4 skills to master for influential Compensation and Benefits

4 skills to master for influential Compensation and Benefits

One of my first posts was about the fact that we need to move from compensation data to compensation intelligence. This is really one of my areas of interest as I believe it is one of the main ways that we can get real attention from the business – by talking the same language as the CEO and CFO.

As I was conducting some personal research on the topic, I came across a very interesting blog post from James Taylor at the International Institute for Analytics called The new quantitative era : creating successful business change with analytics. He reports on a presentation at a conference from Tom Davenport, one of the gurus on Analytics. The post offers a new approach to thinking business if we want it to be analytics-driven, as well how companies improve their decision-making. It’s really a good read and I encourage you all to go and check it out.

What drew my attention most though were some comments on what matters to build credibility for data (highlight added by me) :

“(…) “it’s not about the math”, it’s about the relationships.

Key new skills then for analytics people :

  • Tell a story with your analytics – the business has to understand what it is telling them
  • Stand firm when necessary – have the courage to stick to what the data tells you
  • Help frame the decision – begin with the decision in mind and make sure the alternatives, the outcomes are well defined
  • Fix it – don’t just identify problems but think about how to actually fix it and then fix it !”

I was delighted to read this, as I could have written it myself, based on my own experience. Let me share with you the story.

I once went into an Executive Leadership Team meeting to present on the state of the organisation. This was my first presentation in this company, what with me being less than 3 months on the job and in a newly created role of Head of C&B. So there was a lot of pressure on me to deliver some value to the Big Guys if I wanted the credibility of my function and my whole team to be established.

So here I am, presenting statistics on the current headcount by grade, with some projections on how the “pyramid” (it was more of a rectangle actually…) of the organisation would evolve in the coming 2 years if we continued to promote so many people every year based on historical trends, and how we would end up having more people in senior grades than in the staff grades… Maybe a problem for delivering on the company strategy, and definitely a serious cause for retention issues in the future as there would clearly not be a possibility to promote 100 people to Director level.

As you can imagine, the ELT was shell-shocked. This was the first time anyone from HR was presenting this kind of data to them, and they had never seen numbers combined at the organisation level – only within their own Divisions. So obviously, no-one had anticipated the scale of the issue.

So the first reaction from one of the most influential and respected Directors was : “Sandrine, your data is wrong !” (obviously…)

I calmly responded it was extracted from payroll information and unless we were paying everyone wrong, then the data was correct. Then I added : “Think of your own Division. How many people in grade ABC do you have ? Then multiply this by the number of Divisions in the company, and your ballpark figure will fit with what you see on the screen, won’t it ?” Here and there, he said : “Fair enough. You’re right !”

And then I went on to say, “Luckily enough, I have an idea for a quick fix before the structure implodes under its own weight, and also some more long-term proposals in order to solve the problem”, and I proceeded with the rest of the presentation. After some debate, the ELT decided to go ahead with the quick fix and also commissioned my team to examine in more detail what the long-term solution would entail.

At the end of the meeting, a few Directors came to me and commented that I had shaken them up, but in a good way, and had proven to them that HR can really bring value to the organisation. It was nice to hear, but most importantly, it helped me have credibility during subsequent conversations on other C&B topics. Don’t ever under-estimate what a data-driven approach to decision-making can bring to you !

So there you go :

  • I presented the data and told a story with it (we will have too many people expecting promotion to Director in 2 years)
  • I stood firm to what the data was indicating despite an initial reaction of denial from the ELT
  • I proposed solutions to the problem I had identified
  • We went on to actually fix it.

Tom Davenport’s advice, relayed by James Taylor, completely applies to Compensation & Benefits, the most data-driven function in HR.

So go and run with it. Grow your analytical skills, your story-telling skills, your problem-solving skills, your implementation skills. You won’t regret it !

… and please use the comments section to share your stories on driving company-wide decisions through compelling HR data in your organisation ๐Ÿ™‚

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  1. Nadim Ahmed says

    Hi Sandrine,

    I just completed my 2 day HR Analytics certification workshop and I left the workshop feeling convinced that data centric organizations will always have the edge in taking well informed and logical decisions to be relevant in the ever growing competitive environment.

    As HR professionals, it is upon us to use the data on hand and to present to Management how data driven co-relations can impact decisions and strategy. A even better HR professional will use regressions to show the ROI and speak the language of Top management. About time HR steps us on the Board table.

    Always enjoy your blogs.


    • Thanks Nadim ! It’s nice to see someone who believes in the value that HR can bring – and yes, we can deal with the “human” by analysing the “data” – these are not two conflicting worlds !

  2. Betzi Miriyam Kuriakose says

    I truly believe that data-driven decisions and formulations can bring HR to the business strategy table in the real sense of ‘Human resource Management’. Iam interested to know more about the solutions you proposed for the sizing of the staffing bulge at management levels.

    • Hi Betzi,

      In the short-term, we simply created an intermediate step/grade below the Sr Manager level. This would “buy” us 2 years at least, at the promotion rate at the time.

      In the mid-term, we went on a multiple approach :
      * Review the job descriptions, evaluations and grading.
      * Establish proper career paths in the organisation, taking into account :
      – Longer minimum time on a grade before being eligible to promotion (for ex: you can’t move from Manager to Sr Manager in just 18 months, but need to demonstrate your value for a longer time before you can be considered for promotion)
      – Introduction of opportunities (and sometimes requirement) of job stints at some of the organisations managed by the company (eg : work in an operating company before becoming Sr Manager in HQ). We made a lot of efforts to communicate more with our asset companies and to positively portray working there
      * Review of educational opportunities for Nationals (eg : if we pay for your MBA or law degree you then have to work for a number of years at one of our JV/partner companies before returning to us)
      * Senior leadership communicating with employees and setting expectations at the right level about what a promotion is, and it is not automatically “earned” if you have worked 2 years in a row at the “met expectations” levels…. and not everybody will become a CEO, and definitely not within 6 years of starting to work
      * Creation of a People Review Committee that validated every single promotion to Sr Management or above, as well as any requested promotion which did not fit the new rules (eg if the manager wanted to promote someone “too quick” or someone “barely performing good enough”)
      * Generally speaking, better and more proactive workforce management by sharing open roles within the whole company instead of keeping them at the local/asset level.

      I’ve surely forgotten some of the other things we implemented…. A lot had to do with managing the expectations of our employees, which had been unwittingly confirmed by the behaviour of managers who were promoting people very “abundantly” in the past. So, besides the systems and requirements, we also spent a lot of time communicating and educating the employees and managers on the meaning of a promotion, why you need to prove yourself before you can be considered for a higher-level job, and how sometimes a lateral move can open more doors in the future than a straight-up promotion.

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