An unexpected career change

Nordic countriesI recently celebrated my 2-year anniversary at my current employer, and it made me reflect. I tried to think of the thing I am most proud of in my career so far.

Surprisingly, it is not some of the large-scale projects I implemented such as completely revising the salary structures at France Telecom EGT or the whole job descriptions / job evaluation process at Sita. It is not some of the technically challenging projects I worked on at Apple (who wants to perform a benefits due diligence after the acquisition has been announced by Steve Jobs and he did not involve anyone from HR ?), or the redesign of the Europe mobility policy at CNH – Fiat.

It is not the large-scale reorganisations and reductions-in-force negotiated with trade unions at Philips, when they eventually sent their congratulations for a thorough and respectful job. It is not the deep and complex package negotiations for hiring or letting go CEOs and other top executives, or establishing great Board relationships at Majid Al Futtaim.

No, the thing I am most proud of is a simple career change. Let me explain.

When I first joined Microsoft in 2003, one of the geographies I supported was the Nordic region. They did not have a full-time regional compensation position, so one of the HR staff was appointed to be my “SPOC” or Single Point of Contact. Her name was Martina* and she was HR manager for one of the Nordic countries.

On her first encounter with me, less than a month after I joined, she said to me :

Listen Sandrine, I know you are a Comp & Ben specialist, but I’m not. I did not choose to be your SPOC for the region, I was forced to take this role. I studied psychology and I chose HR because I care about people, and I hate C&B. All you do is work with Excel files and whenever I’ve asked for help from Teresa* (my predecessor) she would never support me. I don’t understand your explanations, it is boring and time-consuming to do compensation surveys especially as we do our best for the job matching and then C&B blame us when we make mistakes but are never here to guide us ! Most importantly, we do a lot of work for Comp and Ben but we never know what the results are or what it is for. And you C&B people never understand the specifics of our countries and that sometimes we can’t implement these global programs !

I was in shock but I did appreciate her honesty – at least I knew what the background was !

We agreed that we would have a conference call every week to check that everything was going OK, and we immediately set up a recurring appointment. I also agreed I would go and visit the region a few times a year so we would be able to exchange face-to-face, and I could help work on some of the sometimes “smaller” but annoying issues that are never discussed by email or in remote situations, but that surface when you spend a few days in the area you support.

So what happened ? We stuck to the plan.

Week in and week out, we were on the phone and I was explaining things to her. I flew multiple times to Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. I created new ways of working to simplify how the country HR could perform the job matching to prepare the data for survey submission. I tried to explain to her why we were  doing certain things, what Corporate C&B in Redmond was trying to achieve.

I prepared communication templates for her to use in the region with employees and the rest of HR. I did my best to show that yes, Compensation & Benefits means not being scared of manipulating data, but it is all about people and trying to do the best for both the company and its employees. And being good at Excel does not mean we don’t have a heart 😉 !

About a year later, I received a call from her. She was excited to let me know that she was moving on and taking a new job at another company. Her new job ? “C&B Manager for the Nordic region” 🙂 !

She explained to me that for the first time, through working together, she had understood the role and value of C&B, that we were not here just to repeat things from Corporate but were here to support the organisation. She had finally learned that she was not mindlessly filling reports and surveys “just for the sake of it”, but that there was a purpose to these activities.

And now, she knew the value that Compensation & Benefits could bring to a company, she actually enjoyed doing it and so this would be her next job. Of course she would remain a generalist at heart, but she wanted to gain more exposure to C&B through a full-time position so that she could become a more grounded and credible HR person.

I was a bit sad to see her go as we had become quite friendly, but at the same time, I was so proud to see I had been able to make one person fully embrace what is, at heart, my professional passion.

So this is the thing I’m most proud of in my career so far. The first time that I fully acknowledged that through my own communication and behaviour, I could influence people around me and make them understand the contribution and value that my profession can bring, if done well. And that through my own communication and behaviour, I could turn an “against” into a “supporter”.

Since then, other turnarounds have happened thanks to sustained effort and education from my side, such as, recently, getting approval for a change of approach on some of the fundamental processes we go through every year – after 2years of rebuttals. Or the time in Italy when I convinced the HR Director to let me handle the end of service settlement with one of the top expats in the company – and I eventually saved a few thousand euros in income and social taxes to both the company and the executive.

But never was I so proud as this first time when I realised that being a Compensation pro did not mean I was locked into technical analysis forever, but I could have an influence thanks to expressing ideas in a convincing manner – and that this could lead to big change in the organisation.

So what was your proudest moment in your career so far ? Please feel free to share in the comments !

* Names have been changed to respect privacy


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  1. This is a great story! Conversion from one ‘religion’ (HR generalist) to another (C&B and beyond) is a major accomplishment! It takes hard work and lots of investment that many run away from. Bravo. This story is also a great reminder about the larger role of C&B, and the need for those in those roles to think beyond the spreadsheet. I have said in some other posts elsewhere that many within and outside the C&B function need to realize that we are long past the days when C&B and Total Rewards was simply about mathematical formulae, metrics, and macros, with ‘mechanics’ ruling the day.

    I particularly like that part about “..being good at Excel does not mean we don’t have a heart…” The numbers are means to an end: the end of improving outcomes for people and organizations. Too many people forget that. Maestros of metrics, measurement, and macros need to wake up to the ‘end’ of the means.

  2. Samna Anwar says

    Thanks for sharing Sandrine, what a thought provoking write up. I have had similar experience where I have guided at least three professionals, two of whom were accountants to embrace C&B and steer their career path to become accomplished professionals today. Like you Sandrine, I too look back and feel proud to have been an influencer and an advocate for my profession in a positive way.

    • Congratulations Samina. Helping others to grow and achieve their potential is also one of the most fulfilling aspects of the work I do, so I totally get how you’re feeling 🙂

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