The Beowulf of Compensation

Stickman BeowulfMost of you know of the poem Beowulf. Legend has it that it was passed down through oral performances for nearly 1,000 years before it was formally documented in Old English. The poem is long and provides details that most people skim through, if they read it at all. But, it is documented and any literate person can look it up and read if they are interested. The more ambitious can (and do) even memorize it and perform it live.

Let’s first state the obvious. No compensation plan, Continue reading

I Was Wrong. Pay for Performance Doesn’t Work!

Stickman I was wrong p4p doesnt workYou may want to disregard nearly everything I’ve ever posted here. As it turns out, I may not know anything about pay for performance. Recently, I brought someone new onto my team. This guy seemed like a great match for the position. He’s good looking, has a strong intellect along with a very unique skill set. He is exactly what we needed on the team. But now, a few weeks in, I am realizing that he is a narcissist. You may even call him a crybaby. The frustrating fact is that he simply isn’t motivated by any of the P4P Continue reading

Would You Like Mayo and Lettuce with that Noncompete?

Stickman Pay enough for noncompeteNoncompete clauses are often hard to enforce, but sometimes they still make sense. Heck, youcan’t really keep a person from making a living in their chosen field. But, a company has to be able to protect itself from employees who may steal customers, ideas, staff members or worse.

Noncompetes are not only hard on HR and legal departments; they can also be an issue for compensation professionals. At the most basic level, comp pros are paid to attract, motivate, retain and Continue reading

Want Results? Prove it!

Stickman Want Results Prove ItMost compensation professionals I know are very earnest in their desire to pay people as well as possible. They attend presentations, watch webinars, and review the latest article and the smart ones even read the Compensation Café. But, many of these same professionals admit a critical flaw that often makes all of their efforts useless. This problem is so common that it no longer surprises me when people cop to it. In fact, I am really only surprised by the small number of individuals or teams don’t have it.

Continue reading

New Book on Communicating Compensation Plans!

Everything You Do in Compensation is Communication: 3/8 of the Compensation Cafe Publishes a Book! …. $10 discount through September 30, 2014! (use code “8steps”)ewdic book cover w quote

About three years ago, a trio of cheeky compensation bloggers joined forces around an idea.  The insight that started it all – that everything (and we mean everything) we do in compensation is, in fact, communication.  When we talk and when we stay silent.  When we share details about how plans work and how awards are earned and when we keep it all under wraps.  The reality is that we are sending messages — inadvertently and often unintentionally — with every step of the compensation design, implementation and management process.

If this is true — and we believe it is — then why not get ahead of this communication process, take control and use it to make our compensation work better and more impactful?  And to increase our own influence and career success along the way?

Compensation Cafe cohorts Margaret O’Hanlon, Dan Walter and Ann Bares are pleased to announce the publication of our book.

Dreaming about ways that you can have more influence and impact in your work? To learn more and to order your own copy, please go here and get your copy today.

 

First Do No Harm

Stickman First Do No HarmPrimum non nocere. The Hippocratic Oath is one of the foundational elements of any doctor’s career. As it says on Wikipedia:

“Another way to state it is that, “given an existing problem, it may be better not to do something, or even to do nothing, than to risk causing more harm than good.” It reminds the health care provider that must consider the possible harm that any intervention might do. It is invoked when debating the use of an intervention that carries an obvious risk of harm but a less certain chance of benefit.”

Imagine if this was part of an oath that compensation professionals had to take in order to work in this industry. What would it mean to you? In the name of limited time, limited experience or just a feeling of resignation, some of us may make this a lower priority than we should.

Imagine if your heart surgeon or your child’s asthma specialist, simply stopped at “good enough.” Would you support them?

Like much in the world of medicine, compensation is part science and part art. Like a scientist, we must use the data we have available and make resolute decisions that are memorialized and can remain effective for a long time. Also like a scientist, we must be willing to accept new observations, data and change our decisions as needed.

Like an artist, we must be able to see what others may not and turn that into something tangible that can be appreciated by many. Also, like a successful artist, we must know when to stop fiddling and declare our work complete.

I was reminded of this recently while working with a client who does so much so right. When speaking to the CEO, my colleagues and I made it clear that an important objective of our project was not breaking anything that already worked well. But, the company is growing and its industry is rapidly evolving. Because they are the type of company so many people love to work for, they are planning for the future before it gets here. What a thought. Even better, what an action!

When looking at solving a problem using compensation, we must be fully aware of the potential impact any new program or change to a legacy approach may have on current successes. As a consultant, I often see new “solutions” that conflict with current practices or the company’s compensation philosophy.

Since we seldom fully analyze whether pay is actually doing what was intended, we often don’t have any idea what is or isn’t working. Without this knowledge, we are like a blindfolded doctor. Our skills and expertise may be up to the task, but we don’t give ourselves a chance to succeed.

We are often challenged and sometimes pressured into implementing changes where we have either limited supporting data or worse, no confidence in the program accomplishing its goals. Imagine if your doctor agreed to do surgery before they had ran tests. What if you were given medication before being thoroughly diagnosed?

Next time you are asked (told) to make a change to pay or roll out an entirely new compensation plan, make it clear what you need to do it before you confidentally proceed. Be aware of how the change will affect other components of HR, pay and overall management of your staff. Understand the potential downsides to any program that has fantastic upside. In other words: first do no harm.

Do compensation consultants help price CEO compensation more accurately or worsen it?

This is a great question. The truth is the compensation consultants do some of both.

The form of this question seems to presuppose that “accurate” and “worse” are different outcomes. In the world of compensation they often are the same thing.

If a company determines that it must pay their CEO in the 75th percentile in order to get the quality of executive that will best serve the needs of their shareholders then they will look to market data from peer companies (easily accessible for public companies) and determine the 75th percentile.  This sets the basic pay level.  Easy peasy except for a few little things…

If everyone decides they need an executive in the 75th percentile and everyone is looking at the same data and the data is updated every year, then the 75th percentile will also rise every year.  Perfectly accurate and inarguably worse.

If the peer groups selected are just 10% better than a “real” peer group of similarly performing, sized, etc. companies then the compounding factor above is made even worse.  Still totally accurate, but not any better.

If the stock market drive upward at a rate faster than initial predicted the compounding factor can be even worse (You Get 2 Shares and You Get 4 Shares and So on and So on…).

But, if you take a look from another perspective you may see a different picture. Investors are all about making money. If I told you you could make $1000 by paying someone $500, or you could make $400 by paying someone $300, you would probably choose to pay $500 and get the bigger payoff. In this case (and this perspective) the higher pay is better. It is also accurate.

All of that being said there is some academic research on this topic.  A good start is here.  Page on northwestern.edu

Executive Compensation: How do companies determine their upper-management pay structure?

Executive pay structure involves determine that compensation elements (tools) to be used and the levels or amounts for each.

The best way to accomplish this is to first determine a compensation philosophy. This defines what you are trying to accomplish with pay, the basic levels of pay as compared to the market, peer companies to use as comparison, the type of consistent, variable and very long-term pay and much more (Executive Pay Can’t Be Fixed! But….here are 3 things to consider.)

Then the company will review market data for the pay types and levels of relevant peers. These become data points for the comparison against the companies stated compensation philosophy.

In best cases modeling is done to determine worst case, best case, mathematical and “gut check” scenarios.  The company then balances these and sets pay levels and types for each individual.

The process is part science, part art and a bunch of pseudo-science. The end result is generally fairly acceptable and defensible.  As companies get very big the data and approach sometimes breaks down, but the high levels of pay you see are usually not because of this breakdown.

The high levels of pay are because everyone would rather wait and pay executives (usually through stock) than guarantee them cash up front. And the corporate tax rules support this.

Let me know if you need more…

Tipping Points – 5 for Pay Professionals

stickman Pay Tipping Point“The moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.1” This is how Malcolm Gladwell describes the tipping point. It is the moment when things truly change and return to the prior state becomes hard, or even impossible. Responding to major changes like these tend to drive evolution or revolution. The results can be more volatile than expected and occur more quickly. There have been many compensation-related changes happening over the past couple of decades. I make the case for five elements that may be nearing a tipping point.

1. Pay for Performance.

Pay for performance is incredibly popular right now. I am one of its biggest proponents. But, as the use of P4P rises, so does the lack of verification of effectiveness, structure and communication for these programs. There is real potential for the abject failure of these programs as a whole. P4P is filled with potential risk. Failure will likely be seen in angry employees and struggling companies.

2. Pay Disparity.

It has been almost one hundred years since we have had wealth disparity in the United States like we are currently experiencing. Not all of the disparity is driven by pay, but as the wealth gap has grown, so has the pay gap. We are already seeing attention from the media, scrutiny from the government and discontentment among employees. While the first two get the most attention, it is the employees who will drive the tipping point. Unless they are given some path to correction, they will find a more volatile way to drive change.

3. Retirement Shortfalls.

The way we currently look at retirement has been around for just about the same amount of time as our oldest citizens. These senior people had a lot of help in preparing for retirement and we still have huge problems with poverty among the elderly. It is expensive to be alive. The shortfall between retirement funds versus needs has been well documented. We have built a society where people live a long time and can do so knowing that they are supported by funds that were designated long ago. As retirement funding changes and social security fails to keep up with the cost of living, will we see new “families” where employees spend as much time and effort supporting their parents as they do their children? Can the two-income work structure we have built support this additional need for time and money?

4. Pay Survey Use.

Pay surveys are useful ingredient in delivering proper pay. But, like sugar, overuse can be unhealthy. The flaws of the data and how we use it have been documented for years. Search on the term “survey” on this site and you will see what I mean. Pay surveys help make our decisions “feel” better. Sometimes at the expense of them actually “being” better. Are we prepared for the moment when the overuse of surveys becomes a rallying cry for those people outside of our profession?

5. Equity Compensation.

Many of you know that I believe equity compensation is an incredibly important element of pay. But, like other forms of pay for performance, it has often been used without a thorough understanding of its impact. The growth of equity compensation easily aligns with the growth in executive / employee pay disparity. Pay disparity is itself nearing a potential tipping point. Without thoughtful planning and better use of equity compensation, we may see it disappear like so many other formerly useful pay programs (defined benefit plans anyone?).

1 The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

 

Beware of Statistic Laden Compensation News

Stickman Beware of Stats and NewsWe love data. In fact, compensation professionals seek out data like artists desire southern exposure in New York or kids crave waterslides in the summer. Data is our friend. It helps guide us and it provides credibility for our decisions. But, we must always beware of prepackaged data. This type of data is our “frenemy”. It gives us hope or makes us feel confident, then pokes us in the eye.

Take for instance the recent announcement that 43% of employees would take a pay cut in return for a better company 401(k) match. The subheadings for these articles cited a report published by Fidelity. Fidelity is a well-respected source of 401(k) data. What could be wrong?

Well, the report was based on more than 1,000 employees who were still working and were actively contributing to their retirement savings. While this does qualify as “more than 1,000 employees” it’s not representative of 1,000 employees at any one company I have ever heard of.  That’s like saying, “We took a survey of 1,000 people and 100% agreed that ice cream was one of the best things ever on a hot day.” While not telling people that you took the survey at the exit door of an ice cream store on a hot, humid August day.

The reports on 401(k) (herehere and here) went on to discuss that the average company match was about $3,540. Average of what companies? Average of which employees’ contributions? The reports do not specify. Most also mention this amount is $1,000 more than 10 years ago without mentioning of “why”. Could it be that people are paid more than a decade ago? Maybe the companies in the survey offer better 401(k)s now, but have cut short-term incentives, long-term incentives or other benefits. We simply cannot tell from the information provided. Only after reading multiple articles do we learn that Fidelity reports that the average employer contribution is currently 4.3% per year vs. 4.0% in 2006. So, no big change there.

But, it’s not just those of us working in compensation that gets caught in this trap. Sometimes it’s the people we pay. A friend who was laid off a couple of months ago has had a difficult time finding work in her chosen field. She sent me a note the other day with a link to an article on AOL that “supported” the incredible lack of full time jobs. Those of you who jumped ahead and opened the article will see that it discusses the fact that only 1.3 billion adults worldwide have full time jobs. Specifically, one in four adults globally had full-time employment last year.

My friend was focused on the fact that 75% of people did not have a full-time job. And, she was part of the growing 75%. No real thought went into how many people in the world are too old or too young to work. What about the demographics of the other continents? And, then there are the rural poverty-stricken parts of India or China that assuredly play into this global statistic.  She gave no consideration into how many of those people lived in places where full time jobs have nothing to do with a “chosen field”. No thought went into that fact that she lives in New York City a place with less than 8% (not 75%) unemployment.

Now you might say that my friend is not the smartest cookie, but would you also say the same about compensation professionals who believed the reports on 401(k) match? Or perhaps, in a world and workplace swimming with data, statistics and ready-made sound bites, do we all get caught in the trap of easy-to-access information? Just remember: If you see percentages, ratios or hard numbers in an article, beware. You might be seeing a journalistic or marketing artist’s surreal masterpiece rather than the facts.

Dan Walter is the President and CEO of Performensation and is committed to aligning pay with corporate strategy and culture. Download the “Equity Compensation Design and Use Matrix.” Dan has co-authored several books including “The Decision Makers Guide to Equity Compensation”“If I’d Only Known That”“GEOnomics 2011” and “Equity Alternatives.” Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter at @Performensation and @SayOnPay.