Because many times I'll have a client chomping on the bit to race down the hallways, excitedly waving a piece of paper and shouting, "I have the number!" Now they know the amount to pay. Because the survey said so.
But no, they don't have the number. Likely what they should be whispering instead, is that they have an arithmetic calculation of perhaps questionable origin; one that may or may not reflect what's truly being paid out there in what they call their "competitive marketplace."
One doesn't run down the hallway with that sort of wishy-washy information.
Well, that puts a pin in the balloon, doesn't it? Horrors. To suggest that maybe that number you took from the survey isn't a smoking gun after all. That's like challenging our core beliefs, like mom, the flag and apple pie. If it's in the survey it has to be right, doesn't it?
Perhaps the survey is right. Or the number you're looking at is simply an accumulation of guesses.
So why is it a good idea to be cautious?
Have you ever wondered, who is it that completes those survey forms? Senior compensation professionals with an intimate knowledge of job roles, reporting relationships and the impact of title inflation? Or is it the lowest rung of staff member, the newbie, perhaps even an intern? Last in, first assigned to fill out survey questionnaires.
Users look at surveys and have a tendency to assume that everything is ok with the numbers. They'll look right past the quality issue and let the discussion shift immediately to job matching, aging, use of median or average, which companies are in the survey, etc.
But what if the foundation of the survey itself, the data being input from the myriad participating companies is flawed from the start? If garbage goes in, that's all that can come out.
Consider the probable experience of those completing survey input questionnaires:
- How many of these input forms do I have to complete for the survey? How many surveys do we have to participate in?
- Do I have the time for all this? Maybe I'll have to hurry a bit. Maybe I can copy data from one survey to another.
- Do I have to read our own descriptions and compare them, one by one against the survey definitions? Wow, that's going to take awhile. Maybe I can just use the title.
- What do I do when the survey doesn't have a Lead category, or a Senior Manager? We have four levels in our hierarchy, but the survey only counts three.
- I don't understand some of the descriptions I've been given, and that happens a lot. I don't have time to chase after managers to learn what they meant. So I'll make a guesstimate for the survey match. That should be close enough.
- I really hate doing this. What time is it? Ready for lunch?
Put any two of these comments / attitudes together and I'd worry that your organization's survey questionnaire wasn't the best effort you could manage. Multiply that experience across the majority of survey respondents and . . . you get the picture. So perhaps the data should be taken with a grain of salt; it isn't Moses coming down from the Mount with the tablets (answers). It's Bob the intern, or Mary the new hire, scratching their heads and hoping they got it right. If they even care.
Pricing guide vs. "the answer"
So what are you going to do?
A good rule of thumb is to consider that your compensation survey sources, single or multiple, actually provide you with more of a "pricing guide," and not a "smoking gun" of what to pay. Use the survey data to guide the decision-making process, whether it be setting up salary structures, hiring a candidate or offering the right promotional increase.
Consider the survey figures as "feeling the pulse" of the job market. They aren't precise, there is no singular number to use. The arithmetic average "answers" you glean from the survey sources are better used as a rough idea of what other organizations are paying for like (or similar) positions. Nothing more.
Yes, you need a number. But not any number will do.
The worst thing is to blindly accept what those harried, stressed out and over-taxed data input folks are telling you. Because they might not know themselves.
Garbage in and all that.
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,"Garbage day pick up," by Joe & Jeanette Archle