Whenever I come across self-help materials intended to assist Compensation practitioners with their professional growth I often notice an overly large emphasis on the technical side. And when reading internet blogs meant for the same audience there again seems a constant litany of how-to guidance on, again, technical issues.
That's all well and good, but . . . .
It seems to me that becoming a master technician in the compensation "science" is not by itself going to be an effective strategy for success in the corporate world. In fact, sometimes that technical prowess can prove somewhat of a hindrance, as it could limit upward opportunities.
Checklist of Useful Competencies
If you rely solely on your technical capabilities, while remaining in your cubicle all day, and if you're saddled with the personality of a troll, you're going to have an uphill struggle toward success. You're going to need more to work with, so print this checklist and tape it to your office wall. It could save your career.
- Flexibility: Be willing to listen and keep an open mind. Become known as a problem solver. Don't quote policy except as a last result. Have a reason for your actions that can be easily explained.
- Understand the business and how Compensation impacts it: You're not on an island cut off from the rest of the business. Learn how what you do interacts with and has an effect on the business. What you do should relate to and support organizational objectives. If not, know why not.
- Have a personality: Basic stuff, but have a ready smile, greet people, shake hands and in general show a warm side to those you interact with. Become an engaging person. Oh, and try to be sincere about it.
- Don't be a Geek/Nerd: Don't spend all your time spouting technical language and showing off charts & graphs. As if all those figures are self-explanatory and you're merely the spokesperson. That data should be the backdrop to your explanations, not the focus. Don't be an analyst when you need to be a leader.
- Be able to work a room: Leave the introvert at home and develop the skill of being comfortable holding multiple conversations in a room of strangers, colleagues or even senior leadership. That will build your image in a positive way. If you're an introvert, work on it.
- Be persuasive: You will not get too far by dictum, so work on your reasoning and communication skills. You need to be able to influence others, to gain agreement on the strength of your rational arguments. "My way or the highway" doesn't generate a warm response.
- Become the one who gets lots of Christmas cards: That's your goal for next year, to be someone that colleagues think of when preparing their lists. That is usually a good sign, because they like and/or respect you.
- Play (a bit of) politics: I don't like this one, but it's true. Politics exist in every organization, so you need to be able to play the game at least a little. Don't think that you can "stay above the fray," as you're a professional or some such rot. The powers that be will eat you alive. But as best you can try to remain neutral and project yourself as someone that all sides can trust.
- Yes, be technically proficient: Of course, you still have to know what you're talking about, but the higher up you climb the food chain the less reliance you'll need on your personal technical capabilities. You will become valued and judged for what else you bring to the plate.
Nowhere on this list will you find the ability to rattle off the overtime exemption criteria for the FLSA, or the key rating descriptions in your point-factor evaluation scheme. And nobody is going to swoon when you describe linear regression, correlation coefficients or the difference between the Cost of Living and the Cost of Labor. Your audience, your clients, your senior management will expect more.
But if they like you, if you have an engaging personality and can work well with others, well then, you're halfway there.
Don't Limit Yourself
Unless you want to. Unless you are someone who prefers the technical work, to the exclusion of the managerial side of the craft.
Those employees are out there. I've met them. They 're happy with what they do.
But if your repertoire of competencies leans too heavily toward excel spreadsheets and data analysis your ability to "pass through the curtain" from the hard side of Compensation (technical) to the soft side (managerial) will be limited. Because Master Technicians tend to remain just that, both by competency and by interest.
Likely you have seen your own examples of individual contributors (technicians) who have been promoted beyond their capabilities - or their interests. Those employees are rarely successful.
So pick and choose. If you want to go through the beaded curtain be certain to bring more along with you than a calculator and a spreadsheet.
Warm up that smile!
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 clowder of cats.
Creative Commons image, "Falling Down Cat," by Celine Q