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Compensation Managers Need To Manage

Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 03-10-2017

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Manager For A Day, by FTTUBHaving technical smarts isn’t enough to manage either the staff or the function.

I once supervised a strong performing technical analyst who was eager to work his way into compensation management.  This fellow was a whiz at spreadsheets, data analysis, and survey modeling.  When you needed a number you knew who to ask.

However, he was not good at explaining compensation and experienced difficulty with personal interactions when dealing with contentious issues involving either individual employees or internal clients (management).  Relying primarily on his technical background he was all black-and-white numbers with those he dealt with, even when the landscape turned grey and the client needed new thinking.

The career challenge he faced was being able to morph from an objective in-the-trenches technical analyst into a broader, more visionary role (subjective) that required comfortably dealing with the “big picture.”

Job Growth

A long time ago, when I was a Compensation Analyst, I worked on a lot of spreadsheets and job evaluations.  Then, when I became a Compensation Manager I handled fewer spreadsheets and fewer job evaluations.  Someone else helped.  When I became a Director of Compensation one of my subordinates was assigned to the spreadsheets and job evaluations.  I remained accountable but was able to assign the responsibility elsewhere.

Thus the higher I rose the broader my vision of compensation needed to become, moving from looking straight down my nose at the desk in front of me to over the employee’s heads and onto the horizon and beyond.  Which meant that, as I dealt less with compensation details on a day-to-day basis, the required tools and competencies of my role changed.  I became part of management.

Managing Compensation usually consists of two levels, first one and then the other:

  • Manage the staff: You have subordinate employees whom you are responsible to lead.  This means hiring, firing, assessing performance, making staff pay decisions, assigning work, training and developing and in general making sure that your employees get their work done in a proper fashion (done right and on time).  Your manager should be measuring you at least as much as a manager of employees as for the individual contributor you used to be.
  • Manage the function: In addition to the above, here your responsibility is to lead the compensation function; to take control of the company’s reward programs and either administrate them or convert them to better support business objectives.  Here lies the responsibility for vision, persuasiveness and higher-level personal interface.

If your role is administrative in nature, simply to keep the ship afloat, you can manage the staff without having to manage the function.  On the other hand, I’ve seen bad managers who were good at the vision part, but hopeless when it came to people skills (their staff).

The harder task is to lead, to have the vision and the confidence to drive the function forward.  It means taking reasonable risks, being able to defend and justify your recommendations and being able to influence senior leadership to move in the general direction you espouse.

And by the way, having great technical skills in no way guarantees that you’ll have similar success with management skills.  Workplaces are littered with the false dreams of those unable to adapt to a new set of necessary competencies.

I, Manager

The point is, that whichever role you find yourself in, being an effective manager requires that you focus on the people side – your employees and your clients.  It means that, to a large extent, you need to separate yourself from those technical tasks that you personally performed earlier in your career.  You should delegate detail work to subordinates while you deal with the broader issues and more direct interfaces with clients and management.

It will entail you learning a whole new set of skills – management skills.

But some folks don’t like to leave their spreadsheets and survey analyses behind.  These are those who fail to fully embrace their management responsibilities, but continue to play an individual contributor role – as if their title remained an Analyst, not a Manager or even a Director.

The Bits would ruefully shake their heads; poor form, poor form.

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