In the most primitive of times, the rewards of work kept you alive. Catch a fish and the reward was food. Start a fire for warmth and build a hut for shelter. There was a clear connection - a straight line - between what you did and how you were rewarded.

As work systems evolved, people worked for money which could then be used to purchase food, heat and shelter. At the close of each day, wages were paid. A good day of work earned a day's pay; poor performance risked reduced pay and not being hired the next work day. No need for quarterly performance discussions in this scenario, feedback was quick and clear.

In our current employment model, the link between what we do at work and how we get rewarded is a bit more circuitous. Your reward for a day's work is typically in the form of a payroll check delivered every few weeks. That pay will also be adjusted for charges such as taxes and insurance premiums. If your total compensation includes incentives, such as performance plans intended to motivate productivity and stimulate innovation, these rewards are usually paid once-per-year, long after the work is done.

Clearly linking what a person does at work to what a person gets paid is a basic but often overlooked business practice. How the results of a job contribute to the goals of a business and then, in turn, how company goals lead to sales are relationships that every employee should understand. The further removed a reward is from the behavior it is intended to reward, the more difficult it is to establish a clear relationship. If I touch a hot stove and immediately get burned, I understand the connection between what I did and the pain in my hand. If there were no immediate pain in my hand but I started hurting hours later, I might not realize that it was the act of touching the hot stove that caused the pain. In the course of a work day, a lot of things happen. Sorting through every activity to determine what is helping to earn your pay and what actions might be unproductive or detrimental to your work is a difficult task.

While it is part of your company's responsibility to direct and manage the performance of staff, your potential earnings and career progression can be improved if you clearly understand the linkages between what you do at work and how you are rewarded. To maximize your earnings, your first step is to understand why you are getting a paycheck.

For example, if you are in sales, your rewards are clearly tied to customer orders. Perhaps there are differing weights assigned to various products or sales volumes, but the basic equation is a straight line: you sell a product and you earn a reward. Now consider a sales training manager. That job is responsible for improving sales by improving the skill of the sales force. This connection to business results is also clear, that is, one straight line connects the trainer's work to the sales groups and then another straight line connects the sales group to the customers.

While it is easy to link sales results to company results, the success of the business also requires goals be met in all areas. As you move further away from customers in the work chain, the lines may become more difficult to connect, but the basic rule is that every job should be defined in terms of a connection to company results. Objectives for success are usually established for all areas, including: manufacturing, finance, customer service, legal, HR, and R&D. Knowing the specific goals for your company and then defining what straight lines link your work to the successful completion of those goals are important steps in understanding why your job exists. Once that is understood, you can then concentrate on improving those personal skills and behaviors that maximize the results that the company is working toward. This approach should increase your effectiveness and value to the company and, hopefully, increase your career potential and earnings. One thing is clear, if you cannot establish a connection between your work and any of the goals of the company, then it may be time to look for another job.

For more information, visit our website: www.WhatYouEarn.com or e-mail us at: Questions@WhatYouEarn.com

'What you earn' is a financial planning column that explores compensation beyond your regular paycheck. For individuals, topics deal with the cash and benefits you earn on the job and how to maximize earning power. For Companies, the goal is to communicate and market the compensation and benefit programs that are offered. Everyone has a unique situation and individual goals. These columns are meant to outline ideas and provide a starting point for you to plan your financial future. You are encouraged to do your own research and talk with a financial planner that is familiar with your personal situation. If you have questions, please contact Bob at: Questions@WhatYouEarn.com