Be the Wizard, not the Geek

A couple of years ago, a well-known leader and pioneer in the salary survey industry called me and wanted to talk.  Now that in and of itself is a little unusual, one of your vendors calling about something other than an unpaid bill.  But what he wanted to talk about held my attention, especially as I had tried to invent something similar internally at my company, but couldn’t secure the IT resources due to “other priorities.” Remember the quotes, and if you saw me writing this, they would be BIG air quotes there.

Anyway, we talked.  And the more we talked and he shared his vision for a new way of looking at and using salary survey data, the wider my eyes became.  Someone who shared my vision and passion for what could be, and all he wanted was my money!  Seriously, he had the vision and the resources, so giving him a small part of my global salary survey budget was easy enough given the potential payoff.

By now maybe I have whetted your appetite for what he was telling me.  I call it Workforce Analytics, and I think it is going to change the role of the compensation professional, at least potentially changing us from Geeks into Wizards.  I’ve been comfortable being a Comp geek for a lot of my career (I even use comp geek as my user ID in a few places!) but the idea of Wizardry was appealing too.

It’s a fairly straight forward concept.  Most salary surveys only collect data on benchmark jobs, so the utility of the data output you get is limited.  Sure, you can get data and scope cuts, slice and dice percentiles and all those things, but does any of that change the business?  Does that tell you anything but (basically) how competitive you are on a job or job family basis?  Consider this: how many jobs and employees ARE NOT matched into a survey?  And if they were (in other words, if we gave the survey provider ALL of our data, not just where we matched) what else could they do for us?

I’ll tell you what else.  With this kind of data, I have a new business partnership relationship with HR, finance and business executives because now I can benchmark our organizational design (such as percentage of employees who are individual contributors vs. managers), I can benchmark our hiring and promotional practices (such as what percentage of our employees are entry-level, intermediate or senior) and maybe most critically I can show how my cost of labor compares with the market. There are a lot of other elements in play too, especially with a powerful analytical engine to run your data.

I found immediate application.  Instead of arguing about whether or not the merit budget should be $10 million or $9 million (I wanted $10), I could talk about the opportunity cost of aligning our organization to the market and save the whole $10 million.  Or getting our manager span-of-control under control.

Remember the air quotes?  Where should “other priorities” stack up against that sort of opportunity?  It takes a patient HR team to see the value too, since they’ve typically got at least a hundred other priorities, but if you find the right internal partners you can definitely change your avatar to the Wizard!

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