Achieving Balance: The Trinity Model for Partner Compensation

partner compensation model consulting

By Andy Klose - Associate Partner

Designing and defining partner compensation within consulting companies can be challenging, but the Trinity Model proposed here offers a clear solution.

By following this model, companies can confidently institute effective partner compensation to achieve the best outcome for all stakeholders. This model emphasizes the interconnectedness of profit, goals, and pay in shaping partner compensation, ensuring alignment with organizational objectives.

Understanding the Trinity Model

Vencon Research’s Trinity Model for Partner Compensation design is based on three fundamental pillars: profit, goals, and pay (Exhibit 1):

Exhibit 1: Concept of the “Trinity Model” of Partner compensation (Source: Vencon Research)

These elements are not discrete elements but are interwoven, shaping the trajectory of partner compensation within consulting firms.

  1. Profit: Profitability, in its broadest sense, serves as the cornerstone of the Trinity Model. It encompasses various factors such as geographical location, business segment, industry dynamics, and operational models, delineating the profit potential of a company, service line, or consulting project.
  2. Goals: Central to the Trinity Model are the objectives or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) set for partners. These encompass tangible metrics like sales targets, revenue goals, contribution margins, and profitability thresholds, defining the expected outcomes from individual or team contributions.
  3. Pay: The compensation offered to partners is the tangible expression of their contributions and achievements within the organization. While market competitiveness is essential, equitable compensation that aligns with individual contributions is equally crucial for fostering a culture of fairness and performance.

Harmonizing the Trinity

The Trinity Model demonstrates structural cohesion by linking profit, goals, and pay within defined frameworks such as partner levels or career groups. Unlike traditional career progression paradigms, partner levels in this model are based on competency and performance rather than a linear upward trajectory.

In practice, changing one element of the Trinity requires corresponding adjustments to maintain balance. For instance, modifying compensation without aligning goals can cause conflict within the system. Therefore, it is crucial to synchronize all three elements to avoid any potential issues.

The following example should highlight these interrelations: Consider a scenario where a consulting company is striving to achieve ambitious growth goals by increasing revenue. This can be implemented by setting higher revenue goals for the firm’s partners. Profitability is typically defined by the types of clients served or the type of advisory work offered and is often less flexible. In this example, it is a fixed element. So, increasing partners’ revenue goals without adjusting their pay (potential) will eventually lead to an imbalance. Partners can increase their income by achieving higher revenue or profit goals and making other contributions. However, for career levels below partner, pay may also be significantly influenced by inflation and other factors.

In essence, the example highlights the imperative of harmonizing profit, goals, and pay to maintain balance within the compensation structure. By aligning compensation with organizational objectives, companies can ensure that incentives are calibrated to drive desired outcomes, fostering a culture of accountability and performance at all levels of the organization.

Moving Beyond Benchmarking

Regular benchmarking of pay against relevant peers provides valuable market insights when reviewing pay practices and market positioning. However, some consulting companies, such as those with a more meritocratic pay approach (“pay for performance”) may need to add a second step to the benchmarking exercise, particularly when reviewing Partner pay in relation to performance metrics. Such companies may wish to consider additional factors beyond pay benchmarking to ensure coherence within the Trinity Model and achieve a more holistic alignment across all elements.

Incorporating ESG Considerations

In an era marked by heightened awareness of environmental, social, and governance issues, consulting companies should be encouraged to incorporate ESG considerations into Partner performance assessments and incentives. By doing so, companies can promote a culture that values responsible management, and strive for sustainable value creation over the long term. This holistic approach not only aligns with societal expectations but also enhances the company's reputation and competitive advantage in an increasingly ESG-conscious business environment. This expansion of the Trinity Model to include ESG elements will be covered in a follow-up piece to this article.

Balance & Interdependence for Success

Achieving balance in partner compensation is important for creating a culture of performance, fairness, and sustainability in consulting companies. By acknowledging the interdependence of profit, goals, and pay, and incorporating emerging ESG considerations, firms can implement partner compensation strategies with confidence and foresight.

We would be pleased to assist you with any additional inquiries you may have and offer recommendations on how to enhance partner compensation for your organisation.

Andy Klose is an Associate Partner at Vencon Research International and heads the firm’s consulting unit.

Vencon Research International is a leading provider of compensation benchmarking and research as well as of compensation and performance-related consulting services for professional service firms, especially for audit and tax, management consulting, and IT services firms. Vencon Research International provides services to a full range of clients in more than 75 countries worldwide and is proud to name more than 85% of the world’s major consulting and/or professional services firm its clients.