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A Peek Into My Compensation Toolbox: 2016’s Compensation Reflections

As we near the close of 2016 and the fast approaching start of 2017, it’s a perfect time to reflect. Sure, most people choose to reflect on relationships or health, but I choose not to be self-aware this year, and will spend my time reflecting on my career. And to make sure I really don’t dip into self-awareness at all, I’m going to go big and think about my entire career (not just what I’ve done in 2016).

As I strolled down my career memory lane, I considered what got me to the place I am today. I focused on the compensation tools I consistently used to be an effective professional. What tools have I picked up and used along the way that applied to most, if not all, compensation jobs I’ve had? And more importantly, if I could have a conversation with my idiot self of 20 years ago, what would I tell myself to do to save me some agony and sleepless nights? Here’s what I came up with:

Make a compensation project plan 

Any deliverable that requires multiple tasks needs a plan of attack and if it’s big, it is critical to have a project plan. At the outset, scope out what you have to do and how long it’s going to take you to do it. You don’t have to have cutting edge project management software to do this – Excel works great. Run each of your tasks down the rows and run the dates/weeks across the columns. Voila – project plan! Project plans keep you on pace with the work or let you know when you’re running into trouble with delivering on time. It also lets your manager or whoever is expecting the work know what to expect and when (anxiety reliever).

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Be a story teller

I know it’s hard to believe that the sexy and enthralling topic of comp needs anything but the facts and endless charts and graphs of numbers rounded to 5 places to engage and fascinate all. But unless you’re presenting to a group of Actuaries or the Finance department, pages and pages of charts, graphs and numbers galore is a little slice of hell to most. But you know that everybody loves a story, and everyone is mesmerized by a good story teller. Whatever you are presenting, frame it into a story. Why are you there? What is the problem? What did you find out and what do you propose to do to solve the problem? Fire up your fabulous PowerPoint skills and pull together a brief, to-the-point story with a beginning, a middle and an end. But, we are comp people, right? Sure, you’re gonna create your endless charts and graphs – just don’t go into your presentation with these as the centerpiece of your whole presentation. Keep your beloved data at the ready so you can appropriately lay down one of those fabulous charts in response to a question or request for numbers. Consider going into most presentations like a comp-cowboy with your arsenal of graphs and charts lined up in your leather holster, waiting to be drawn. Giddy up.

Leverage as much compensation software as possible

If you have ever had the word “compensation” in your title then I would bet my first born you have created a spreadsheet so ginormous that it was commonly referred to as the “eye-bleeder.” It takes just once for that kind of experience to make anyone a technology lover. Why – but why – waste that kind of time trying to get to the data you need when there is technology that does it all for you? I’m talking of a world in which you spend the majority of your time ANALYZING, not gathering and crunching data. A world with market pricing in several clicks rather than managing 22 tables and queries in an Access database; summary market pricing by job reports in a click, not vlookups and prayers that the cell references are not misaligned somewhere in there giving you the dreaded #REF!; spending time with the merit matrix focused on how the distribution looks rather than whether or not you’ve got the Excel formula correct. Let’s also consider the possibilities for real, in-depth analytics when you don’t manage a merit/incentive process by spreadsheet. I’ve even heard there’s a world with job description creation software (cue the rainbows, smiley faces and happy music).

Your compensation superpower – have a spine of steel

Let’s say it out loud: this is not a career for the weak. On the daily, you’re hip deep on issues concerning not only employees’ livelihoods, but the company’s expenditures and financial well-being. Conversations get passionate – on all sides. And let’s not forget, everyone thinks that if they spend 10 minutes surfing the internet they too can become a compensation expert (don’t get me started). Know your stuff, stand strong, and don’t take it personally. 

Continue learning

Yes, yes, there are all of those articles you should be reading, and conferences (here’s a good one) and interesting groups to attend – we all know that. But I’m talking the real learning. What better way is there to learn and have the experience stick than to do work that you’ve never done? Model a new compensation structure, analyze a current or develop a new incentive plan, or trot around your organization on a new education campaign. Push yourself beyond what you are comfortable with and learn something along the way.

Surround yourself with a posse of thinkers

A lot of what we do is problem-solving and unless you are currently being studied by renowned scientists because your brilliance cannot be measured, talking through ideas with other humans is a great way to solidify or even challenge your thinking. My posse is made up of both comp and non-comp people, who unapologetically call BS on me and tolerate me shredding their opinions. Sure, it’s great to talk to comp people for the technical stuff. But it’s also great to test out ideas on regular people who are usually on the receiving end of comp decisions.

Ensure accuracy

Check all numbers that you put in front of someone – check, check and recheck. There is nothing that stops a conversation cold (and the blood in your own veins) when there’s a mistake in the numbers that’s identified by the person you are presenting to. I’ve been burned by this and it’s a horrible feeling.

I’m not telling you that this peek into my compensation toolbox is going to solve all your professional woes, but I will say that I wish I had fully embraced these much earlier in my career. Just think, by reading this blog you now have plenty of time to do all of that year-end self-awareness contemplating because the professional part is done. Come now, you should have at least gained something by reading this. At the very least, you can now forever hum Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” to yourself while you prepare presentations – “I’m a cowboy, on the [silicon] horse I ride”…

Michele Kvintus
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