IRL – An HR travel ban


  • “How can you make sure that you have been communicating enough for your clients to see the value of your work, so that you can finance your projects even if budgets are tight ?”
  • If you’re ready to think a bit creatively, it’s time to work with your internal customers to demonstrate to the GM/CFO that your work produces some value, which they are better off funding rather than not getting the service.
  • Watch the video for the full explanation.


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Hello and welcome to this episode of Compensation Insider. Today, I just wanted to tell you something which happened to me many years ago.

I was working for very large tech organization at the time, and I was a regional Compensation & Benefits person (EMEA). There were sub-regional Comp & Ben dedicated people and sometimes in some of the larger countries there would be one Comp & Ben manager as well. For the smaller countries, an HR generalist was nominated SPOC (single Point of Contact) for all things Compensation & Benefits.

This organization was a rich organization. The budgeting process was very well prepared, and we did have a good budget. I was a second-level Comp & Ben expert, supporting SPOCS, local, sub-regional C&B in my geographic zone. As second-level experts we were able to travel to our main countries at least once a year, and often more, if we had budgeted for that and explained why we needed to go to those locations on a more regular basis.

Then something happened. There had been an overspend in HR and about six months into the year, we were told that “Nobody can travel anymore and you cannot go anywhere. You’re not allowed. You have to do the job entirely remotely with your region.”

At that point in time, we were in the phase where we were about to receive the survey results and analyze them. We were participating in a minimum of two salary surveys per country, plus potentially a third one if there was a local survey that was relevant to us. The two other surveys were from international providers. Each of those had a peer cut, so we had four to six sets of data that we were receiving, to be connected to each position. We had to go through those results and make sure that the data was valid, which one we would consider to be most relevant for the job and so on.

This was an exercise that had to be done with the local HR/C&B because obviously it had a huge impact on the target pay level for each position and also on the salary structure as a whole : every year we would recreate it from scratch based purely on the most recent market data.

At that point in time, Global Comp & Ben tells us, “No more traveling, guys. You cannot travel.” But I absolutely needed to travel to my countries because I was adamant that I could not deliver the value for my internal clients by working entirely remotely (remember, that’s almost 20 years ago).

When I called the HR managers to tell them, ” I’m not supposed to travel anymore”, they said : “Really? How are we going to do?” and so on. The travel ban was not for the whole company, it was within HR only.

I told them, “I’m not allowed to travel because my travel is paid for on the Comp & Ben budget. But if you manage to convince your country manager that they should pay for my flight and my hotel, I will do the work with you and we’re able to deliver. The way to convince them is to tell the truth to the country manager : If it’s not me (Sandrine) coming, you’re going to have to fly a representative from one of the salary survey providers to visit you (HR manager/local C&B) and help you to do the analysis because you don’t have the time and the knowledge to do that yourself. It will be the same cost of the flight and the hotel, but obviously you would have to pay also for consultancy coming out of the country budget because we don’t have budget in HR anymore.”

My visits got approved by the country managers and I continued to travel, submitting my expenses through the local HR to the GMs.

The Global Head of Comp & Ben heard that I was still traveling and actually called me to deliver a very unhappy talk to me saying, “Oh, how dare you travel? I told you we don’t have money. You cannot travel anymore. We don’t have budget,” and so on.

And I said, “But I haven’t been spending HR money.”

And he was like, “What?”

And I said, “No, the business is paying for my trips. So, I managed, with the local HR managers, to convince the general managers of the countries to pay for my flights. And as you can see, I’ve not submitted a single expense. It’s all paid for by the business directly.”

He was stunned and asked “What, how did you do that?”

And I said, “Well, I was able to demonstrate that it was better for me to do it than for them to pay an external consultant, which would be more expensive. So they were willing to pay for my travel out of their own budget.”

Then he said, “Okay, well then I have nothing to say. You’re not costing to us, so you can continue to travel.”

But he was very, very surprised that the business would have seen enough value for a second-level Compensation person to be paid for by the business instead of by HR. I was more “removed”, away from those general managers than their local Comp & Ben or their local HR, depending on the country. As a result, it was surprising for him that as a staff member of a Center Of Expertise, local HR had been able to demonstrate the value of my work.

Hopefully, you’re not in a situation similar to that, although at the moment not many people can travel . It’s about being creative. When you’re facing difficulties, when the budgets are tight, if you are able to prove that what you’re going to do will help the business and that management will find a return on investing in whatever you want to do, they will more likely be inclined to approve the spend than if you don’t demonstrate the value.

My point today is : try to be creative, try to think of an alternative way when you’re blocked. How can you finance the projects that you want to implement? How can you make sure that you have been communicating enough for your clients to see the value of your work/service to them ? Hopefully, you get into that situation where it works out and everybody’s happy in the end, and you’re still able to deliver value for you client.

Obviously, if you’re not delivering value, that trick might work once, but it’s not going to work again the following year. So, you have to also be able to live up to the expectation that you’re creating.

That was it for today. I hope that you enjoy the story and I will see you next week.

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