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The Junk Yard Dog

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 29-09-2014

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Angry Tiger, by Guyon Moree

Used and abused like a junk yard dog

 I’m a perverse fellow.  I like working in Compensation, and have intentionally made it my career focus.  Not many of my ilk will admit that.  Some use it as a stepping stone for higher positions within Human Resources, while others look at us with a sidelong glance, as if we’re “one of them.”

But I know what I’ve gotten myself into.  I know how practitioners like myself can be viewed by colleagues, employees and upper management.  It isn’t always pretty.

  • We can be perceived as a “numbers-type,” bereft of charm and personality.  Picture the fellow with the pocket protector and ever-present calculator.
  • We’re often not viewed as much of a business partner, as we’re too externally focused (what are others paying, what do surveys say).   A constant criticism is, “if only they understood the business.”
  • Folks think of us as if we wore a badge.  We’re too much the gatekeeper or policeman (Hey there!  You can’t spend so much, you can’t rate employees like they’re relatives, you have to follow policy,  we don’t like exceptions, etc.)
  • Our work is easy to criticize, whether it’s our view of the competitive marketplace, how much employees should receive next year, what grade our jobs should be in (what do they know?), or requiring managers to use those hated job description and performance review forms.

As a result,  I never did get many Christmas cards.

Alas, for those who are doing their job, which is managing or directing compensation, not simply administering it, these practitioners eventually start to feel like that old junk yard dog, beaten down, abused and definitely not considered as one of the “cool” folks.

Being challenged is routine

Think of the gauntlet faced by many when presenting the annual compensation proposal.  You can almost see the agitated twitches appear as recommendations are presented and the inevitable questions, skepticism and doubts pop out like mushrooms after a rain.

–  What surveys did you use?

– Those aren’t the figures we expected to see

– Are you sure about these numbers?

– Your recommendations cost too much.  Where can you cut?

– That’s not what everyone else is doing

– My brother-in-law heard  . . . (fill in the blanks)

– Can’t we just go with the cost of living and move on?

And the list goes on.

That’s the way it is.  Like I said, used and abused.

On the other hand, some compensation administrators (when it looks like a duck and acts like a duck it may still have a different title) will tend to present what is expected, what won’t cause trouble, and what will be easy to implement.  Call it “kicking the can down the road.”  It may not be in the company’s best interest, but it certainly is for the don’t-rock-the-boat administrator who wants to be liked and fit in.

So which one are you?

You don’t have to toss away your career when you stand up and tell senior management what they’re paying you for; and that is, your professional opinion and best judgment.  This is a time when your greatest value is to open their eyes with your thorough analysis, your understanding of problems and how to resolve them, and your sense of likely unintended consequences.

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the fire.  You’re in the wrong job.  I’m suggesting that you stand up, you don’t give up, you don’t give in or let the challenges to your professionalism sweep you away.  Remember that administrators may be liked, but they’re less often respected.

In the course of my career I’ve been that junk yard dog.  But I made it.  And I gained a lot of professional respect from colleagues and senior management along the way.

So can you.  It’s your choice.

Btw, I still don’t get Christmas cards.  They all go to the generalists.

Please Like Me!

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 22-09-2014


Portrait, young business manThat’s what a manager is saying to their staff when they show a reluctance to distinguish between high performing employees and the “Joe Average” types when it comes to granting performance rewards.   These “leaders” make excuses to avoid tough pay increase decisions, instead manipulating the Pay-For-Performance system to ensure that, whenever possible everybody gets something.  If there isn’t enough money in the budget, well, there’s Human Resources to blame.

This is what happens when managers aren’t able, or aren’t willing to manage pay.

They want to be liked, and who can blame them?  We all want to have friends.  These managers have to control a team, have to consider the well-being of the entire staff, keep spirits high, and limit any grumbling in the ranks to a minimum.  They’d like to be appreciated by their employees for those efforts, while at the same time keeping their “people issues” to a minimum.  So in their view treating everyone the same, or as close to that as possible, would level the playing field – so they can boast, “we treat everyone the same.”  In other words, there aren’t any “special people” here – not even performance stars.  Such managers believe in a kind of broad-based reward redistribution; i.e., everyone deserves to get something.

And they hope to get Christmas cards from the staff at year-end.

Ah, the angst!

At the same time this type of manager is fearful as well.  They’re afraid of being criticized for making the wrong decisions – or for not making a decision at all.  Some become paralyzed by indecision into non-action.  Why is this?

  • If any employee quits, that could be a mark against the manager; that they aren’t an effective manager.  Why else would someone quit?
  • Such criticism could be doubled down if it’s a valued employee who has left.
  • Some managers take to heart the adage, “people don’t quit companies, they quit managers.”  So they could take it personally when one of their employees decides to abandon the  team.

And then you have the angst over the replacement process.

The losing manager will have more work on their plate, having to cover for the missing employee, then having to take the time to recruit and ultimately provide training for the replacement.  How long will it take to get everything back to normal?  How long will their life be disrupted?

So it’s worth it, the logic goes, to keep everyone as happy as possible.  Because to a manager a departing employee is bad news all around – unless of course that person is in the bottom 5% that we want to leave.  But how many managers actually point a finger at an employee and say – you’re a 5%?

For such reluctant managers you’d need an employee’s taped confession to a federal crime committed on company property in order for them to feel justified in taking a hard line.

On the other hand, effective managers strive to be respected.  Being liked is nice, but shouldn’t be bartered or purchased at the expense of doing their jobs.  Which raises a question.

So what is a leader?

There are many answers to this question, but for our purposes let’s focus on the ability to make timely and thoughtful decisions for the good of the organization.  That’s why the employee with the “manager” title was promoted, wouldn’t you say?

It’s not a matter of making a decision in the purest sense, because bad decisions, even idiotic decisions would qualify.  One could also construe that a manager’s non-action, non decision is in fact a form of “decision.”  It’s taking decisive action in the face of challenge that sets the effective manager apart from the rest of the pack.

Is there a difference between a manager and a leader?  Both can have the same title, but their outlook on roles and responsibilities could be quite different.

A manager can be someone who simply administers an ongoing operation, keeping it running, maintaining processes and completing assigned work.  An important role to be sure, because we need Indians as well as Chiefs.  We need someone to be the mortar that holds the bricks of the business together.  But perhaps that’s more management than leadership.

For its part, leadership has coined the phrase, “follow me.”  These are the individuals who set the course, stand up for themselves and make the tough decisions.

So, yes, there’s a difference between someone acting as a manager vs. another who’s driving forward as a leader.

Which one are you?  Which one do you report to?

Don’t Kid Yourself

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 08-09-2014

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Mistakes, by Orange_BeardAs a manager within your organization you’re expected to provide leadership and direction for those employees who report to you.  Likely that requirement is a key accountability in your job description, and fulfilling that mandate means that you’ll have to make decisions that impact your employees – for good or ill.

Bummer.  Not everyone is comfortable with that part of being a Manager.

From the senior management perspective a key leadership expectation is the matter of the employee performance review – and the future pay (reward) actions based upon that assessment.  The bosses have placed the ball squarely in your court to render those decisions.

Well, are you a tough manager with high expectations, or do you have a “rep” as an easy rater – as someone easy to please, someone who hesitates to make up or down decisions about their employees?  Do you feel that all employees deserve an annual raise?  Are you reluctant to choose?

Perhaps you have a tendency to make your decisions based on emotional factors (employee needs and wants), versus on the basis of business-related practicalities (performance assessment, company affordability, most deserving, budgets, etc.)?

Well, you probably say, the truth is that it’s a matter of balance; that managers need to weigh both factors (employer and employee) in trying to do the right thing.

True enough in concept, but a balanced approach suggests use of a carrot and a stick.

Signs of the “softie”

When it comes to doling out the company’s money easy-to-please managers believe in giving as many employees as possible as much as the company allows, with the expectation that recipients will:

  • Be grateful and work harder out of personal thanks
  • Be satisfied and not leave
  • Recognize you as someone who is looking out for them

These managers are kidding themselves and wearing rose colored glasses, thinking that their emotional pay decisions are going to deliver results that help them (the manager), and maybe even the organization (there’s that unfortunate priority again).

Why do managers make emotional decisions?

Managers have a choice, and what unfortunately comes naturally for too many untrained folks is the tendency to protect themselves.  Many still think of themselves as supervisors, not members of the organization’s leadership cadre.  In simplistic terms they still take the so-called “employee side,” versus the “company line” (that’s how they see it).

  • They want to be liked.  They want to be a friend as well as a boss.  They still remember sitting on the other side of the desk.  So they empathize.
  • They don’t want to make career-impacting decisions.  They’d prefer that someone else play judge and jury with an employee’s career.  Or let the performance figures speak for themselves (“numbers don’t lie“).
  • They don’t understand (or defend) the company’s pay program.  These are the ones who tell employees, “I wanted to do more, but HR wouldn’t let me.”  They fail to defend company policy on rewards, preferring to be seen as being on the employee’s side.
  • They’re afraid that someone would quit – because that might be a reflection on them as a manager.
  • It’s really about them.  Having employees unhappy for any reason usually means more work for the managers themselves.  It could mean extra attention to subordinate work (vs. their own), training replacements, doing the work themselves to fill in, etc.

These managers are not helping the organization; they’re not even managing.  What they’re doing is administering the pay programs as if they didn’t have a decision-making role to play as part of the leadership team.  It’s managing from a distance – being the disengaged leader.

For sure it’s not easy for some new managers to “flip the switch” and start thinking like one of the leaders of the organization.  But when they took on the mantle of “manager” they stepped up to additional responsibilities.  They’re no longer “one of the boys,” but now the boss of those “boys.”

Those who wear rose-colored glasses to make reward decisions are in truth ineffective managers, who over time will harm the organization through their inability to make the effective, objective decisions that impact the employees who work for them.

Managers?  They’re kidding themselves.

Dirt Under The Fingernails

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 25-08-2014

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God Complex, by angelofsweetbitter2009Do you have a pet peeve at work?  Something that, when it happens just bothers the hell out of you?  That can ruin your whole day?

I do.  In fact, I have several.  Here’s one of my most annoying poke-in-the-eye scenarios; the self-appointed or self-anointed expert.

Have you experienced the same?  Or perhaps to someone you know?  Some examples:

Management decides to hire a bright and shiny new MBA and then drops the youthful new employee into your department with a thud. The new hire is touted as the second-coming of Jack Welsh (GE) or some other management guru; someone who will know what to do, how to solve the department’s problems, how to get the business back on track.  Because they have an MBA, you’re told.

They’re usually paid a ton of money, at least in comparison to what’s paid to those who have to instruct them on how things are done here.  When you add in a touch of arrogance and self-importance you often have a recipe for internal conflict, passive resistance and eventual counter-productive results.

Why is that?  Resentment.  Too often what they know is what they have been told.  The employees see this, though management can look the other way.

Here’s another example

When someone is lecturing or offering advice about compensation issues, usually in a webinar, a workshop, conference  or even within a published article, I gauge the credibility of that advice, and the recommendations that usually accompany them, on the basis of whether I can take what’s offered at face value.

If the advice or recommendations is coming from someone with dirt under their fingernails, who has walked the talk and spent time in the trenches of dealing hand-to-hand with employees and their compensation issues, then I listen and take notes.  On the other hand, if the presenter has a progressive track record of college, advanced degree, consulting firm and then telling me what to do at work, I confess that I usually have a less positive reaction.

I’ve been burnt before by the lack of “street smarts” that plague the new certificate holders, academics and “wunderkind.”  So I don’t read those articles.  I don’t listen to those speeches.  Because in my view that’s not experience talking, that’s book learning and a view of common or “best” practice as studied by those who haven’t walked a mile in my shoes.  It’s “case study consulting.”

My father used to complain that college was teaching me “book stuff, not common sense.”  He might have been on to something.

When I fly, I like to see that the pilot has a bit of grey hair.  Gives me confidence that they’ve got some hours under their belt, and can likely handle themselves outside of the aircraft simulator.

For their part, a seasoned compensation practitioner is one who has been there, has tried different methods, has bumped their head a few times and has learned what works – and what doesn’t.  Even more important, they’ve learned the why of things.  They’ve dealt with practical issues, with employees as well as managers, and they’ve gained a perspective about what works in their particular organization.

Those who have only analyzed case studies in a classroom environment simply don’t have the depth and breadth of practical experience to advise on the basis on anything other than what they‘ve read, what someone else has told them.

Because the circumstances within my organization, the internal dynamics, the office politics, the management bias, and even the workforce culture are not the same as you would find in the next organization.  There’s no cookie cutter solution out there, nor off-the-shelf magic potion that works for everyone.  What I need is what will work for my organization, not yours and not some conceptual average “everyman” organization.

But that’s me.  You may see things different.

Likely you have your own pet peeves.

Sounds Like A Great Idea

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 19-08-2014

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Frog Wisdom, by liberalmind1012One of the most negative management stereotypes you’ll come across in the workplace is the “yes-man,” that weak-kneed subordinate who is always quick to agree with the boss.   This is an empty suit having no other opinion other than agreement.  Picture a nodding head and vacant smile.

In a similar vein, do you recall the old saying, “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil“?  The modern version of this adage describes one who looks the other way, who refuses to acknowledge and even feigns ignorance when confronted with practices they should otherwise say or do something about.

Do the compensation practitioners in your organization, including the one looking back at you from the mirror, provide objective and unbiased counsel to management, or do they sometimes simply offer support and justification for what management wants to do?

Do you stand up?

There are always opportunities to turn a blind eye / closed mouth to improper practices taking place in the organization:

  • Finance has lobbied Senior Management that the average merit increase next year should be x%, and you’ve been asked for your recommendation.
  • The performance appraisal process is poorly designed and administered;  rewards are often granted without legitimate justification.  And you say . . . ?
  • A Vice President wants to create a puffed-up Office Manager title for a long serving Secretary.  This would also entail a higher grade and promotional increase.

Are you one to stand up and be counted, or do you let these and other possibly contentious events wash over you without voicing concern?

  • Are your recommendations primarily based on competitive research, an understanding of compensation strategy and knowledge of business operations?
  • Do you question those managers who wish to grant rewards for the wrong reasons?
  • Do you strive to hold the line on meaningless titles that increase costs, create employee inequities and provide the company with little or no return value?

What’s the worst that can happen?

Perhaps you’re concerned that having an opinion out of step with senior management will damage your “team player” image.  That your career would suffer because you can’t get along with others, that you “don’t get it“?  Perhaps it’s easier to simply go along for the ride.

It’s my view that practitioners should provide the best advice they’re capable of, on the basis of technical knowledge, experience and seasoning with business operations.  Let management make the decision.  They have a perspective that’s wider than a singular compensation view, and it’s their company, budget, operations, etc.  Your responsibility is to provide the best objective advice possible, to ensure that decision-makers have their eyes open and understand the ramifications involved.

Life isn’t a tableau of  black-and-white images, but a series of swirling grays.  We should acknowledge that there are contingencies and alternative possibilities available.  But we should not temper either our judgment or our opinions solely on the basis of what the boss wants to hear.

Management tends to respect straightforward analysis and honest feedback.  However they won’t respect your input if it’s been tainted by political maneuverings or a “how many ways are there to say yes”? mentality.

Your job is to add value

You don’t have to fall on your sword career-wise to make a point, to stand up for yourself, to add value to the decision-making process.  Sometimes you just know that the direction management is taking is the wrong path to take, but that doesn’t mean that you should step away from doing your job.

One of the best ways to establish yourself as a valuable contributor is to have an opinion, and not be afraid to voice it.  Even when the management steamroller is moving and you have to get out of the way or be run over, you should always provide your professional input.   You can do this by offering options and alternatives for management to consider.  That’s where you’ll be able to present your own recommendations alongside the management point-of-view.

Get them thinking; that’s your responsibility and how you add professional value.  It’s also how you build credibility and an invaluable personal awareness with Senior Management.

The Dinosaurs Among Us

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 04-08-2014

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Do any of these employee-types sound familiar to you?  Perhaps you’ve come across one or more in the T-Rex, by Scott Kinmartinhallways at work.  Perhaps you work with someone like this. Perhaps you work for someone like this.

  • The technocrat with the pocket protector and ready access to multiple survey sources for analytical data on any given subject.  Always has a technical and often convoluted answer to questions.  You may not understand them.
  • The employee who administers a point-factor job evaluation system or performance management program like the processes are an untouchable, sacrosanct bible.  Definitions and point factors have been memorized and can be quoted at will.
  • The employee who understands more about compensation methodology and data manipulation formulae than the business dynamics of the company. They can explain a regression line and standard deviations faster than they can describe the main product or service of the company.

One dimensional thinking

These are the folks who have their eyes pointed straight down, walking the cautious step by step, not having a clue or a care as to what’s on the horizon. They’re heavily engaged with the technical aspects of their craft, with compensation methodology, and seem to their coworkers to be in a fog about everything else. They’re the so-called subject matter experts, at least as far as their technical analysis can take them.

But at the same time they may not be able to relate to the day-to-day challenges faced by line managers.  Instead of being problem solvers they find their comfort zone as data junkies who can show you the numbers, can point at the charts, but not necessarily can they suggest what to do next.

Don’t get me wrong, we do need these employees, as they serve a useful purpose to help understand the intricacies of our payroll, the competitive marketplace and the financial impact of various pay decisions.  But when we let impersonal analytics dictate our strategies, our day-to-day tactics in dealing with our employees, we tend to lose a quality of humanity that is critical to building within our organization a successful workplace culture.

In order to manage compensation, not simply administer the programs, practitioners need to understand the impact that the analytics can have on employees, on business operations and of course on the financials.  And a grasp of possible unintended consequences.

Time marched on

It wasn’t that many years ago that the compensation technocrats described above played a strong hand within their little kingdoms.  Management was mesmerized by the data streams, confused by the formulae, charts and graphs and more readily accepting of technical strategies that promised savings or an improved bottom line.  For their part employees tended to be viewed as blocks on an organization chart, or simply cells within a spreadsheet.  They weren’t actual people.

But these days most companies (not yet all, I’m afraid) expect more from their compensation practitioners. They expect to see a balance between technical abilities, familiarity with business operations, understanding of the employee perspective, communication skills and a capability to offer practical solutions that create a win-win atmosphere within the organization.

Increasingly the one dimensional technocrats are viewed as dinosaurs by a leadership that views their limited capabilities as too restrictive, too judgmental (the policy says, the survey says, figures don’t lie, etc.) and overly reliant on espousing tactics that others employ.  They struggle when it comes to helping their own organization solve problems and overcome challenges that may not be common outside of their own environment.

So, where do you fall in the grand scheme of things?  In an increasingly complex work environment you need to wear more than one hat, more than a single competency.  You also need to have one foot in the present and the other in the future.  Don’t live in the past.  The “good old days” are gone.

So have care.  Because if your colleagues, peers and even senior leadership ever start to think of you as a dinosaur they won’t be thinking of a T-Rex, but a lumbering Brontosaurus.

The Pay-For-Pulse Culture

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 27-07-2014

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Cathead, by mightyhorsePicture the scene: Your company doesn’t have enough monies in the annual merit spend budget to grant more than an average 2% increase to employees, so the powers that be decide that -“let’s give everyone a flat 2% increase and call it a day.”

Has this happened to you?  The practice is what some would call a “pay-for-pulse” strategy, where if you haven’t been fired on the date of the scheduled increases then you’re going to get a raise. Every warm body who occupies a chair will receive an increase, just because.  Individual employee performance isn’t taken into account, so the high performers will receive  the same 2% increase as Joe Average.  And as to Bob-the-Bumbler?  He’ll receive the same 2% as well.

And everyone is supposed to be happy.


But it happens.  So why is it that some managers think that such a giveaway tactic is a great idea?

  • It’s easy to communicate and administer.  Picture someone pushing an EASY button and all the changes are made, in an instant.
  • You don’t have to worry about performance reviews.  Oh, some organizations may go through the motions, but essentially the goal is to have a paperless exercise.
  • Managers won’t have to agonize over performance ratings.  Everybody receives the same treatment and no one has to be given a negative review.  Because let’s face it, no manager looks forward to that conversation.
  • Some advocates will actually convince themselves that they’re being fair to everyone. They’re not discriminating , not pitting one group against another.  We all work for the same company, right?  This same vein of thought believes that everyone on the receiving end will thank them.
  • Did I mention that it’s quick and easy to do?  No fuss, no muss.

Of course, this isn’t a tactic that you’d see in a pay-for-performance culture.  And certainly not where management is trying to develop the oft-desired  “high performance” culture.  In some ways this tactic actually encourages and rewards the opposite, as it’s the lesser performers who consider this a grand idea.  And why shouldn’t they?  It’s a great deal for Joe Average and an even better one for Bob-the-Bumbler.

But watch the exit door for the high performers.  Because they won’t be sticking around for long once they feel that they’re not being recognized or rewarded.  But don’t worry, as Joe and Bob will stay with you. They may never leave.

So have a think as you consider what it is that you’re really intending to recognize and encourage with your discretionary reward dollars.  If it’s simply tenure, if it’s saying thanks to someone for sitting in a chair for another year, then I suspect you’re wasting a lot of money.  And you won’t get a lot of improved performance for your efforts.

You’d be better served rewarding what someone has contributed to the organization (performance) while they were occupying that chair.  Unless of course you think that every warm body has a right to an annual increase – regardless.

So take your choice; pay-for-performance or pay-for-pulse?  What if it was your money being taken out of your pocket?

Broad based reward strategies don’t often focus the reward where it will do the most good, where it will benefit the company the most.  Instead, picture the fellow opening a window and tossing out dollar bills into the wind, all the while chanting,  “I hope this helps.”

It won’t.

Stubborn Is As Stubborn Does

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 21-07-2014

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I share my house with a brood of cats and it’s been that way for as long as I can remember. I love them, but recognize that they are stubborn, stubborn, stubborn creatures, and at times it seems like they’re the ones who run the place.

Have you ever tried to change a cat’s food, or their litter box, or even their water dish? They don’t react well to the new and different, and when they don’t react well their loud and disdainful behavior can really disrupt your day.

These felines are creatures of habit, preferring a daily pattern of repeated behavior that in their view creates a safe and reassuring environment – where they feel the most comfortable. Break that pattern and you get the look, or worse. I can attest to the fact that dealing with the stubborn and the habitual can be a real trial.

In the business world there are many companies run by a leadership who possess similar inflexible behavior, an aversion to breaks in pattern. Those who like things just the way they are. Whoever coined the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” was probably a charter member in that “blinders on, head in the sand” leadership cadre who likes things to remain just the way they are.

While it’s a truism that yesterday’s strategy and operating principles are rarely a recipe for future success, how often do you see managers hang on to what used to work – until the signs of failure become so visible and so painful that they can no longer be accepted?


These folks with their heads in the sand are not necessarily bad managers, or even poor business leaders. What they are is comfortable, and when we’re comfortable we feel safe, relaxed in our surroundings, familiar with what needs to get done and perhaps a bit over confident about our control of the business environment.

When we feel comfortable and confident we prefer to repeat those same actions that brought us to our present state of mental ease. In other words, we don’t like to rock the boat, we don’t like what we consider “change for the sake of change,” and we’re skeptical of new and unproven techniques. We get stubborn and dig in our heels.

“It’s worked before, it brought us success. Let’s leave it alone.”

However, when someone or some event breaks that comfort level (new competition, weakened economy, technological advances, etc.), the first thing we experience is anger that our warm cocoon could be shattered by new business realities. Soon enough though, that anger will convert to a sense of fear, whether we admit it or not. More than likely we’ll act out in an aggressive fashion that disguises the panic we’re feeling.


People can be fearful of change, especially leaders. Because they don’t know the new rules, because there are risks when implementing new strategies, and those who stick their head above the crowd can get it chopped off. We’ve all seen that happen.

When you must get yourself up and out of your comfort zone it’s a natural reaction to feel defensive and unsure about what you should do next. Leadership may not have the competencies or the experience to adapt to new business challenges. It’s not difficult to lead when things are going well. But when the going gets rough, when the pressure is on to change course, to implement new strategies, not so much.

“I’m not sure about what to do; everything has changed.”

Pushed from their safe environment management can find itself unsure, defensive and unsettled about the correct way forward. And until matters settle down again they can be difficult for practitioners to work with.

You can help them

You may consider managers stuck in the past as living dinosaurs, but have a care because these beasts have teeth. Because they don’t like this uncomfortable new world some will tend to shoot the messengers. In order to offer assistance to a leadership challenged by the unfamiliar practitioners need to step up and provide steady, confident and reliable advice.

• Acknowledge the past: Yes, previous strategies have worked well and brought the company success and financial strength, reputation and a strong foundation for the future. A pat on the shoulders for management.

• Focus on the why: Whenever advocating change, focus your message, your research, your examples and your entire business case on why your recommendations lead to solutions. Keep your eye on the goal, not the changing patterns of behavior.

• Dangle the carrot: Always point toward the business and personal success that would be the result of your recommendations. Besides showing the achievement of business success, emphasize that leadership will gain credit for managing the organization through these difficult times. Stroking the ego doesn’t hurt here.

The next time someone comes to you with an idea to build a better mousetrap, listen to them. Keep your eyes, your mind and your options open. Instead of being afraid of change, embrace the opportunities presented. It can make for a better tomorrow, and you’ll shake the tag of “stubborn.”

What Do I Do Now?

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 05-07-2014

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When it’s time to fix your organization’s Compensation program, and you’re the one in charge, what do you do?

Suppose you’ve just been promoted to the Compensation leadership role in your organization, or you’ve just been hired and inherited someone else’s legacy. Perhaps you already have ownership and simply have the boss’s angered shouts still ringing in your ears.

Whatever the catalyst, suppose you suddenly face a situation where you need to fix your compensation program; how would you go about it? Where do you start?

Points of pain

First things first; where does it hurt? The clarion call of action is coming from . . . somewhere, so find out and determine what those burning platform issues mean for your business.

Typical problem areas would include the following favorites:

  • High turnover: Have your avoidable separations (excluding , retirements, relocations, deaths, etc.) reached a level that has attracted senior management concern?
  • Recruiting: Has the Staffing section complained that it’s become difficult to attract the right caliber of candidate? That your pay scales aren’t competitive?
  • Payroll: Is your unit cost of labor considered too high? Too many FTEs? Is your employee payroll bloated and unwieldy?
  • Morale: Has your organization flunked the latest employee engagement survey – and fingers are pointing at Compensation?

Or is it something else that’s poking you in the eye, causing the organization to consider its pay programs as more a problem than a solution?

Look and learn. It’s the first step toward a solution.

Health examination

Next, extend your research beyond the obvious and look under a few rocks for what you aren’t being told.

Start asking key management personnel about the health of the reward programs (effective, efficient, performing as intended, etc.). Talk with line managers (those in the trenches) to learn where employee friction points make the most noise.

Then review your compensation metrics (you are using metrics as a statistical aide, aren’t you?) to determine whether those figures are telling you a story that you might not have noticed before.

For example:

  • How competitive are your salary ranges? When was the last time you conducted a competitive analysis? What did it tell you, and more importantly, what did you do about it?
  • Is grade and title inflation boosting costs without adding value? Bogus titles and inflated evaluations, often used to salve an employee for those you can’t provide cash rewards, are not harmless gestures. Those backdoor tactics cost real dollars, without providing a corresponding return in performance, productivity or engagement.
  • What’s the average performance rating, and how does that correlate with the success of the business? If the employees (especially managers) tend to be rated as above average performers, while the business is having an average year, that disconnect is costing you money and credibility with your workforce.
  • Do you segment your employee population? Not everyone’s external value changes at the same rate. Find out how different employee groups (non-exempt, exempt, professional, management, sales, executives) are being treated (pay rates and trends). You may have problem pockets, not broad-based trends.

Chances are that the statistics from your metrics database will validate the concerns raised from your interviews – and focus your corrective actions.


Likely you already have in place a salary structure, complete with grades and salary ranges. You may even have multiple structures, based on employee segment, specialty departments or geography. Make sure they’re up-to-date.
Consider preparing a Compensation Administration Guidelines document for your managers, as a aid in applying standards of consistent treatment for your employees. These guidelines would lay out in a single voice the policies and procedures to be used in managing your reward programs.

When are performance reviews conducted, how large are promotional increases, how are exception requests processed? How are jobs evaluated, who is eligible for incentives, and how do you use geographic differentials across the country? Who has to approve what actions?

And what are you doing about Management training? How do you ensure that those empowered to spend the company’s money (hiring, promotions, performance increases, etc.) actually understand the intent of your compensation programs? Or are they making a series of well-intentioned emotional decisions that spend the company’s money without concern for financial operating pressures?
One could argue that focused training is a minimal cost solution to the problem of managers wasting the company’s money through ill-advised pay decisions.

Your message

Once you’ve determined where the problem areas are, their magnitude (impact) and the prioritization of gaining solutions, you should consider taking the offensive to make sure that your message is the one employees are talking about.

Note: most other corrective steps are defensive in nature, like putting your finger in the dike. Survey analysis, salary structure redesign, performance appraisal modifications etc. are all reactive in nature, fixing a problem. They don’t by themselves attack what could be your most serious challenge – employee perceptions.

  • Explain competitiveness: Employees never assume that you’re paying competitively. At best they’ll consider you average. If you’re doing better than that, you’d better be telling folks. Repeatedly. Because paying above average rates to employees who think you’re average is wasting your money.
  • Use reward statements: Show how much the company does for employees. Have you ever added up how much your organization spends for the betterment of employees, for everything – not just cash? Consider voluntary as well as required benefits, statutory obligations like social security and workers compensation, vacations, perquisites, recognition programs, company-sponsored programs, cafeteria, employee discounts, tuition reimbursement, stock purchase plans, community involvement programs, the parking garage . . . the list can be extensive.

Get your arms around the issues, identify your pain and priorities, communicate with employees and get started.

Does Self-Help Help?

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 27-06-2014

Tags: , ,


Books in a stack, by austinevanDoesn’t it seem as though everywhere you turn these days you’re faced with a bombardment of how-to advice from self-proclaimed “experts”?   Especially in Human Resources these people assure you that they understand your problems, and that they have the right solutions for you and your business.  All you need do is read a book, attend a webinar or buy their information-packed DVD.

Sounds like a diet pill, doesn’t it?  Simple and quick.

Promises of such quick fixes and overnight solutions cover every aspect of our business and personal lives.  Pick an issue and the answer is out there.  Someone can help us, and that someone is our “answer man.”  We only have to listen, watch or read whatever it is that they’re offering.   For a fee, of course.

You can’t escape the TV infomercials, the newspaper advertisements, magazine articles or even blogs and social media sites without an endless flow of subject matter gurus telling you that they have the solution for what ails you.

  •        “Guaranteed to quadruple sales within twelve months”
  •        “Maximizes HR effectiveness and value through the use of . . .”
  •         “Keeping Leadership Talent Engaged”
  •        “Designing Employee Policies for an International Workforce”
  •        “The Five Causes of Low Morale – and how to avoid them”
  •         “Our products, services and advice are certified, hospital-tested, government sponsored”

You get the point.

Now, here’s the but . . . .

If that’s the case, that the answer is out there – and for a price waiting for you – why do we continue to face the same problems over and over again?  Why are managers still making poor decisions, wasting money and creating employee morale screw-ups from dawn to dusk?  Why are the business headlines constantly reporting litigation over wrongful or illegal management behavior, or the dubious business decisions that send companies spiraling into financial trouble?

Isn’t anyone paying attention to the Answer Man?  Or is the advice simply a load of horse manure?  Are these experts really just spouting head-game theories and viewing business problems from an academic vs. practical viewpoint?  Are they rehashing old methodologies with new language and passing off their solutions as “new” thinking?

Whichever it is, these “I have the solution” messages never seem to stop.   Like a constant propaganda campaign radio-beamed across the border – the broadcast light is always on.  The buzz phrases may change from time to time, but our appetite for quick fixes doesn’t seem to ever diminish.

My theory or yours?

If the “experts” do have the answers – color me skeptical – we need to ask why their message is so often ignored.  Several scenarios are possible:

  • Subject matter authorities often speak over our heads, using buzz phrases and $100 words
  • Reading or listening to this stuff is hard work; the text is dry, boring and not often engaging
  • Too much of the advice reads simple but is hard to implement
  • Academics often lack credibility in the real world; they “just don’t get it
  • Ingrained biases and personal agendas often close down an open mind

Whatever the reason, the drumbeat of advice, whether new or traditional,  is not being absorbed and acted upon – because the problems are still there.

Therefore . . . .

I’m struck by the merry-go-round aspect of constant advice without real solutions.  We see a continuous need to enlighten people and businesses on how to be effective, but it’s a need that never seems to end.

Maybe the analogy to a diet holds some truth; consider how many books are out there on that subject – yet up to 30% of the population remains obese.

 There’s an old saying, that if you build a better mousetrap the world will make a path to your door.   So if common sense and up-to-date technical knowledge point the way to a better tomorrow, why do so many companies and their leaders stay in the dumb zone?

I’m thinking that the message is either too boiler plate generic, the audience isn’t paying attention, or perhaps we’re all being scammed by re-packaged “new” thinking.

Which is it?  Because the problems are still out there.