The Wall Street Journal had a great article this morning entitled “No More Executive Bonuses.” The author’s argument is that “the problem isn’t that they are poorly designed. The problem is that they exist.” Now I’m an “executive” in my company – you can read about what my bonus plan is by picking up a 10-K. I can assure you that said plan has not been terribly lucrative in the recent past. As the plan’s primary architect, I have to say it does a fairly good job of matching stakeholder value with annual rewards to executives. But I can also tell you that even as someone who stands to profit from this plan, I have always struggled a bit with one element in particular. What it doesn’t encompass is the tremendous amount of work executives – and all employees – put forth even when the business is in the tank (especially when it’s in the tank for reasons beyond the company’s control). In other words, company success does not always equate to level of effort, sacrifice, and contribution on the workforce’s part. This particular issue relates to some of the “faulty assumptions” highlighted in the article - fault with which I cannot argue. These faulty assumptions border on “criminal” when it really gets right down to it. And it demonstrates an age-old issue in Corporate America…we do things because it’s always been done that way.
Why not simplify the approach we take to paying our executives…and senior management…and managers? Why not focus more on total compensation through base pay. It may mean more variability to base pay from year to year, but no reason company performance and individual contributions can’t be incorporated into base pay planning. It means the Board of Directors and Management need to have the cojones to hold others accountable for their contributions (or lack thereof) – something they need to get better at any way. It means we’ll have to attract executives who aren’t necessarily in it for the selfish, ego-boosting reasons – a good thing for sure. But it also means there’s a bit more equal footing on pay-for-performance. It’s time that corporate America wake up to the fact that no one person – or exclusive group of persons – is solely responsible for an organization’s success. I’m not talking about socialism here – I’m just talking about realism. I’m also not saying executives shouldn’t be paid a lot of money – I’m just saying the moolah should come with sustained results measured by factors other than what can be derived from a set of financial statements.
The only problem – well, the biggest one – is that the executives themselves usually create these plans (with the help of the Board of Directors and Compensation Committees who are all cut from the same cloth.) What’s going to change that? It starts with the selfless initiation of the executives to “get over it.” They might as well because I’m convinced the time is rapidly approaching when the market realizes their lofty compensation expectations don’t have to be met in order to attract exceptionally gifted leaders. Then perhaps…just perhaps…HR/Recruiting can get back into the game by a) actually finding and hiring those people and b) designing a pay-for-performance comp plan which is easy to administer, understand, and doesn’t make you blush.
I’m tired of hearing about what’s wrong with corporate America, getting a regular inventory of all the things employers should do better, and generally watching the workforce lament over getting beaten down again and again. Do me a favor and get over it…even if just for this week of Thanksgiving. Play along with me here. I’m thankful:
- That I have a paycheck directly deposited into my checking account every two weeks without fail
- That my employer will provide for me (or at least partially) if I get sick and can’t work
- That my employer allows me to take time away from the office to spend with my family and pays me to do so
- For affordable healthcare coverage that gives my loved ones access to world-class medical expertise
- For an air-conditioned office
- For social security, state, federal, unemployment, and other miscellaneous taxes paid on my behalf by the company
- For some reasonable chance of getting a severance package if I were ever separated from the organization
- For access to free regular training
- For exposure to people who know more than I about a lot of things and the ongoing learning that comes with it
- For a daily commute that’s less than 20 minutes
- That I have a boss who is patient with me, lets me make mistakes, and pretty much gets out-of-the-way
- That I have a team that is patient with me, lets me make mistakes, and pretty much pushes me out-of-the-way
- That I work for a company that does good things for its customers and genuinely tries to do what’s right for its employees
- For enough travel to get away from time to time, but not so much that I miss out on what really matters at home
- For an environment that has a 100:1 cool employee to asshole employee ratio
- For a qualified retirement plan to which my employer makes matching contributions
- That I have to work only a few weekends here and there
- For something to go to every day which keeps me off the streets and out of trouble…
There is something liberating about this exercise. Count your blessings and show the love. Give the benefit of the doubt, have some faith, and remember it’s not all about you. Tell us (and your employer) what you’re thankful for and I’ll Share Your Thanks with Twitterland (#EmployerThx).
Remember when we all used to run around as HR professionals shouting from the top of our lungs how we must strive toward “employer of choice” status. EOC was the HR buzz term for the late 90’s and early 00’s. I grew up in the industry drinking that cool-aid. Don’t get me wrong; generally, I think it’s a good idea to try and create an environment where your employees enjoy spending most of their waking hours and I think it’s important to invest in your people and their careers. But I think organizations should only go so far on this quest for the holy grail of employee engagement and here’s why:
#1) There ain’t no such thing as Utopia in the workplace.
#2) It is metaphysically impossible to keep everyone happy all of the time.
#3) There will always be involuntary turnover…and involuntary turnover is not all that bad.
#4) There are some employees who just hate working for “the man.” Yet they will show up at the office and chain themselves to the desk day after day after day.
#5) Most employees are smart and will inherently have some level of skepticism around what the employer is really up to.
#6) Workplaces are not designed for trustworthiness…trust me.
#7) There are just as many employees who are unappreciative of their employers as there are employers who are unappreciative of their employees.
#8) Like every social fabric on our globe, the workplace will always have some exceptional people, some mediocre people, and some real losers. By definition, you can’t have all exceptional people and if you tell me that you can I’ll call you a big fat liar and I’ll sketch out a complex algorithm which demonstrates the mathematical impossibility.
#9) Anyone who thinks they can create a workplace that is really truly fun probably works in a bar; don’t fool yourselves…fun is fickle in the workplace.
#10) If you think there are people who your business really can’t live without, think again.
I just don’t think we should be running around trying to create this end-all-to-be-all for our people. Let’s be realistic and do those things that make a lasting difference to those employees who really matter. Stop spending 80% of your time on the 20% of the people who in the grand scheme of things mean very little to your organization’s success.
A trusted mentor of mine shared with me long ago the notion of having a Personal Board of Directors. Would you like to know more? If so, read on. If not, take a long walk of a short bridge…
I don’t think this blog’s audience needs a tutorial in the typical role of a Board – most would agree that the presence of this guiding body of wise (and mostly old) sages is a conceptually sound idea: get a bunch of smart, experienced, accomplished, and hopefully diverse perspectives in a room to regularly make sure the company a) has its act together and b) is generally headed in the right direction. So if this has proven to be a good for companies, I’d argue that it is similarly good for individuals. Get a bunch of people who are respected, trusted, and recognized in their respective fields to sit on your own Board of Directors. They shouldn’t come from your current company or job; rather, they should be out there doing other cool things. Seek them out, interview them, and hire them. Charge them with helping to guide, counsel, and direct your career (or other endeavor). Give them a charter and hold them accountable to it. Tell them you’re serious about this. Keep them apprised of your progress, call regular meetings to discuss what’s hot, call emergency meetings for matters of particular significance. And do all of this as a group…not as individuals. What’s in it for them? A chance to mentor someone who’s got it going on, an opportunity to network with others, and potentially an opportunity for exotic travel if you hold your annual meetings “off-site.” What’s in it for you? A thoughtful, thorough, and committed mechanism for regular mentoring and career development outside of the laborious confines of your company’s process (if it exists at all).
I don’t know, I kind of like it. Let me know what you think…
I usually try to catch Steve Boese’s weekly broadcast of HR Happy Hour. Unfortunately, the live broadcast is just about the time that my kids are getting ready for bed and my wife is crossing over to the dark side of bi-polar…look out. So while I’m giving baths and reading books (or telling stories), some of the best on the fringe of HR thought leadership are shooting the breeze about a bunch good stuff. I do my best, though, to listen to the podcast the next day. Last week’s (#19) show was dedicated to ‘Next Gen HR’ – FistfulofTalent paneled the discussion. I like these guys and they started some good debate. It gravitated quickly to the merits of getting a PHR or an SPHR and to SHRM’s role in advancing the HR agenda. That’s obviously important to people these days…have been seeing a lot of it. I have to admit, though, I was bummed. Big topic, small talk…
So I don’t purport to have any huge insights into what Next Gen HR is all about, but I do have something that I think we should all really think about. What if the next big thing for HR isn’t big at all? What if it’s right in front of our noses? It’s not about technology, it’s not about certifications, it’s not about programs, it’s not about social media (ok, just pretend for a moment), it’s not about how we educate and develop leaders, it’s not about how we manage risk, it’s not about how we pay our people or how we benefit them, and it’s not about attracting the best and brightest. Rather, it’s about the most fundamental component of human existence…I’m talking about the innate desire to commune and to connect. I say Next Gen HR has something to do with:
- less talking and more listening
- giving our people guidelines, but trusting them to do what’s right or what’s good
- a regular devotion to “breaking bread” together
- hiring people who are happy and fun and funny
- getting rid of assholes in the workplace…like zero tolerance
- impromptu celebrations
- less paper, fewer Emails
- performance management that is based on behaviors – function over form
- open and honest communication
- more genuine ’thank you’s’ and fewer “reward and recognition” programs
- the death of surveys and the birth of focus groups
- less strategy…yes, less strategy…and more ‘go with the flow’
There’s more…oh so much more. But it’s more of less. I think we need to stop worrying about the next big thing, and start thinking about how we can bring a new dynamic to the workplace…SIMPLICITY!
If you’re in business, generally you sell a product or a service. That product or service, based on a multitude of factors, is received by consumers in some experiential way. On one end of the continuum, you have a “commodity.” You can get it at a number of places, it’s pretty much the same wherever you get it. “Goods” come next as you move up the curve. There’s a way to differentiate those goods from your competitors through content or through delivery. Next comes “Service” which has a continuum all of its own – from poor to excellent. Finally comes an “Experience.” The Experience may involve a product and/or a service, but it goes beyond the traditional commerce of buy and sell. The consumer leaves that transaction with a memory, or an impression, or an emotion. Disney World, for example, offers lots of products and services; most people, however, will tell you that what they love most about it is “the experience” (e.g. I lost my camera and not only did the park find the camera and return it to my hotel, but they presented me with a Disney frame to use after I print pictures.) If you’re in charge of HR – or have some influence on how it provides goods and services to your employees – take a moment to assess whether your practice is closer to providing a commodity or an experience. Just to be clear: providing timely paychecks, keeping people benefited, creating a safe and fair workplace, managing annual evaluations, responding to employee questions - those are commodities. You do those things extremely well, and you’ll be luck to get “duh” out of your employees.
When someone has a negative experience with HR, they’ll tell everyone. When someone has a neutral experience with HR, they’ll tell no one. When someone has a “difference making” experience, they’ll become your champion. Let the goods and services be your platform, but make the experience your niche.
I caught a tweet the other day from an unnamed tweep who was suggesting that even though she had a big HR exam the next day, she wasn’t stressed because HR was “common sense.” I fumed on this a bit. Then I realized I myself have made a career out of HR and never once took a class in school. I started as a CPA…a profession not well-known as an HR breeding ground. Somehow I just picked up the interest and the know-how along the way (thanks to some really good mentors and a lot of on the job training). But I think a lot of what has helped me along in my HR career has come from simply applying “common sense.” In fact, sometimes I think I’ve purposely avoided “the book” on this subject for fear of dehumanizing my approach. Now “what comes natural” doesn’t always mean it’s right (or legal.) But I’m a human and my job is about humans, so it kind of makes sense that I can just consult my own gut (and other’s too) from time to time. Maybe that’s what truly distinguishes a good HR person from a mediocre HR person – the ability and willingness to apply gut and instinct to workplace dynamics. Sometimes this means taking a risk or going against the grain or even breaking “a rule.” This is a big deal for me these days…I’m scared that we’re over-engineering the hell out HR. I haven’t worked it all out yet, but I”m telling you we get way too caught up in theory, policy, law, procedure, technology, psychology, so on and so forth. I think good HR is easier than that – not “trivial” mind you, just easier. I bet if we listened a little harder to what our people were telling us and what our own gut was grumbling about, we’d find that most of the solutions to today’s workplace issues are right in front of us. I know this doesn’t seem like a terribly substantive post, but that’s partially because I’m on Codeine laced cough medicine and mostly because I’m just starting to chip away at this. I’m warning ya, though, there’s more on this to come…