Editor's Note: Nobody better than Jim Brennan to point out the ways that human beings can mess up an otherwise perfectly conceived reward practices. And how introducing pay into any dynamic or system will change it - and often not for the better. Then the finger pointing begins....
There are problems with communications about employee performance that become most evident when pay is involved. This seems to be the most common theme in the articles posted on the Compensation Cafe in 2012. Fingers are pointed in all directions, but the blame seems to be most properly shared widely.
People want to be well compensated: being told that they are performing well is both part of their emotional compensation and a sign that their financial remuneration will continue to climb. It also contributes to unit morale and creates a more pleasant situation for the supervisor, who is rewarded for giving high ratings and punished for communicating negatives. By the way, some managers and VPs only control things or functions rather than people, so they don't meet my definition of "supervisor," which calls for very unique sets of knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs). The reality that those KSAs are rarely taught to supervisors and managers, and even less often safely practiced and positively reinforced, only complicates the situation.
Something tells me that everyone wants to be told they are great. Even consultants prefer to be praised rather than be criticized. It is simple human nature. Nevertheless, the encouraging words that create mutual pleasure among employees and their supervisors sometimes are not true. The gaps between what was said and what is done become most painfully obvious when compensation is involved. If the reward does not meet expectations, if the pay increase seems paltry or if the reinforcement is considered substandard, unhappiness results at all levels.
Whose problem is this? HR says that supervisors should level with their subordinates. Managers confronted with grumbling workers respond that this is HR’s fault.
- Pay systems should be more liberal
- Compensation rules should be better defined
- More training should be delivered to supervisors
- Human resources specialists should create foolproof language for reviews
- Manager should be given practice in the art of letting the employee down gently
At the very same time, of course, the supervisors and even the managers and executives with merely one direct report who oversee sections or functions continue to maintain their claim that their vital role as people-managers make their jobs more valuable. Most executives are convinced that their exalted ranks and impressive titles endorse their expertise as performance management experts. But when issues arise, they belong to the department called “Human Resources” or maybe the compensation section. All positive credit accrues to the line manager but all defects are the fault of the folks with a title that includes HR, compensation or “personnel” … only a few remain still alive with the IR or LR title.
Do you see where we are heading? This is a mess. It’s not a new one and it won’t go away just because we each point fingers at each other.
Whose monkey is this? Who will take the initiative to take the blame? It sure doesn’t seem that it will be the ones so quick to take the credit. Please share your ideas for mutual win-win solutions to this consistent problem.
E. James (Jim) Brennan is an independent compensation advisor with extensive total rewards experience in most industries. After corporate HR posts and consulting CEO roles, he was Senior Associate of pay surveyor ERI before returning to consulting in 2015. A prolific writer (author of the Performance Management Workbook), speaker and frequent expert witness in reasonable executive compensation court cases, Jim also serves on the Advisory Board of the Compensation and Benefits Review.