Buzzwords confuse entry-level HR workers. They may feel bewildered by esoteric insider terms. Those new to the compensation profession probably don't know the special meanings of words like premium, gate, cliff, range, compression, sandbag, perk, terms like P4P and phrases like halo effect, forced distribution, lead-lag or double-snapshot. Every trade has its own jargon and ours is no different.
Go easy on innocent beginners who have never before been confronted with practical HR and compensation realities that fall outside the scope of their academic training. Everything seen for the first time is always surprising. No one knows all answers the first day on the job. Inside knowledge in any profession takes time and experience to accumulate, but knowledge of the special meanings of standard phrases can help establish your credibility or lack thereof. Certain words and special terms are quite useful for the "frisking ritual" to determine the listener's level of professional understanding and trade-craft comprehension.
I'll never forget when a Fortune 50 co-worker and I first met a grizzled veteran Senior Group VP HR who instantly grilled us with the question, "What is a red salary circle?" My good buddy's I/O Psych PhD and CPA had not prepared him for that test of practical knowledge. After granting him the first shot (he raised his eyebrows and passed), I immediately rattled off the answer and more. The highly experienced HR executive smiled and told my pal, "Learn from the kid. He lacks your formal credentials, but he knows this profession."
When listeners immediately respond appropriately after you drop such terms into casual conversation, you can safely escalate the level of communication. You can slip into a form of verbal shorthand to quickly delve deeply into technical subjects. New folks who have not yet learned how to apply that insider vocabulary may also lack the emotional callus necessary for long term survival; or the relative innocents might not have sufficient armor of experience to deflect the usual groundless attacks on legitimately sound approaches. You will know them when they self-identify. Most who blink in confusion when you mention buzzwords can be coached. They will need help and support as they learn effectively, at their own pace. Everyone goes through that phase.
The ones to watch out for are those who proudly burble, "I got into HR because I love working with people." That reminds me of the ancient cartoon depicting an employment interviewer joyously stretching a welcoming hand across his desk to a puzzled applicant while declaring with a wide grin: "You don't know who your father was? We definitely have a place for you in Personnel!"
Please add more of the conventional buzzwords you employ to diagnose the level of compensation comprehension. It should help all of us.
E. James (Jim) Brennan is an independent compensation advisor with extensive total rewards experience. After corporate HR and consulting roles in most industries, 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.
Bold Tentative Steps image by Kris, courtesy of Creative Commons