Hard Is Easy, Soft Is Hard

For those who have spent much of their career in the Compensation arena the upward pathway likely started at the bottom of the ladder, writing job descriptions, completing survey questionnaires and evaluating jobs.

Eventually, you worked your way up the food chain into survey analysis, market pricing, structure design, incentives and program development. You mastered the various formulae, charts and graphs, you could make Excel dance on a dime and could happily debate the various and complex techniques that would befuddle your Human Resource generalist colleagues. If you stayed at it long enough you eventually became a master technician for the “hard” side of Compensation.

You carried a calculator everywhere.

The Hard Side

The “hard” side?  This designation represents the body of knowledge and experience surrounding the traditional view of compensation practitioners – from the outside looking in.  Such are those who manage the technical analysis of impersonal data bites – that black & white world that only deals with neutral and impersonal facts. 

Subjectivity is not allowed here.  We are usually placed in a small cubicle and left to our own devices – with our computer and survey sources.    No one stops by to chat.

At Christmas, we don’t receive any cards.

Then it happens; one day you’re asked to walk through the beaded curtain into a new world, toward a new career in something called Compensation Management. This is exciting because on the other side is increased pay, a loftier title and finally recognition as a “player” within the HR community.

The Soft Side

You are assigned internal clients, front-line managers who aren’t interested in your formulae, charts & graphs or technical babble. They want you to solve problems, provide solutions, to talk with them and explain how Compensation can help them achieve their business objectives.   You are expected to become an advisor, deeply involved in “what do we do now“? scenarios.

This is the “softer” side of Compensation, where rules become guidelines, policies become politics and the proper answer to most everything is “it depends.”

But not everyone makes it safely through that beaded curtain.  That’s because the journey requires a mindset change, into a place where your comfortable analytical tools aren’t as much in demand.  Instead, you need something called “relationship competencies” to succeed. I’ve seen many people falter at the curtain; some do not want to pass through – and others have stumbled through, only to eventually burn out like a meteor shooting across the night sky.

Why do some fail to succeed once through the curtain?

  • Non-Exempt mindset:  Some are not comfortable becoming part of management, as they continue to identify themselves with their former colleagues.  They find it difficult being required to support a top-down view of employee rewards.
  • Too comfortable with technical analysis:  Figures don’t lie, they just are.  Can’t argue with that.  Can’t be blamed for that. There’s a comfort in dealing with the neutral, just reporting the facts.  Some prefer to stay in this “safety zone,” not dealing directly with employees.
  • Uncomfortable with multiple answers for the same question: A common problem where differing circumstances can result in differing answers.  Like the ground shifting beneath your feet, the certainty of sameness is replaced by “it depends.”  Life isn’t all black and white anymore.
  • Preference to let policies and procedures make the decisions:  Some folks don’t like to stick their neck out, to face being challenged and having to defend their recommendations.

Back when you were an analyst you weren’t expected to develop tactical strategies and recommendations; you read the surveys, tabulate the spreadsheets and report your findings.  That’s it. Then you go home.  Sound harsh?  Not at all, as proper analysis remains a critical component for the making of informed business decisions.  But if that’s all you do . . . ?

To be an effective practitioner of compensation management is to straddle both sides of the Compensation function;  you must understand the technical aspects of where the numbers come from and what they mean, but you must also adapt and thrive within a new environment where your role becomes an influencer of management decisions.  To be successful you need to breathe the crisp air of business realities and when dealing with internal clients be able to shake up those technical rules you learned so many years ago; don’t let them rule you.

But sorry, you still won’t get Christmas cards. They go to the HR generalists.

Compensation management is a challenging role, requiring you to balance the numbers, the employees, and the realities of business operations – all while periodically sticking your neck out to recommend a potentially contentious course of action.

Or you could sit back and let established policies and procedures do the talking, though that’s probably not the intent of your increased salary and important title.

What’s it going to be?

Chuck Csizmar CCP is founder and Principal of CMC Compensation Group, providing global compensation consulting services to a wide variety of industries and non-profit organizations.  He is also associated with several HR Consulting firms as a contributing consultant.  Chuck is a broad based subject matter expert with a specialty in international and expatriate compensation.  He lives in Central Florida (near The Mouse) and enjoys growing fruit and managing (?) a clowder of cats.

Creative Commons image, “Employee,” by Southern Methodist U.

This post originally appeared on Compensation Cafe
Author: Chuck Csizmar