards activities that contribute directly to the company’s strategic goals. A compelling example comes from a study published in the Journal of Labor Economics, which revealed that when sales employees were offered STI bonuses tied to individual sales targets, their productivity increased by an average of 24%. Such a boost in productivity not only fast-tracks the achievement of business objectives but also bolsters overall organizational efficiency.

Incorporating the Plentive platform into the administration of STIPs can magnify these benefits. Plentive streamlines the process of setting, tracking, and adjusting performance metrics in real-time, ensuring that incentives are always aligned with current business goals. This real-time alignment and transparency provided by Plentive’s platform can further motivate employees by clearly showing how their individual efforts contribute to larger company objectives, potentially leading to even greater increases in productivity.

As we have worked with hundreds of companies over the past few years, leveraging the Plentive platform, we have witnessed firsthand the effectiveness of STIPs in achieving business objectives across various metrics. Our clients, with the help of Plentive’s streamlined incentive management, have achieved their targets and seen dramatic improvements in several key areas, including:

Profit Improvements: Through profit-sharing plans that directly reward employees for contributing to the bottom line, fostering a shared interest in the company’s financial success.

Increased Revenue: By implementing well-structured commission plans that incentivize sales teams to exceed their sales targets, directly impacting the company’s top-line growth.

Production Increases: From meaningful production bonuses that reward manufacturing or operational teams for meeting or surpassing production goals, enhancing efficiency and output.

The integration of Plentive’s platform in administering STIPs simplifies the process, making it more efficient and impactful. By reducing the administrative burden and providing clear, real-time insights into performance metrics and incentive achievements, Plentive helps companies not only to set and achieve ambitious targets but also to foster a culture of transparency, motivation, and productivity.

Improved Employee Retention

Effective STIPs can also play a critical role in employee retention. In a competitive job market, offering tangible rewards for performance makes an organization more attractive to high-performing individuals. Moreover, when employees see a clear pathway to earning additional compensation through their efforts, they are more likely to feel valued and, consequently, more likely to stay with the company. A report by the Society for Human Resource Management highlighted that companies with strong incentive programs reported a decrease in employee turnover by up to 31%, underscoring the importance of STIPs in retaining talent.

Enhanced Company Culture

Incentivizing performance through STIPs can fundamentally transform a company’s culture, creating a more dynamic and performance-oriented environment. When employees are rewarded for meeting or exceeding specific goals, it sets a tone that values achievement and excellence. This can lead to a positive competitive spirit where employees are motivated not just by financial rewards but also by the recognition of their contributions. Over time, this culture of performance becomes ingrained, driving continuous improvement and innovation across the organization.


Regular feedback and tracking of performance objectives are integral components of STIPs, which significantly improve employee engagement. Employees who receive frequent updates on their progress are more likely to feel involved and invested in their work. This ongoing dialogue helps employees understand how their individual efforts contribute to the larger organizational goals, fostering a sense of purpose and belonging. Additionally, the immediate feedback loop allows for quick adjustments, enabling employees to stay on track towards achieving their targets. A Gallup study found that organizations with highly engaged employees report a 21% increase in profitability, highlighting the direct link between engagement, productivity, and financial success.

In summary, the benefits of implementing STIPs extend far beyond the immediate financial rewards for employees. They lead to higher productivity, improved employee retention, an enhanced company culture, and increased engagement. Together, these benefits contribute to a virtuous cycle of performance and success, positioning the organization for sustainable growth and competitiveness in its industry.

Challenges and Considerations

While Short Term Incentive Plans (STIPs) offer numerous benefits, their implementation is not without challenges. Addressing these challenges head-on is crucial for ensuring the success and sustainability of STIPs within an organization. Here are key considerations and strategies for overcoming potential hurdles:


The potential costs involved in implementing STIPs are a significant consideration for any organization. Cash incentives can be multifaceted, encompassing not only the direct financial outlays for rewards but also the administrative costs of managing the program. To manage these costs effectively, companies should:

Budget Carefully: Allocate a specific budget for STIPs and monitor expenditures closely to ensure they remain within projected limits.

ROI Analysis: Evaluate the return on investment (ROI) of STIPs by measuring the increase in productivity or revenue against the cost of the incentives. This analysis can help justify the expense by demonstrating tangible business benefits.

Scale to Performance: Consider scaling the payouts in proportion to the level of achievement above baseline performance, ensuring that the cost of the STIP is offset by the value it generates.

Fairness and Transparency

Ensuring that STIPs are perceived as fair and transparent by all employees is paramount. Perceived inequities can lead to demotivation and disengagement, undermining the objectives of the incentive plan. To promote fairness and transparency, organizations should:

Clear Criteria: Establish and communicate clear, objective criteria for earning incentives. These criteria should be directly linked to individual or team performance, ensuring that rewards are based on measurable outcomes.

Open Communication: Maintain open lines of communication, allowing employees to ask questions and receive clarification about the STIP. Regular updates on progress and achievements can also help keep everyone informed and engaged.

Feedback Mechanisms: Implement mechanisms for employees to provide feedback on the STIP, including any concerns about fairness or transparency. This feedback can be invaluable for making adjustments and improvements to the plan.

Adapting to Change

The business environment is constantly evolving, with shifts in market conditions, competitive landscapes, and internal company dynamics. STIPs need to be flexible enough to adapt to these changes to remain effective. Strategies for ensuring this flexibility include:

Regular Review: Establish a schedule for regularly reviewing and, if necessary, adjusting the STIP. This can involve changing performance metrics, targets, or even the structure of the incentive itself to align with new business objectives.

Agility in Design: Design STIPs with the potential for adaptation built-in. This might mean setting aside a portion of the budget for unexpected opportunities or challenges that arise during the incentive period.

Employee Involvement: Engage employees in discussions about changes to the STIP, seeking their input and buy-in. This can help ensure that adjustments are grounded in the reality of their day-to-day work and are received positively.

Addressing the challenges of cost, fairness, transparency, and adaptability is essential for the success of any Short Term Incentive Plan. By carefully considering these factors and implementing strategies to manage them, organizations can maximize the benefits of STIPs while minimizing potential drawbacks.

Best Practices

Implementing Short Term Incentive Plans (STIPs) effectively requires more than just a well-thought-out design; it also demands ongoing management and refinement to ensure that these plans continue to meet their intended goals. Here are some best practices that can help organizations maximize the impact of their STIPs:

Regularly Tracking the ROI

A STIP should be viewed as an investment in your employees, aimed at boosting performance and achieving business objectives. To ensure that this investment is paying off, it’s essential to regularly track the Return on Investment (ROI) of your STIPs. This involves measuring the improvement in performance and the achievement of business objectives directly attributable to the STIP. Key performance indicators (KPIs) should be established from the outset to enable this analysis.

If the data indicates that the STIP is not leading to the desired improvement, it’s crucial to make adjustments. This might involve revising performance targets, altering the incentive structure, or even reallocating the budget towards other initiatives that might offer a better return. Regular ROI analysis ensures that the organization’s investment in STIPs remains justified by tangible benefits.

Employee Feedback

One of the most critical sources of information for refining STIPs is feedback from the employees themselves. Encouraging and incorporating this feedback can provide valuable insights into how the STIP is perceived, its effectiveness, and areas for improvement. This feedback loop can help identify issues that may not be apparent from a management perspective, such as perceived fairness, the clarity of performance targets, or the motivational impact of the incentives offered.

Creating channels for anonymous feedback can also help ensure that employees feel comfortable sharing their honest opinions and suggestions. Regular surveys, focus groups, or feedback sessions can be effective ways to gather this input, which can then be used to make the STIP more effective and better aligned with employees’ needs and motivations.

Legal and Tax Implications

When designing STIPs, it’s crucial to consider the legal and tax implications. These plans must comply with local, state, and federal laws, including labor laws and regulations regarding compensation and bonuses. Failure to comply can result in legal challenges and financial penalties, undermining the benefits of the STIP.

Moreover, both the organization and its employees can face tax implications based on the structure and payouts of the STIP. It’s important to design the STIP in a way that optimizes tax outcomes for both parties. Consulting with legal and tax professionals during the design phase can help ensure that the STIP is compliant and structured efficiently from a tax perspective.

In summary, the successful implementation of STIPs involves continuous monitoring and refinement, incorporating employee feedback, and ensuring compliance with legal and tax requirements. By following these best practices, organizations can create STIPs that not only motivate employees and drive performance but also align with broader business objectives and comply with regulatory obligations.


Throughout this blog post, we’ve explored the multifaceted world of Short Term Incentive Plans (STIPs), detailing their structure, benefits, challenges, and best practices for implementation. At Plentive, we’ve seen how STIPs, when thoughtfully designed, serve as a powerful tool to motivate employees, align their efforts with the company’s strategic objectives, and drive significant improvements in productivity and business performance.

Key points discussed include the essential components of STIPs, such as performance metrics, eligibility criteria, payout structures, and the importance of clear communication and transparency. We delved into the numerous benefits of implementing STIPs, including increased productivity, improved employee retention, enhanced company culture, and heightened engagement. We also addressed the challenges that come with STIPs, including their cost, the necessity for fairness and adaptability, and the legal and tax implications that must be considered.

The potential positive impact of well-designed STIPs on both employees and the organization cannot be overstated. By providing tangible rewards for achieving specific, short-term goals, STIPs can lead to a more motivated workforce, better alignment with business objectives, and a culture that celebrates achievement and excellence.


As we conclude, I encourage all readers to evaluate their current incentive structures. Consider whether the implementation or revision of STIPs could benefit your organization. Assess your business goals, workforce dynamics, and the challenges unique to your context. With the insights provided in this post, you’re well-equipped to design or refine STIPs that not only motivate your employees and drive performance but also contribute to the sustainable growth and success of your organization.

Remember, the most effective STIPs are those that evolve. Continuously seek feedback, monitor your plans’ effectiveness, and be willing to make changes to ensure they remain aligned with your changing business needs and objectives. By doing so, you can harness the full power of STIPs to create a thriving, high-performing workplace.

How Plentive Can Help

Embarking on the journey to implement or refine Short Term Incentive Plans (STIPs) can often seem daunting. Many organizations recognize the potential benefits but are unsure where to begin. This is precisely where Plentive shines. Our role is not just to provide a platform but to serve as your guide, helping you navigate the complexities of incentive plans with ease and confidence.

If you’re at a crossroads, wondering how to align your company’s incentives with its strategic goals, or if you’re looking to enhance employee engagement and productivity through effective STIPs, it’s time to talk to an incentive expert. At Plentive, our team of seasoned professionals is dedicated to understanding your unique challenges and objectives, crafting tailor-made solutions that drive real results.

Don’t let uncertainty hold you back from unlocking the full potential of your team. Whether you’re exploring incentive options for the first time or aiming to overhaul your existing strategy, Plentive has the expertise, tools, and insights to make your goals a reality. By partnering with us, you’ll gain access to:

  • A comprehensive platform that simplifies the administration of incentive plans.
  • Real-time dashboards that enhance transparency and motivate your workforce.
  • Expert advice tailored to your specific business context and objectives.

Elevating your incentive strategy starts with a conversation. Contact Plentive today to speak with an incentive expert. Let us help you design and implement STIPs that not only motivate your employees but also align seamlessly with your business goals, driving productivity and success. Together, we can transform your incentive strategy into a powerful engine for growth.

Build your bonus plan

Speak with an expert to create your bonus plan