I think the last two weeks on Compensation Cafe rate really high on the fabulous meter. What's better than a combo of unique strategic insights and well-timed outbursts from colleagues who really care about changing what doesn't work?
I've been on a high -- each day I cheer on their new insights. Seriously, the articles have talked about how to do or think about most everything (important) in compensation better. If you haven't read the articles yet, check them out. It may do your heart good to hear our contributors say out loud what your evil brain was thinking in your last department meeting.
In the meantime, here's what was going through my evil brain. Everything we do in compensation is communications. So while I was reading each article, I tried to identify what it would take to implement my colleagues' ideas effectively.
I thought I'd take some of these great articles and put my two cents in by highlighting a few communication tips that support them. You may find that these ideas come in handy when you try my colleagues' great suggestions at your office.
In The God Particle of Total Rewards, Stephanie Thomas says '. . . there is no such thing as "THE" total rewards strategy, only "a" total rewards strategy. What coalesces in one organization with one group of people at a particular point in time flies apart into oblivion in another organization with another group of people at a different point in time.'
TIP: Change happens every day, month and year. Executives recalibrate your companies' staffing and skill needs as strategy adapts to market conditions. Rewards budgets can disappear overnight. Never reuse compensation communications from year-to-year or pull out old emails to update. You may have the same compensation program but your business priorities are different, so your employees need to accomplish new and different things than they did last year. Your managers should be rewarding and reinforcing new and different accomplishments and behaviors. Last year's messages just won't do.
Dan Walter cautions in Newton's Three Laws of Compensation Motion,' . . . Law III. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction . . . [a] tricky one for compensation professionals. Basically, it translates into: Every time you do something great, expect to deal with something bad. I often hear this referred to as the “Law of Unintended Consequences.”'
TIP: This is why I suggest communication strategies. When you are implementing your compensation program, identify each time a manager or employee will have a chance to go along with your change (or not). On each of these occasions, there will be a reaction and you will run into obstacles. Count on it.
In this case, human nature is predictable. Every great design you come up with will cause more/different reactions than the ones that you are shooting for. A strategy is created so you brainstorm these reactions and decide what to do about them ahead of time. Not willing to just guess what the reactions could be? That's where focus groups come in.
In The Oasis of Survey Information Shrinks Some More, Jim Brennan encourages us to face the growing access to poor, open-sourced data that is fuzzying up our profession. "So, how do you hide bad information? You don’t report it. You change your “surveys” into “estimates,” replacing actual observations that can be subjected to regression analysis to determine normative current patterns into projections from historical data that can be manipulated to say what you want them to say . . . Without reliability statistics, it may not be precise or even accurate, but it can be made to appear convincingly truthy."
TIP: On the employee side of things, everyone everyone everyone hears about Salary.com. It's data, but what does it really say? I'd recommend that you think about educating all of your managers on how to talk knowledgeably with employees about Salary.com. After all, they face questions about their data every day. You don't want managers talking about the data as if it's the truth . . . rather than truthy, as Jim says.
Even When It's About the Money . . . It's Not About the Money! is an article that's worth thinking about. ". . . cash is just the scorecard. What motivates is feeling like a winner." Laura Schroeder's nuanced insight goes to the heart of our daily work.
TIP: Compensation, recognition, career development all contribute to employees' feelings about their work at your company -- and their performance. Yet it's always difficult to tell that story. It's almost like saying that grades, SATs and activities all contribute to a student's college placement. You want straight lines, but these stories don't follow a predictable route.
That's why compensation communications is a strategic process, not just a series of pointed Qs and As. Unless you want employees to feel a vague sense of dissatisfaction and distrust (akin to the feelings that go along with college placement), make every effort you can to tell the exciting story about working for your company.
Margaret O'Hanlon is founder and Principal of re:Think Consulting. She joined Ann 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 Deputy Director 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.