Len, accounts receivable manager, shuts down a staff member who asks how the department objectives will advance the company strategy.
Cristin, VP clinical affairs, never communicates with her field staff (a priority that is clearly specified in her focal objectives as well as promised to her employees).
If Elise, Len or Cristin would be considered high performers in your merit increase discussions, think hard. Everything you do in compensation is communication. In your company, does "exceptional performance" often involve attention-getting rather than line-of-sight?
What messages are the people who work with Elise, Len and Cristin hearing loud and clear? Through their leadership oversights, these managers are limiting employee productivity and creativity -- and therefore business results -- in spite of their critical jobs, more individual achievements or, dare I say, skill at managing upwards.
In compensation as in communications, you start creating a program design with the end in mind. That means getting down to this granular level. Looking at your company's current cultural and leadership realities eyeball to eyeball.
If Elise's behavior would be common in your organization (or any other behavior that muddies achievement of business priorities), then admit it. That is, if you are serious about the role compensation plays in employee performance.
Don't just think about numbers, think about changes. If you are really serious, you'll not only name the changes but also dig behind these surface issues to find out why the problems occur and keep on occuring. Communication belongs in your earliest compensation strategy discussion and most discussions after that. It's the only way to get beyond those surface symptoms and numbers issues to achieve better alignment between individual performance and business results.
Competitive job pricing is a priority, but it won't solve behavioral problems like Elise's and it won't immediately improve Total Shareholder Return. If you want HR to matter as a strategic partner, don't just think about budget and "implementation," think about change.
There are months left before focal review. You can start planning now with the end in mind. Address change issues in your regularly scheduled numbers discussions. How else will you ensure that your compensation program speaks well for itself -- and makes a real improvement in your company this year?
Margaret O'Hanlon is founder and principal of re:Think Consulting. She joined Anne Bares and Dan Walter of the Compensation Cafe to speak the unspoken -- "Everything You Do (in Compensation) Is Communication" -- at the WorldatWork 2012 Conference. Margaret brings deep expertise in total rewards communications and change management to the dialog at the Café. Before founding re:Think Communications Consulting, she was a Principal in Total Rewards Communications and Change Management with Towers Perrin. Margaret is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Pacific Plains Region. She earned her M.S. and Ed.S. in Instructional Technology at Indiana University. Creative writing is one of her outside passions, along with Masters Swimming.