There's nothing like the heady buzz -- and the intermittent moments of terror -- that accompany the chance to design a compensation program when fate presents you either with the opportunity for from-scratch development of a new plan. Or the chance to disassemble and rebuild a current one.
What are the obstacles to success, to creating the inventive yet business-grounded plan that will really make a difference in your organization? How do you get past them? Pixar President Ed Catmull draws on his experience in running an iconic artistic powerhouse to offer some tips on approaching our work with a creative and open mind while not losing sight of the realities of business life. His advice struck a chord for me relative to my own plan design experiences, so I thought it worth sharing a few tidbits here.
First, he counsels, accept that your initial ideas may suck. And be ready to get past it. Many of Pixar's most beloved movies began with a story that bears no resemblance to the final product. For example, Catmull notes, everything in and about the first version of the movie Up was thrown out, everything except a bird and the word "up." The creative process requires iterations and the space to learn and move forward from initial mistakes and failures.
The challenge many of us encounter in our plan design adventures is the battle of good creative process over the "corporate beast", a term Catmull uses to describe those in the organization who want a quick solution and will push for design completion. As a consultant, I encounter this all the time. I sit down with a leadership group or a cross-functional design team, with the intent ot hammering out a set of objectives and a few guiding principles -- and all they want to do is jump to the whiteboard and start sketching out plan design. The urge to skip to the end and "get 'er done" can be overwhelming. Even my best Cheshire Cat cautionary (Don't know where you're going? Then any plan design will get you there!) can be rendered impotent when faced with the power of le bete.
The trick to managing the beast, Catmull tells us, is finding a way to protect the process for just long enough ... but not too long. In other words, it's a careful balancing act.
If the beast engages too early, it screws it up, and if you let them [design team] wander along too long then you screw it up, so you have to find a middle ground. There is nothing about this that is easy but the temptation is to make it easy.
This can be the biggest challenge of all -- reading your organization well enough to appreciate the nature of your own corporate beast and determining how much process your constituents can endure in the service of the best possible design outcome. And then putting your reputational capital on the line to enforce and protect that process.
How have you managed your own corporate beasts?
Ann Bares is the Founder and Editor of the Compensation Café, Author of Compensation Force and Managing Partner of Altura Consulting Group LLC, where she provides compensation consulting to a range of client organizations. Ann serves as President of the Twin Cities Compensation Network (the most awesome local reward network on the planet) and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Compensation & Benefits Review. She earned her M.B.A. at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School, is a foodie and bookhound in her spare time. Follow her on Twitter at @annbares.
Creative Commons image "roar" by onosendai2600