I’ve never been particularly good at math, and yet have made for myself a successful career in Compensation. Now, why is that? One would think that we’re all numbers people, focused on statistics, surveys and regression formulae. People just expect compensation practitioners to be a whiz at figures. On the other hand, such so-called math experts often fail to rise to the top of the profession. That's a quandary to ponder over.
Why do some compensation people succeed (climb the specialist ladder) and others don’t? Likely there are several reasons, but I think persona has a lot to do with it.
Changing view of compensation
Effectiveness in Compensation isn’t (or shouldn’t be) all about the numbers, but about the people affected by the numbers. A successful practitioner should understand their company’s business and the pulse of the employees, who are not just the figures on a spreadsheet. If you consider the human factor as little more than boxes on an organization chart, then your ability to solve problems will be limited by your ignorance of the employee relations impact that naturally follows your recommendations.
Do you remember seeing an HR fellow with a pocket protector and a bunch of pens in the shirt pocket, walking the hallway while laden down with survey reports? That was the traditional view of “the comp guy.” This was the master technician who lived with the charts, graphs and regression formulae, but who failed to understand the people impact of their work. Everything was about the numbers.
Best practices are different these days. Compensation staff are no longer confined to a cubicle or an out-of-the-way office, but increasingly are stepping out among the employees, developing their knowledge of how the business operates, all the while increasing their ability to partner with internal business clients.
Sensitized practitioners know that compensating employees should be about the rewards as well as the process, about how rewarding employees can influence behavior, for good or ill. Therefore the success of the solutions provider is in being able to creatively assist managers achieve their objectives, while at the same time adhering to consistent policies / procedures. It is not about quoting policy with a shrug of the shoulders. It's about being engaged in the process.
What’s the color of your hat?
Something else to think about; what role does the Compensation function play in your organization?
- Policeman vs. Gatekeeper: The role is not to say yes or no, but to encourage an open process of ideas and practices that operate within established policies and procedures. Nobody likes the fellow who can offer little more in the way of help than quoting from the company policy manual.
- Numbers vs. People: Are your thought processes people-oriented, or is the understanding that employees are affected by these policies and procedures lost on you? A business-only focus that ignores the human factor in driving success is inevitably tripped up by lower morale and disengaged employees.
- Policy vs. Flexibility: Are you one to quote policy as a supposed answer to every manager’s question, or are you open to creative possibilities? When you tell a manager that the decision remains with them, that you’re only offering advice, you'll be able to actually see their body dynamics relax. At that point you can reach them, because their defensive barriers will be down and their minds open.
- Analysis paralysis vs. solutions-provider: Being able to make timely decisions vs. being caught up with a constancy of analysis that never seems to move to a decision point. Do you have a reputation as a decision-maker or an analyzer?
When you consider the compensation people you deal with in your organization, are they the good guys or the bad guys - the white hats or the black? Which are you?
You don't have to be a numbers whiz to be successful. You just have to know what the numbers mean, and how to use that knowledge to help your clients.
Chuck Csizmar CCP is founder and Principal of CMC Compensation Group, providing global compensation consulting services to a wide variety of industries and non-profit organizations. He is also associated with several HR Consulting firms as a contributing consultant. Chuck is a broad based subject matter expert with a specialty in international and expatriate compensation. He lives in Central Florida (near The Mouse) and enjoys growing fruit and managing (?) a brood of cats.
Creative Commons image courtesy of Irargerich