The Duckbilled Platypuses of Compensation

Stickman PlatypusMore than two years ago I wrote about “Defining Pay for a Compensation Unicorn”. A unicorn is a person with a skill set so specific and high level that it is hard to imagine them existing anywhere other than fantasy. Recently, some have referred to these people as “purple squirrels”. While the quest for these fantasy positions continues a more common person is the duckbilled platypus.

More than a unicorn, or even a hybrid, duckbilled platypus jobs combine skills so eclectic they won’t fit into any standard compensation data set. Imagine the body of an engineer, with the brain of a finance expert attached to the legs of a visionary in totally new industry. Or, business development acumen combined with deep technical expertise and a law degree. As companies explore new industries and build our new economy, these blended positions are becoming the norm at some companies.

Basically, if it looks like a duck, walks like a lizard, has the fur of a beaver, the eyes of a fish and the venom of a spider, you are hunting platypus.

Pricing and defining these truly unique jobs are where the art of the compensation professional is more important than the science. Like an impressionist painting, when viewed up close any single element is unlikely to make sense on its own. From the proper distance, blurred lines and indistinct details meld together into a single holistic picture. Companies often fixate on one set of details. Compensation professionals generally focus on the information that fits into their paradigm. Managers of these employees tend to fixate on the skill set that fits their own expertise. To truly understand these positions everyone must take a few steps back and view them for their entire being.

Once you have defined these positions, the fun really starts. Market data, refined and focused over years of evolution, does not easily accommodate these jobs. It is often impossible to clearly define the percentages of the jobs attributable to any specific aspect. The job may require skills from multiple industries as well as disciplines. Ensuring that these positions don’t discriminate, meet your internal tests and can be defended in court may push your compensation expertise to its limits.

Regardless of the difficulty we may have in crafting the compensation for the platypi of our organizations, we must embrace their existence. We will see a continued movement to leaner, more nimble staffs. There is no stopping the growth of companies that bridge traditional industries. These two elements ensure that the breeding season for duckbilled platypus has just begun. You might as well start figuring out how build the perfect home for them.

Interesting fact: There is no universally agreed plural of the “platypus” in the English language. “Platypuses”, “platypi” and “platypus” are all acceptable. For more information click here.