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Learning From Bad Examples

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 07-05-2015

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Cat-reading-glasses-with-paper, by Floho67It’s often said that each of us can learn a great deal from having a good boss to work for, a solid role model of just how a manager is supposed to act.  We hear about learning the “right” way from our mentors, from people we admire, from good leaders.  And we can also benefit from associating with other good employees, learning from the experienced and high performers how things should be done.

That’s all true enough, but how many of us are fortunate enough to find ourselves in that position?  Who even has a mentor these days?  More often than not we find that our leaders are flawed individuals, possessing an odd assortment of quirks, personal biases, affectations and just plain bad habits that we as their subordinates have to live with.  That we have to put up with.

Yes, I’m talking about the lousy boss.

And then of course there’s always  the malingerer down the hall, the employee who is forever out to beat the system, or the clock watcher who won’t make the effort to get out of their own way.  These are each examples of behavior we see practiced all too often, if not every day at work.  Sometimes it’s as though we’re encircled by the dregs of the company’s workforce, from the top of the organization chart to the bottom.

Yet sometimes there is a candle lit against the darkness.  Sometimes we can learn a great deal by the personal failures that surround us.  We don’t have to succumb to it.  But we have to keep our eyes and ears alert, along with an open mind.

The next step is yours.

We can grow tired of fighting the system, of being the lone ranger, seemingly the only one who cares.  It’s natural to have the battery of self-motivation and sense of professional self wear down.   So we can let ourselves drown in this sea of incompetence, work malaise and indifference, becoming absorbed by it, becoming part of the same problem.

Or you can turn lemons into lemonade.  You can take a negative and squeeze out a positive learning experience.  Sometimes it’s simply a matter of knowing not to do what the Bozo does.

What can we learn from the bad behavior that surrounds us?

> What strategies don’t work:  If certain tactics drop you off a cliff, blowup in your face or drive you straight into a brick wall, learn the why behind the failure and promise yourself not to try similar approaches.

> Why poor treatment of others always backfires in the end: When tactics or behaviors fail to engage employees, or worse, elicits worsened performance , morale and attitude, learn the why behind the employee perspective.  Then it’s likely that when you have the chance you won’t make the same mistakes.

> Losing and gaining respect:  When those for whom you have personal and professional respect show little regard of their own for the poor performers, the poor managers, the bad behaviors, take that experience to heart and make sure that you don’t follow a similar tact and end up disappointing those you seek approval from.

> Or you can simply say, “I won’t ever do that!:”  The most basic learning device is to simply go in the opposite direction from tactics, attitudes and behaviors that you’ve seen fail.  At least you won’t have a history of failure automatically repeated.

Granted, learning from bad examples is a hit or miss strategy,  but if you’re paying attention, if you’re watching the results of someone else’s decisions, you’ll have a better sense of cause and effect.  When something doesn’t work, when someone’s actions cause justifiable upset, when someone’s behavior is inappropriate – each are potential teaching moments.

Every action or non action is a decision.  Sitting on the sidelines and watching the world flow by is a decision. But if you’re paying attention each decision or even lack of action can be an opportunity for you to learn to grow, to test the work environment.

You’ll be a better manager, a better employee and best of all a better person because of it.

A Smooth Sea

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 23-04-2015

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Sailing, by Bruce Tuten

… Never made a skilled sailor

I saw this phrase the other day and it really caught my attention.  Folks on LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media are always posting cute, profound or overused phrases that describe personal motivation, self-discipline or even the meaning of life, and I usually ignore them.   I can’t figure out the point of highlighting the obvious.

But this one gave me pause.

Think about it.  If you want to progress in your career, then you have to show those who are higher up than you that you have what it takes.  That you’re capable of rising to the occasion, making the tough decisions and by your knowledge, skill and experience getting the job done.  And how do you show that?  Fix something, improve a process, change behaviors, save money, make the act of change work for you and your organization.  Have an impact.

Conversely, those who only administer reward programs (sometimes known as treading water) don’t do much of that change stuff and are often viewed as having reached a “career plateau,” or as others might view it – they’ve reached a dead end.   Administrators are not the cream of the profession, and rarely rise to the top.

Is it time to look in the mirror?

Where are we going?

Of course, you have to be in the right environment in order to have the opportunity to shine, to enact those wonderful results.  And while we would all like to be employed by smooth running operations, the heroes of our success story are those who created all that smoothness and efficiency.  Not those who came after, who benefit from it today by pushing the “continue” button..

In a practical sense though, how many really smooth running businesses are out there?  It’s a fair statement to make that just about every organization has some program, policy or procedure that isn’t working right.  They all have some aspect of their reward programs that might not be broken, but could be seriously bent or considered charitably as less than effective.

Not sure of your environment?  Try this.

  • Ask questions:  Become the “Curious George” of your organization and learn all there is to know about your current reward programs.  You’ll need to understand the “why” as well as the “what” and “how.”
  • Talk to management:  Gain from their perspective as to expectations, comfort level with the status quo and their willingness to accept change.
  • Set up metric milestones:  Set up a series of base line statistics that describe current elements of your reward programs.  From there you can measure progress toward specific goals. And you’ll also have a graphic story to show management.  Numbers can trump words.

Change for the sake of change

On the other hand, have a care that you don’t try to force an issue.  I’ve seen compensation practitioners push hard to inject new policies, procedures and even cultural initiatives where they simply would not work.  Something they should have known from the start.  We’ve likely all experienced some form of the “round hole, square peg” scenario – where certain ideas are doomed to fail due to management bias, a deeply entrenched culture, employee demographics or a host of other reasons unique to that organization.

But some practitioners will still push an aggressive agenda, more for their own betterment  (resume enhancement, improving their personal experience, career checkmarks, etc.) than for the improvement of their organization.

I’ve seen it done.

So have a care; using your organization as a personal experiment or Petri dish to try out the latest trends can be a problem for you.  And for your organization.

I Don’t Want To Do That

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 14-04-2015

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Screaming Kitten, by GalgenTXOuch.  That phrase coming from senior leadership is still ringing in your head.  You just delivered a fact-based and what you considered compelling argument in support of your compensation program recommendations, and the best you received in return was an indifferent “nahhh“?

They don’t want to do it.  They didn’t even give you much of a reason to ponder, to argue against, never mind provide you with a rationale that you might be able to circle back on with an adjusted recommendation.  The door was shut.  They’re not interested.

It happens

Frustrating as the experience is, anyone who has been in the compensation profession for any length of time can tell you that yes, rejection happens.  Sometimes it happens a lot.  It’s not unusual for those in senior leadership to harbor pre-conceived notions, biases, and preferences (pro and con) that are coupled with a stubborn or even arrogant demeanor.   It may seem that they don’t even listen.  They know better than you and they run the business.  Deal with it.

Talk about trying to push a boulder up a hill!

You do have options though.  To avoid smacking your head against the wall you could serve up proposals that reflect only what you already know they want to hear.  You could be their “yes man” and play to their preferences or help feed their biases by agreeing with them.  That may not be doing your job as a compensation leader, but it would increase the likelihood of receiving a YES response – or at least better your odds.

But if you go down that road what do they need you for? That’s using you to hold up a mirror, and then to administer whatever it might be that they agreed to support.

You could do that.  I’ve seen it done.  I’ve seen people make a career out of that strategy.  Keep your head down so that it doesn’t get chopped off.  Compensation management becomes compensation administration.

Because changing the mind of senior leaders with their heads in the sand, or those safeguarding their own self interests can be a difficult and stressful process.

Odd man out

Then again, maybe you want to stand for something, to believe in something.  Maybe as a professional compensation practitioner you feel strongly enough about something (program, policy, procedure, decision) that you’re willing to raise your hand and say, “wait a minute.”  You know something is wrong and you know how to fix it.  Or at least you know that the ship is going in the wrong direction.  You could be the principled fellow with the persistent voice of persuasive argument, the architect of change, the champion of compensation professionalism.

You could also find yourself out of a job.  Because sometimes rocking the boat can get you tossed overboard.

Or, you could decide that you would find greater job satisfaction by working somewhere else.  Having to deal with mental dinosaurs and the stubbornly backward may be more than you want to keep struggling with.

Strike a balance

But have a care first.  Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.  Perhaps the right direction for you is neither right (what they think they want) nor left (what your profession suggests is the better strategy), but closer to the center by presenting a balanced viewpoint.  So bend a little, become knowledgeable of those management biases and present reasoned arguments that both incorporate those preferences and still move the organization in the direction you feel is better

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they got it done, one building at a time.  If you push in the right direction you may only get half a loaf from a recalcitrant management, but it’s progress.   And the next time you might get more.  Just keep (gently) pushing.

Frustrating?  Yes.  Will you lose some battles?  For sure.

But what an achievement you could gain.

Because to give up is to become an administrator.  Would that work for you?

Thanks For The Advice, But . . . .

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 08-04-2015

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Advice, by SoloHave you ever faced a situation where management ignored your advice?   Where they went left when you said go right?

Of course you have.  Likely it’s happened to you more than once.  The experience is a frustrating one, isn’t it?  And can provide more than a little dent to the ego,  if you dwell on it.  After all, you’re the professional, the knowledge expert responsible for Compensation in your organization.  That’s what you’re being paid for.  To know what to do.  Not only should management  be listening to you, or so you think, they should be agreeing with you.

Wake up and smell the coffee

But this isn’t the classroom or a WorldatWork or SHRM certification seminar.  What all too often happens in the real world can be quite a bit different than what you see in the textbooks or hear from conference or webinar speakers.  Sometimes management takes your input, listens to your reasoning and proposals,  but then decides to move in a direction different from what you had recommended.  And they may not even explain why.

Every seasoned practitioner at some point needs to become accustomed to the realization that the recommendations they present to management, be they for large projects or part of day-to-day advice, aren’t always going to be accepted – and not necessarily because they’re bad ideas.  When management decides to go “rogue” on you it’s not necessarily a reflection of your capabilities or professionalism.   Or even mistakes that you might have made.  They simply have a different perspective than you.

In such circumstancesthe decision-makers usually have more angles to consider than only the compensation point of view.  Whether they’re looking at business projections, the potential impact of share price, financial strength of the company or simply confidential plans going forward that you’re not privy to, they need to weigh your recommendations against what else they know that relates to the matter at hand.  Or what they consider more important.  Or simply their own biases for and against certain ideas.

After all, it’s their business, their budgets, their employees.  They can do what they want.  Hard as that may be for you to swallow.

What you have to be careful about is how much you want to push your viewpoint in the face of management reluctance, self-interest or just flat-out personal bias.  Which may not be a career enhancing move.

You need a thick skin

When leadership chooses a different path than the one you’ve recommended, that decision doesn’t necessarily diminish your role in the organization, or the degree to which your viewpoint is valued.  If you’ve done your job and made sure that the relevant information and decision points are on the table, and that your leadership therefore has their eyes open to the issues and the ramifications of choice, you can relax that you’ve done all that there was to do.  You can sleep well tonight.

Because your responsibility is to advise, to offer the best professional recommendations that your knowledge and experience has prepared you to offer.  Management is counting on you to provide this.  That is the measure of your importance.

Consider the police officer making an arrest.  Their job is to gather information (clues) and apprehend a suspect based on those clues.  But then someone else is responsible to prosecute that suspect, using the information gathered by the police.  Or for various reasons they could decide not to prosecute.  It’s their decision.

But we’re still human, and it can rankle.  Often we’ll find that our ego is in full bloom once we make a recommendation – as if anyone who disagrees with us doesn’t respect us or value our opinion.  That they don’t love us anymore.

Get over it.  Shake it off.  Because they’ll be another issue tomorrow.  And you can be a hero then.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 23-03-2015

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Why do we assume that practically any survey data we see is an accurate reflection of a competitive market? And by “we” I mean both compensation practitioners and senior management alike.

Just asking. 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 what to pay Bob and Mary, or Frank and Sally. 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.

Questionable origin?

Well, that puts a pin in the balloon, doesn’t it? 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.

Perhaps the survey is right. Or the number you’re looking at is simply an accumulation of guesses.

Let’s take a look at why it’s 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. If anyone is looking that way.

Consider the probable experience of the person completing these survey input questionnaires:

• How many of these input forms do I have to complete for the survey? And how many surveys do we have to participate in?

• Do I have the time to do all this? Maybe I’ll have to hurry a bit. Maybe I can just 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. And the survey definitions keep changing on me. Maybe I can just use the title.

• How do I balance our four page job description against a survey’s 25 word paragraph?

• What do I do when the survey doesn’t have a Lead category, or a Senior Manager? We have four levels within certain job categories, but the survey only counts three.

• I don’t understand some of the the job descriptions I’ve been given, and that happens a lot. And I don’t have time to chase after managers to seek out what they meant. So I’ll make a good faith 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 that you could manage. Multiply that experience across the majority of survey respondents and . . . you 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. The data is not a hammer of exactitude.

And that’s the key. 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. Those numbers may or may not relate to your particular circumstances.

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.

The Modern HR Snake Oil Sales Pitch

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 20-03-2015

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Salesman, by Chris FithallDoesn’t it seem that everywhere you turn these days you face a bombardment of professional 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 better yet contract for their consulting services.

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 answer you need.

  • “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”
  • Etc, etc, etc

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 is contradictory to what you read / heard already – so who is right?
  • Academics often lack credibility in the real world; they “just don’t get it”
  • Folks aren’t paying attention, on account of their own ingrained biases and personal agendas

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.   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?

If the cure is out there, why is the patient still sick?

I’m thinking that the message is wrong, the audience isn’t listening, or perhaps we’re all being scammed by re-packaged “new” thinking.

Which is it?

Be The Hero – You Can Do It

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 10-03-2015

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A. Jackson statue, by dbkingDo you want to be admired and respected by your colleagues, recognized by senior leadership for who and what you are?  Do you want to be known throughout your universe as a go-to person, as a hero amidst the minions?

Then solve a problem.  Stand up and show someone how to get things done.  Clear the pathway; support someone’s idea, save a step somewhere.  Do what it takes to cross the finish line.  It’s a target-rich environment out there, so pick something.

Just do it

It’s not hard, really.  It’s a matter of thinking not so much of yourself first and foremost, but of a greater value that is broader than yourself – and of focusing your attention on getting the results that help the department, the team, the business.   It’s called a giving of yourself.  Of extending yourself.  But at the same time you can benefit in return.

All too often what we see from many employees at all levels of the organization is an effort to be the star, the success story, even at the expense of someone else.  “Look at me,” these eager A-types seem to shout, “look at what I have achieved.”  These are folks who seem to have missed reading the memo on team effort.  These are the “selfies” of the workplace.

We all have them in our organizations.  They surround us.  And don’t we resent them?

Here’s a thought, though.  Isn’t it better to be lifted up (reward, recognition, the pointed finger, etc.) by someone else, then to be constantly trying to push yourself up there?  Doesn’t that ego rush get a bit tiring, what with the constant pressure of looking over your shoulder to gauge the competition?  Do you suffer from periodic stress headaches, where the muscles at the back of your neck tighten to stone?  Are you sleeping well?

Now picture yourself receiving that award, with the accompanying recognition, spotlight, accolades etc.  Nice feeling, isn’t it?  A proud moment.

Not all recognition is the same

I think it does make a difference in how one gets recognized.  I suppose that there are levels of self-satisfaction, but the highest must be when you’re lifted on someone else’s shoulder.   When you hear the cheer of the audience.  Self advertisement, political deal-making and a passive resistance that attempts to hold others back simply cannot provide the same level of genuine personal satisfaction.  Because deep down you’ll know that you cheated to get there.

And others will know it too.

Think about someone whom you really admire, in whatever field of endeavor you like.   Chances are it’s a person who has accomplished something, delivered the desired results, made something of themselves.   They stood up for what they believed in.  They meant something.  Likely that person you admire so much isn’t someone who took shortcuts, pushed others aside, ignored the call for help or otherwise kept their focus solely on the mirror.

Success can be fleeting, especially if built on thin ice.  So why would you want to taint yourself, like success with an asterisk?

Of course you wouldn’t.  But now reflect a bit on how you practice at your relationships at work.  Do you admire only yourself, and act accordingly,  or can you spruce up your act and become more of a team player?  Can you start using the word “we” more than “I”?

Naive?  Perhaps I am.  But I think we need more heroes out there, more decision-makers, more team players and more people willing to make a stand for what they believe in.

But that’s just me.

Cheap Talent Can Cost You

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 28-02-2015

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Appearances, by barkPicture the scene:  your company is seeking to employ a Department Manager, and the leading candidate is currently “in transition.”  Human Resources has pegged the market value of the job at $75,000, but you suspect that the preferred candidate (Bob) will accept $65,000.  A seasoned and experienced professional, Bob was previously paid $77,000 by his last employer, but was caught up in a restructuring staff reduction.  He’s been out of work for almost a year and is getting desperate, worried about feeding his family and paying the mortgage.

When the decision point arrives other, less qualified candidates are already making $70,000 and are asking for $75,000 and up.  Some hiring managers would look at this situation as a no-brainer.  “Let’s hire Bob and save $10,000 to $15,000” would be the smug decision.

That wasn’t hard, was it?   A preferred candidate has been gained at a low ball price.  The hiring manager deserves a pat on the back for saving the company money.   But . . . wait a minute.   Perhaps it should be a boot in the butt instead.

A savvy professional like Bob will have a sense of the competitive market, so he’ll be aware of having taken a significant pay cut to land this job.  So how excited will he be with the offer?  Oh sure, today he’ll be delighted and will celebrate getting a job and finally having money coming in again.  Tomorrow, not so much enthusiasm.

How long before his resentment grows, knowing that he was taken advantage of – gotten on the cheap?  What will happen to his energy level, his engagement, even his morale?  What will he now think of the company, never mind his hiring manager?

The likely future

It’s safe to presume that how you treat a candidate will be discovered at some point by that same new employee.  So when Bob confirms for himself the low ball treatment, what reaction can you expect?

  • Angered by a sense of being taken advantage of he could continue with his job search – looking for a better opportunity – while still working for you.
  • His job performance might suffer, dropping from 110% to automatic pilot to somewhere south of Satisfactory.  He’ll be going through the motions – not exactly the dynamo you thought you had hired.
  • His attitude will turn negative and he’ll morph into another disengaged employee – critical of the company and management, doing no more than he must in order to get by.
  • He’ll ultimately quit, but on his terms and timing.  His anger will have kept simmering and he’ll likely feel little concern as to how his departure affects the organization.

What you now have is a bad hire – a situation that’s unnecessary and easily avoidable if you treat candidates fairly.  Look at it from the candidate’s perspective; when your back is to the wall and you feel your “rescuer” is taking advantage, that feeling causes a pit-of-the-stomach resentment that lingers and festers.  And it costs.

Let’s tally up the cost

The manager claimed a cost savings by the hiring decision.  But when you factor in the longer term ramifications of that decision, how do the initial savings hold up?

  • The hiring decision saved $10,000 to $15,000 per annum by consciously underpaying the candidate.
  • What’s the discounted value of a disengaged employee who doesn’t perform as expected or desired?
  • What’s the value of time lost when Bob quits and the job is vacant again while a replacement is sought?
  • What’s the value of hiring a potentially more expensive replacement (plus agency costs) and perhaps relocation?
  • What’s the value of productive time lost while a new employee gets up to speed?
  • Finally, what’s the subjective value of a discontented employee in your midst, one who is possibly poisoning the attitude of other employees?

So the next time a hiring manager proudly announces how to save a bunch of money on a candidate who’s in transition, take a moment to think it through.  You may want to consider a boot in the butt instead.

You Can’t Handle The Truth

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 19-02-2015

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Do you remember this line from the movie, “A Few Good Men”? Jack Nicholson told Tom Cruise that average folk couldn’t deal with the harsher facts of life, so as a result higher ups would tell them what they wanted to hear. They would offer excuses, clever verbal hedges that sidestepped reality and offered the illusion of comfort.

Today many companies continue to struggle, to claw themselves out from the ravages of the recent economic recession. But a tenuous situation remains, one that causes job stress, concern for the future and perhaps a few sleepless nights. In these circumstances management can choose to deal from either the top or the bottom of the deck with their internal staff communications, as they face the question of whether employees can handle the truth about what’s going on.

The issues raised could be about possible layoffs, limited pay increases, temporary hiring freezes, reorganizations or other such “bad news” affecting employees.

Crafting the message

Management messaging can either be straightforward about these scenarios, i.e., why it was happening and how circumstances would affect employees, or they could toss out a series of artful communication hedges. In other words, employees could be fed corporate-speak.

By corporate-speak I mean a headquarters-generated sleight-of-hand communications effort, typically prepared by smooth-tongued professional writers vs. subject matter experts. The prose, approved by corporate legal to insure that no liability is stated or implied, minimizes the negative and accentuates the positive. The intent is to say little of substance, while at the same time making a self-congratulatory production of their communication efforts.

Content is usually a combination of feel-good phraseology intended to instill a sense of confidence that, whatever the problem, management is a) doing the best they can, b) not at fault, c) has the interests of the employees firmly in mind, and d) will be providing more details soon.

When these officious corporate pronouncements inevitably provide little in the way of satisfactory answers, employees turn to their managers to get straight information. However, when the going gets rough (challenging, complex, contentious), many managers will waffle, dribble their thoughts, obfuscate and in turn create their own excuses. They may even point a finger in the direction of HR. Poorly trained or ineffective managers often have difficulty facing issues important to employees without trying to pass the buck. Employees want to know why?, what next? and what about me?, but managers are rarely equipped to offer an effective response.

Hearing the message

When the straight story is not forthcoming, employees will tend to read between the lines and form their own perceptions of the company story, and that perception is as reliable as the grapevine for spreading information. It’s also more skeptical.

What employees “hear” can usually be generalized by the following attitudes:

• “Where are they going to go?”: Employees are trapped in their jobs, having no choice but to remain, because other jobs will be hard to find. Management has implied, “We don’t need to do anything for them.”

• “Everyone else is cutting back, so we have to as well”: This trite phrase only gets dragged out when the circumstances being described save the company money. Has the “everyone else” phrase ever been used to support giving something to employees?

• “In anticipation of difficult economic times ahead we are forced to / reluctantly / have no choice but . . . “: This is a pre-emptive strike while the sun is still shining. It’s a particularly onerous practice if rewards for past performance are cut, and is often viewed by those on the receiving end as a breach of trust.

• “We employ average workers, so they should be satisfied . . .”: Perhaps an after-the-fact rationalization, but sometimes your senior leadership feels that most employees are easily replaced, like a commodity.

Not surprising, the employee reaction to such doomsday communication efforts is always negative, planting seeds in your workforce for a bitter harvest of lowered morale and increasing disengagement.

• The ineffective message lacks credibility with an increasingly skeptical audience, as does the messenger and the organization behind it.

• Employee listening (and attention) ceases, like shutting off the TV, as insincerity is recognized, so the communication effort is wasted.

• Engagement and performance levels drop as trust, confidence and loyalty erode and employees start to ask themselves, “why bother?”

• The supposition gains traction that the company is lying, holding back or not telling the whole story. It’s hard to see the glass as half-full with this reaction.

On the other hand, when the message, even if not positive, is still perceived as honest, straightforward and without guile the opposite reaction occurs:

• Organizational credibility is strengthened

• Company loyalty is fostered

• Engagement levels and management support are strengthened

The implication is clear: employees can handle the truth, rightly expect same from their employer, and will not take kindly to bland corporate-speak. So don’t get caught making excuses; it didn’t work when you tried it with your mother, and it won’t work with your employees either.

We Can Still Be Friends

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 08-02-2015

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Friends, by S BakerChild care psychologists tell us that a common mistake that parents make during their children’s development years is trying too hard to be their friend.  Instead of being their parent.  That desire to be buddies often results in a reduced emphasis on rules, a less than firm guiding hand and loosening of the requirements for proper behavior, while in turn placing a greater emphasis on letting individuals “be themselves,” all of which is coupled with relaxed supervision and “parenting.”  The results, so the studies say, trends toward increasing self absorption, greater what-about-me? selfishness and for many an elevated degree of social awkwardness when trying to fit in.

What we’re told is that, when parents don’t act like parents those raised in that environment usually find themselves beset with greater challenges in later life as they try to meld into normative society.

The boss who cares – too much?

It’s not uncommon to see a similar display of misplaced friendliness in the workplace, as evidenced by numerous examples of management cadre, including compensation managers.  Some of these leaders, especially those newly promoted and facing a subordinate staff for the first time make a similar “buddy system” mistake with their employees.  They want to be liked.  Call it a “collaborative” management style, espousing a team effort, we’re in this together, etc., but the intent is to be inclusive and participatory with their employees.  Have you heard the phrase at work, “we’re family here“?

Such an attitude can work out just fine, as most management development pundits will tell you, until it’s time for performance assessment and pay review decisions.  That’s when the rubber meets the road.  Because if I’m trying to be your friend I don’t want to pass judgment on you at the same time.  Being cast in the role of judge and jury regarding your performance, and whether you should receive an increase in pay, can be hard decisions for any manager.  Decisions that could negatively impact the manager’s desired state of “family.”

This is why some managers prefer general increases or other forms of pay “decisions” that are made by others.  “Don’t look at me, they did it.”

And I say that these judgment calls can be hard because it’s also easy for managers to pass the buck, to defer otherwise difficult choices and kick the can down the road.  Let’s just avoid the problem.  “Everybody deserves a raise,” is an oft heard refrain from managers looking out for their employees, and if they’re not about to fire you doesn’t that qualify you for something?

Having the cake and eating it too

In other words, it’s easier for managers to become an integral part of the team as collectively the unit looks at the challenges ahead.  Looks outward at the work, the planning, the activities of the next quarter and beyond.  It’s a rougher road for a manager to look inward and judge their employees.

These managers like the title and the compensation associated with their role, but many can be reluctant to actually take on the responsibilities of their office.  Managers are expected to manage their staff, and isn’t the individual performance element one of the most important criteria for measuring the success of staff employees?  And if you’re reluctant to perform that mission?

The question then becomes, are you managing, or even supervising?  Or are you simply administering?

And while you might be consciously looking the other way, chances are the employees you’re trying to “protect” are able to clearly see what in fact you’re doing.  Your better performers are likely upset with you, your average (and below) performers are pleased with your “we owe them” attitude, but just as likely over time they all will lose respect for you.  They’ll know when they’re being managed, when they’re being administered and when the boss is using the pay system as a babysitter.

Ask yourself, what is your goal as a compensation manager, being liked or being respected?  Because it’s an odd case when you can achieve both.