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Certification Bonus Allocations

Posted on 2014-01-01
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Last Modified: 2014-01-08
Ok, I have a handful of certifications that I encourage my staff to obtain. Traditionally, the company pays for the self-study materials and the 1st exam. If you fail an exam it's on you to pay for the retake. I'm now looking to allocate bonuses for each certification obtained. I'm looking at a tiered structure: $100, $250, $500, $750, and $1000. I'd like some help in the placement of the certifications. Here's what I have so far:

$100
A+
Network+
Project+
CTP+
ITIL Foundation Certification in Service Management
MCTS: SQL Server 2008

$250
MCSA (all)
MCITP: Enterprise Messaging
CCNA (all)
ITIL Service Capacity
MCSA: SQL Server
CAPM

$500
MCSE (all)
VCP5
NCDA
CCNP
CCBA

$750
VCAP5
NCIE-SAN
CCIE
CISSP
CISA
CISM
CBAP
PMP

$1000
MBA


For those of you who have done some of these, do you have any recommendations? I don't want to over-value a certification (I doubt I'm undervaluing any at this point).
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Question by:PaulRKrueger
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by:ButlerTechnology
ID: 39750193
I think that is a good way to encourage team members to increase their skill set.  I would recommend bumping both SQL certifications up a level.  

You should develop a few tracks to keep your team members focus.  For example, team member should first get the A+ certification, followed by the N+ and then go towards the CISCO certification.  This is assuming that the individual has a focus on networking in your organization.
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by:Cyclops3590
ID: 39751344
First off I want to say I'm in awe that your company allows for such a program.  Kudos.  I mean you cover self-paced resources, the first exam cost AND now you're going to give a bonus to passing them?  Simply put, wow.  

I agree with setting up tracks.  In addition to putting all of those into tracks I would think about some of those certs a little more and how they are obtained and maintained.  For example, CCNA R&S needs to be re-upped every 3 years.  The CCIE must be re-upped every 2 years.  CISSP I believe is 3 years or obtain enough continuing ed credits (same with PMP) to keep it active.  I think it would be beneficial if you are going to give bonuses for them that you look at re-issuing the bonus if it is kept active.  However you wouldn't want to give the bonus every time it is "re-upped".  This is because the CCNA is effectively re-upped with every NA level or above exam you pass.  So that $250 could multiply a lot.  However if you don't do that, you could get people that just take the exams for the money and then move on to the next, not valuing the cert.  In other words you could get paper certified people.

So for example,  let say that 1/10/14 someone gets the CCNA R&S.  The bonus then is $250.  you record that date and if the cert is still valid in 3 years and they show proof, then they get that bonus again.  Keep in mind this is just a thought and solely an idea to encourage people to maintain their certification status.

The other thing to that too though, is I think some of those should be brought down a bit.  For example, $250 for the CCNA when you're already paying for so much I think is a little high.  The reason is that it is a single exam and relatively isn't that hard to pass versus say the CCIE which is 2 exams (written/lab).  My point is that you might be people doing a ton of CCNAs instead of trying to progress thru the track and get a CCNP which is 3+ exams depending on the one you do.  Which requires more dedication to a longer process to achieve.

Finally, I wouldn't just limit it to MBA.  Since you're clearly focused on IT area, I would open that to any business/IT related Masters degree.  And if you want to make things fair, I would think you should give the bonus to new hires as well.  Again, just thinking out loud.
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by:PaulRKrueger
ID: 39753796
Thanks for the feedback! In response to your posts:

1. So by bumping the SQL certs up you're saying that the MCSA in SQL is significantly harder than the MCSA in Windows 7 (and commensurate to an MCSE)?

2. The program I've built provides tracks for each position we have. There is a baseline for each position that encompasses certifications relevant to the tasks of that position. Once they complete those certifications they can branch out to other certs.

3. The input on certification refreshes is much appreciated (I hadn't given that any thought). Perhaps $100 for the renewal will be appropriate (assuming the renewal wasn't achieved through another certification).

4. New hires - I don't think I'll do that for the following reasons: 1) I'm not going to give the bonuses retroactively to current staff and 2) presumably the salary of the new hire will reflect the experience / certifications they come to us with (although our starting salaries are low enough that most come w/o any certs).

One other thing I forgot to mention is that we're looking at implementing a commitment agreement that goes along with each of the certs (i.e. 1 year for lvl 1 and 2 certs, 2 years for lvl 3, and 3 years for higher). If the employee leaves prior that that time they will owe us for the cost of the training and bonuses (prorated for the time they stuck around).

For the sake of interest (and if anyone comes across this in the future) I'm attaching the Professional Certification Guide that is the basis for all of this. I wrote it a year ago and haven't completed the refresh, so some of it may be out of date, but at least you'll see where I'm coming from.
Professional-Certification-Guide.pdf
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by:Cyclops3590
ID: 39753826
Well I don't know if I agree with paying back the bonus part of it or some of those time frames.  At least I know I'd be pissed as its not really a bonus then in my view.  I'm definitely in agreement that your company foots the bill for training and exam costs so that should be paid back to the company if they leave within X number of months.  The only reason I say I'm not totally in agreement with the time frame is that 3 years is a very long time.  While you guys paying for employees to get certs is an investment on your part and you want to get a return on that investment, telling someone that the $10K+ they gave you for achieving the CCIE means you have to stay 3 years almost sends the signal that your not a good place to work at and you have to handcuff people to your company.  I'd say 12 or 18 months max.  After all, do you want employees that are disgruntled and feel trapped in your company or ones that feel appreciated and want to stay.  I'm assuming since you've spent so much time developing this program (and I am impressed by it, don't get me wrong) that you want employees to feel valued while at the same time to progress and be a more contributing member of the company.

Granted from everything I've read about employee retention, its mainly about the employee liking the boss they work for, but I hope you get my point.  You don't want this program to devolve into something that looks like a scheme to trap your employees, but rather a program to help employees grow.
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by:ButlerTechnology
ButlerTechnology earned 250 total points
ID: 39753841
Harder might not be the best word in terms of comparing SQL and Windows 7 certs.  I would like to think that the SQL component has more added value to the organization from a strategic standpoint.  This is probably the MIS faculty in me talking.  For example, an individual with the Windows 7 cert has value to the organization in terms of the computer working properly and such.  The SQL person works with the data (the company's life blood) and has the ability to become a strategic asset to the organization.  I teach MIS at a university so I might be a little bias on the data side of things.
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Cyclops3590 earned 250 total points
ID: 39753874
Well I will agree with ButlerTechnology.  the skill sets are definitely different (duh, right).  The fact is there are WAY more people that can get Win7 certified than SQL certified; its easier tech to understand for what the company needs.  From my experience with MS exams (I've done the XP/2003 track; haven't updated since) I remember the client portions being quite simple.  Not just that but the vast majority of stuff didn't really apply until you ran in an AD environment and only then if you knew the server side of things did it really help.  SQL on the other hand covers a lot of skills that can have much more real impact on the company.  For some reason people don't flock to SQL server that much and those jobs are ALWAYS in demand.  Win client people are a dime a dozen though.  And a friend of mine that did Oracle and SQL administration said she much prefers SQL; easier and its honestly just as powerful as Oracle for a lot less money these days (her words anyway).  

So yes, I would agree that SQL should be valued more than Win7 and about the same as WinServer if not even a little more than WinServer
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by:PaulRKrueger
ID: 39754666
Again, great feedback.

Regarding the commitment requirements, how about limiting it to 12 months (regardless of level) and the full cost of the training (excluding the bonus)? I have to include this component. It's not so important at the lower levels where we pay $300 total for the books and the exam, but I do have a limited budget so dropping $5,000 for a week of training and having them leave a month later stings and demoralizes the other staff.

One exception to this policy would be training that we (the company) determine must be completed as part of the position (i.e. we're bringing in new technology and we need the expertise). In that case it's not voluntary from the employee side so we wouldn't require a statement of commitment in that situation.

On the bonus level of SQL, that's a fantastic point. It should absolutely be weighted more on the value to the company than on the difficulty to obtain.
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by:Cyclops3590
ID: 39754726
12 months I think is fairly reasonable and standard.  My last company it was 6 months which I thought was awesome because I didn't think it was really that long.  I do also think its more standard that full cost of training/exam should be reimbursed; I doubt people will grumble about it too much either.  You're absolutely right that its not fair to the company if they leave the next week or within a couple months.  Just make sure its advertised as an investment into your employees NOT a benefit.  It's like getting a relocation package.  Its there because the company wants you and to invest in you because it helps the company, not something to just be given in addition to base wages for existing at the company like health insurance or 401k.
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