The Armchair HR Manager

Advice and Commentary from an "HR Fan" – whether asked for or not!

Addition by Subtraction

I am sure most of you have heard of this expression before. It essentially refers to increasing the strength/efficiency/effectiveness of something by removing (subtracting) a part or piece that is causing sub-optimal performance or ineffectiveness.   As an HR Professional, I am rather fond of the expression, its intent and especially its applicability in my world.

Addition SubtractionTypically when I see this come in to play is in dealing with workplace teams. Not that long ago, we had to deal with a situation where addition by subtraction came in to play. There was a work group of highly skilled individuals who just weren’t able to regularly deliver as a team. After much discussion with their manager and the team members, it started to become apparent that there was team dis-functionality being caused by one particular team member. This person’s overall work ethic (or lack thereof), lack of dependability and lack of desire to be a part of the team were causing the entire team to not be effective and to perform to the best of their combined abilities.

It had become apparent that this pattern of behaviour and poor performance had been going on for some time and wasn’t being managed effectively. Long story short, through a combination of a new manager taking over the group and a renewed focus on performance metrics and behaviours, we ended up “removing” this particular employee from this group. What we didn’t do though was replace the headcount, so in effect; the team was down a person.

Here’s the thing, there were no grumblings about the workload or the fact that everyone had to do a bit more. In fact, the team finally started to come together and gel. They all pitched in, focused on the required goals and objectives and started supporting the team concept in the achievement of these goals. This improved level of performance has now been sustained for over 7 months so it is safe to say that the behavioural change has stuck!

There are several HR lessons learned here. The first is that addition by subtraction works. You remove one problem or underperforming employee (subtraction) and the result is a more cohesive and higher performing team (addition). In effect, we removed an underperforming part (subtracted) that was impacting the team, and did not replace that part, with the end result being a higher performing unit (addition).

I find as HR Pros, managers and leaders, we tend to rationalize or even postpone these types of decisions by telling ourselves, “well we can’t remove Sally from the team because then they will all complain about the additional work they have to do.” My experience in these situations is that that is never the case. More often than not, the team will appreciate the problem (employee) being removed and will step up – it can be that simple.

The other lesson learned is that as managers and leaders we always have to be performance managing. If we are setting objectives, measuring our people on the “what” and “how” of their performance AND talking to our people regularly, we will be in a better position to take action when poor performance impacts the team.

Finally, the other lesson(s) learned is to not wait too long to make a move (subtraction) like this to help improve a team and similarly, it is never too late to make a move like to help improve the team. As a leader, by showing that you are listening and taking action against team problems and removing obstacles to team success, you will gain your staff’s trust and confidence.

What about you? Do you feel that addition by subtraction works? Have you had a similar success story or perhaps a time when this approach didn’t work? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Boians Cho Joo Young/

1st Impressions

One of my biggest burning platforms as an HR Professional and Recruiter is the impression(s) that an organization gives to prospective candidates. In my experience, organizations that give a great first impression to candidates are usually (but not always) solid organizations that people end up enjoying working for. It is one of the leading indicators of an organization that is well run, respects its employees and takes the engagement of prospective and current staff seriously.

ImpressionTo that extent, I have seen and heard of a various smorgasbord of first impression horror stories that are enough to make your skin crawl. There are far too many organizations out there that simply don’t get the importance of making good first impressions on candidates. These are the same organizations that feel that candidates should be grateful just for having the privilege of interviewing with them! So, this message goes out to both companies that are hiring AND to job seekers. If you want to get a flavor for what a company is going to be like to work for and/or what their culture is like, be observant and cognizant of the impression(s) that they leave you with…and as a company, be cognizant of the message your giving out to candidates.

Here are some the key first impressions that organizations can (and do) leave candidates with. When done right, these can be powerful attraction and retention methods that will allow you to the best talent. When done poorly, you will be the company wondering why your offer acceptance rate is so low and/or your candidate pool is shallow at best.

Key first impressions for organizations and candidates:

  1. Is the person working at reception aware that the candidate is there for an interview? Nothing gives a worse first impression than when a candidate arrives for an interview and the person at reception is unaware that the person is there for an interview and/or doesn’t know who they are interviewing with. This type of impression reeks of unpreparedness and unprofessionalism. Hiring managers and recruiters need to make sure that reception knows when candidates are there for interviews, what time the interviews are and with whom they are interviewing.
  2. Making the candidate wait an excessive amount of time in the waiting room – making a candidate wait any more than 5 minutes past their scheduled interview time leaves a bad first impression. If there is some unforeseen circumstance that is causing a delay, have someone go out to talk to them and let them know what is going on and how long the delay is expected to last. Don’t leave a candidate waiting for 15 – 20 minutes without hearing from someone.
  3. Having candidates cross paths in the waiting room. One of my personal pet peeves is when organizations stack interviews so closely together that candidates (for the same job) cross paths with each other in the reception area. In smaller cities and/or for niche jobs, often these candidates know each other and it can cause an uncomfortable situation, especially if one or more of the candidates don’t want it to be known they are applying for jobs.
  4. The interviewer(s) are unprepared – this takes many different forms. The interview is delayed because they didn’t print off the interview questions, or they forgot some paper work they want the candidate to fill out or worse yet, they go off in search for the other person that is supposed to be interviewing with them and leave the candidate sitting by themselves in a conference room! All of these leave a very poor first impression with the candidate.
  5. Interviewers who spend more time talking about themselves vs. asking questions and listening to the candidate and “selling” the opportunity. This is often more a red flag about the person you will be working for vs. the organization itself; however, it is often a leading indicator of what you may be getting yourself into. It also says a lot about organizational culture.
  6. Interviewers who conclude an interview with “we’ll get back to you when we decide” or worse yet, have no idea when the candidate can expect to hear back from them. Organizations that create good first impressions leave candidates with a very specific message about next steps and when they can expect to hear back from the company (either way).
  7. Companies that don’t provide an office tour to candidates. While this isn’t as critical at the first interview stage, I typically find that great organizations do this for any candidate that interviews with them. They are proud of their company and office and use it as a way to sell the candidate on the opportunity and their culture.
  8. Similarly, during an office tour, if you see an office full of workers that aren’t talking to each other, there is no sense of comradery or individualism within their offices or cubes, you may want to be wary of what you may be getting into. Great organizations have a buzz or pulse about their daily workplace. As a hiring organization, use that as a selling tool to create a great first impression.

While there are many more to list, I wanted to provide a handful of the most identifiable and correctable first impressions. It is important for organizations and candidates to be aware of these as both parties go through the recruiting process to determine if there is a “fit.” Companies need to fix these impression issues and job seekers need to be aware of them so they can make educated job acceptance decisions. What about you? What other key first impressions are there or that you have experienced? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

A Remembrance Day Thank You

Remembrance DayTo all our military veterans: Thank you for all that you have done for us

To all our active military personnel: Thank you for all that you continue to do for us

We truly appreciate the freedoms and way of life that your sacrifices have allowed us to have and to realize. On this Remembrance Day, on behalf of my family, we remember your sacrifices and we will never forget.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Clear Expectations

As I have alluded to before in other blog posts, one of my daughter’s favourite past times is playing basketball. She started playing on a team/in league last year and has thoroughly enjoyed it ever since. Now that we are ¼ of the way into the new season, it has become obvious to me what the differences are between the team she was on last year vs. this year – and it is astounding. In fact, I can compare it to what you often see in the workplace when it comes to teams, leadership and performance expectations. Here is what I am getting at:

Last year, the team she was on had a fair amount of talent. That is, the majority of the players had a certain skill level (high) when it came to their ability to shoot and dribble. They understood the game, the concepts, how offence and defense was supposed to work, etc.; however, they were a very dysfunctional team. No one wanted to pass, everyone wanted to make the highlight real shot and there was a poor team dynamic on the bench. Players fought, ostracized weaker players, formed cliques (yes – on a 12 person team!) and generally did not enjoy themselves. In fact, it is probably fair to say that the team didn’t improve much over the year and realistically, they probably got worse as other teams in the league got better over time.

Performance ImageOne of the root causes was the leadership of the team. Now please don’t take this as picking on volunteer coaches as I realize they have a tough job to do (I do it myself) but this is an HR blog so I need to make a point here! The coaches of the team traditionally coached higher level and older boys’ basketball teams. So while the coaching principles and approach they utilized with sixteen year old boys worked; the same approaches did not work so well for a group of 10 year old girls. The teaching approaches and methods weren’t tailored towards the skill level of all the girls on the team. For example, high level concepts were introduced before the team had grasped simpler (basic) concepts and while the coaches stressed the importance of passing, there was never a focus on training in this area and certainly no reward/recognition for those that bought into the concept, nor was their “performance management” (i.e. less playing time) for those that refused to pass.

In short, there were no clear performance expectations of any type set by the coaches so week in and week out the girls just showed up, played the game and went home. In the absence of team expectations, or unclear expectations, the girls set their own expectations which, in their minds, were basically to score as many baskets on their own as they could. It ended up being a recipe for a frustrating and underperforming season; one in which my daughter didn’t learn as much as she could. You see the same thing in organizations that don’t focus on setting performance expectations with their employees. The staff show up, put their time in and leave – and the organization underperforms.

Fast forward to a year later and things are markedly different. Each practice the coach sets out clear expectations for the team and players on what they are going to do and learn during the practice. He selects 2-3 focus areas to work on and works with the girls to make sure they understand the concepts and how to apply them in the game. His feedback is instantaneous as he will stop practice to run a drill over again or to simply provide feedback to the team. Every player knows how they are doing and they understand what the coach expects of them. They are now getting to the point where they are seeking out feedback on their own to improve. The coach also sets clear expectations for each game in terms of where the girls need to play, where they need to be positioned on defense and who is inbounding and carrying up the ball. Everyone knows their role for each shift they are on. The girls are also encouraged and rewarded for team play. There is a focus on teamwork on the bench during the game and the girls are recognized and rewarded for supporting their teammates. All the girls know what the team and individual expectations are and they have demonstrated this through improved performance each game over the first part of the season. My daughter has learned a lot and it is due to the strong leadership she receives and the performance expectations that have been set for her. She knows what she needs to work on and what she can control and this gives her a clear path on where to focus and improve.

It is hard to believe that the challenges of a youth basketball team can apply to the challenges of a workplace but the parallels are there:

  • Strong leadership is paramount for organizational/team success
  • This comes in the form of employees (and players) having clear performance expectations
  • In the absence of clear expectations you can expect dysfunctionality (and poor performance)
  • Dysfunctionality erodes at the very foundation of the team concept
  • The right behaviours and results need to be recognized and rewarded with your players/employees
  • Adapt your training style to suit the learning ability of your players/employees
  • What worked for you as a leader in one organization might not work for you in another – you need to adapt and modify your style.

By looking at this through the lens of a youth basketball team, you can see how setting clear expectations with your employees/team are so critical to your success as leaders, managers and as HR Pros. If we can teach/coach our kids by setting clear expectations, surely we can do the same at our workplaces? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of basketman/

Change is in the air?

There is something about the fall season that seems to bring about the desire for change. Whether it is the shift to colder temperatures, the changing of the leaves or the fact that everyone is back in the swing of things with kids and their school routine, the theme of change seems to permeate into everything we do this season.

To that extent, I have also been seeing this (need for change) a lot lately with friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Specifically, based on phone calls, emails and coffee meetings I have been having, a lot of people in my inner circle seem to be contemplating job changes. Based on the sheer number of these discussions, I thought it might be of some value to summarize the advice that I have been giving most of these folks when they are making this job change decision.

Fall LeavesTypically these discussions start out with the person I am meeting with telling me all about this great opportunity that they have either applied for, are contemplating applying for, been approached about, are interviewing for or have been offered. I then try and take the person through an accounting exercise whereby I get them to list the pluses and minuses about the job in terms of what they see, think and feel at present. While this may seem obvious and trivial, I have found that you really need to evaluate what you are truly getting with a potential new job and sometimes you miss the less obvious things – you know, the ones that will ultimately determine if you have made the right move or not (and will happy in the new role).

Some of the factors that I try and draw people’s attention to in so far as what they need to consider, are things like:

  • Does the new job represent a lateral move or upward move?
    • If lateral, are you ok with that and/or is that what you want?
    • If lateral, how do you explain making the change? i.e. what are your change drivers?
    • If lateral, what are you gaining anything in terms of industry experience, organizational size, compensation, etc.?
  • If upward, what are you gaining in terms of role size, scope, responsibility, accountability or autonomy? I.e. how will this look good on your resume and how does it enhance your personal brand?
  • Are you being swayed by non-value added factors? I.e. better title, better office, better “perks.”
    • Are these truly important to you and they are worth making a wholesale change for?
  • What level (of person) does the job report into?
    • Again, move beyond title and look at overall organizational structure and impact.
  • What is the mix of strategic vs. operational (i.e. tasks) responsibility in the role?
  • To what degree are you going to be able to make an impact?
  • Does this represent a positive step in your mid to long term career path/objective?
  • Does it represent an opportunity to increase your scope as a manager? Or how does it increase your ability to specialize as an individual contributor?
  • Does the role have a local or regional flavor to it?
  • If this ends up not being what you thought it was, or wanted it to be, how will you explain this to a recruiter and/or future potential employer. I.e. what is your “why” explanation?

What I try and get people to look at is whether or not they are being seduced by a nice title, a bit more pay, or a perceived “sexier” industry. This analyses becomes all the more important if someone is contemplating a change when they are unhappy in their current role, with their current company or current boss or are in fear of being laid off. We tend not to make the most objective decisions during those times of high stress.

Ultimately, the question and decision comes to deciding whether or not you are going to “gain” by making a move. (keep in mind, the definition of gain varies from person to person.) Along with the points mentioned above, there is also the consideration of whether or not you will learn a new skillset or have a chance to apply some skills that you don’t get to use in your current role. This is what is commonly referred to as the growth factor. What I advise people to not do is “lift and shift” unless it is unavoidable (i.e. lay off, avoid harassment, etc.) That is, don’t take exactly what you are doing now and lift and shift that into a new company. While the faces and places might change for you, it will only be a short term gain for potential long term pain – that is, you will be back to where you were with your old company in terms of job dissatisfaction.   Again, evaluate (based on the points above) if it truly represents an opportunity for you or is it “a way out.” In the long run, a way out won’t provide the job satisfaction that you owe to yourself. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of franky242/

Workplace Drama: Perception vs. Performance

A big part of my HR life is spent coaching managers and supervisors on how to deal with employee relations challenges. It is one of the parts of my job that I truly enjoy the most. During the many hours I have spent in my career coaching managers, there are several commonalities in terms of managerial challenges that I have noticed over the years. One of the biggest challenges I find that managers get themselves caught up in is managing perception. Specifically, they become so focused on making sure that people “look” like they working, are being productive and are following the “rules” that miss the big picture impact that this approach causes. These managers believe that if everyone “looks” like they are working than they must be productive and all is well with their staff. This is a major management trap because these same managers often get themselves in trouble as they then begin to manage the perceptions of their staff as opposed to the actual performance of their people. This then begins a management spiral of doom!

DramaWhen managers manage to perception – theirs and others – they are losing sight of the actual performance outcomes of their employees. The work environment that is being established is one that rewards the best actors; that is, the employees that are good at looking busy will be perceived to be actually busy and thus it is concluded that they are performing. This management perception problem is worse in organizations that have an ineffective or non-existent goal setting process and/or are weak (or negligent) in establishing performance metrics. Without these, managers can’t properly delineate performance, so perception rules the workplace.

To give you some context, here is a scenario I have seen play out in many organizations. Employees (or the manager themselves) complain that an employee isn’t pulling their weight. They complain that “Bob” spends too much time making personal phone calls, taking too long a lunch or surfing the internet on work time. Inexperienced managers often jump to the conclusion that the employee is not working hard enough or is somehow “breaking the rules.” The issue then becomes one of compliance or policy. My questions back to the manager are always:

  1. What is the employee’s performance like compared to the goals, objectives, measurements and outcomes expected of them?
  2. What have YOU observed?
  3. Is this really an issue?

More often than not, the manager finds out that Bob is actually doing a good job. He delivers what is expected and there are no issues. Typically, the manager hasn’t observed anything; they are simply making a knee-jerk response to an employee complaint and they feel compelled to address the alleged rule breaking incident.

Here is the thing – perhaps Bob needs some coaching on how to develop himself or increase his job knowledge during down time.  Or, perhaps making a quick call or surfing the internet for a few minutes is Bob’s version of the “smoke break” or coffee break? Regardless, the manager needs to know the employee and understand the situation in front of them. The only way to do this is to observe, discuss and communicate. By reacting to perception, the manager confirms and validates the perception that the employee (Bob) is, in fact, not doing anything. That is, if you are in fact making a personal call, or surfing the internet, that is a bad thing and you are breaking the rules. By responding to this, you as the manager are sending the message that the employee is doing something wrong and is in fact, NOT performing.

So, here is the bottom line – you need to know your employee(s) and you need to understand how they are performing. If you don’t know to measure their performance or don’t know HOW they are performing, you need to become acquainted with this ASAP. It is incumbent on you as the manager to understand the performance levels of all of your employees – how else will you know if you have a problem or not? Coach, communicate, set expectations and re-adjust where need be. This will ensure that you are managing the performance and NOT the perception. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Trust is the new currency

Last week I was fortunate to be able to attend the HR Florida State Conference in beautiful Orlando, Florida (my home away from home). The conference was a first rate affair that was well organized and had a ton of fantastic concurrent sessions. My focus for the concurrent sessions was on those that focused on employee engagement, retention and overall organizational leadership. While many of these sessions covered a lot of the usual fare when it comes to attraction, retention and engagement – i.e. promoting your brand, providing developmental opportunities, etc. there was one prevailing theme that permeated throughout all of the sessions. That is, that the employment relationship is built (or broken) on one key element – TRUST.

Trust WordAt the end of the day, people want to work for managers and organizations that they trust. They want to know that the people that they report to can be trusted – trusted to provide feedback, trusted to be candid in performance discussions and trusted to keep their word and support the employee. In the same vein, employees need to trust the organization that they work for. That is, they need to trust that the company will be ethical and up front with its employees. They need to trust that companies will work diligently to balance employee needs with business needs to achieve the best possible outcomes. They need to trust that the senior leadership team is being up front in its communications and interactions with employees.

The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter if you pay your staff in the top percentile, have unlimited vacation, provide free lunches, have foosball games and ping pong tables, if you don’t have trust you won’t have staff. All those previously mentioned things are simply lipstick on a pig if there is no trust. Those things may get candidates in the door and may keep them for a short period of time; however, if they ultimately don’t trust their manager or organization they certainly won’t be engaged in their work and ultimately will not be retained.

So as leaders, managers and/or as HR Pros, we should be focusing on this area first – establishing trust with our staff. If we can get good at that, we will become good at engaging and retaining our employees. Let’s make sure we keep our word, are up front with staff, communicate, explain, provide feedback and establish accountabilities. Let’s agree that our employees are not disposable ‘assets’ on a balance sheet that can be moved around and/or discarded on a whim. Let’s accept that they are truly mobile assets and we need to earn their trust so that they stay and are productive for us. If we focus on those items, than we don’t need to focus as much on the latest employee survey tools or other “programs” meant to solve engagement and retention issues.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree that trust is the new currency? How do you go about building up your trust bank account with your staff? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Top Recruiter – Hype or Reality?

Several months ago I got hooked on watching Top Recruiter: The Competition Miami.  For those of you who are not aware of the show, it is a web-based reality TV show that pits a group of recruiters against each other in team and individual based (recruiting) competitions.  Each episode, there is a recruiter selected as the individual winner of that week’s challenge.  There is also a viewer vote each week that goes towards establishing the overall winner of the competition.  The program is produced and developed by Lavoie Entertainment (Chris Lavoie) and also features several prominent members of the recruiting, human resources and HR technology industries such as Rayanne Thorn, Jer Langhans and Jessica Miller-Merrell .  They function as advisors to the recruiters and in some cases (as with Jessica) they are providing input into who gets chosen as the episode winner(s).

Top recruiter logo-homepageThere has been quite a bit of coverage and exposure of the show on social media and online in general.  There are some in industry that have spoken out (blogged) about the show, questioning the viewing numbers and also indicating that it doesn’t accurately represent the recruiting industry.  The show’s detractors have commented that it focuses too much on the monetary benefits of recruiting – that is, these elite recruiters all drink expensive champagne, drive Porsche’s and wear $3000 business suits.  So, to say the least, it has provided a bit of fodder for those of us in the industry.  When trying to figure out for yourself whether or not the show is all hype or in fact is reality, you need to go into it with your eyes wide open to what it is.  That is, it is a TV show that is meant to entertain and to a secondary degree, inform – not the other way around.  If recruiters and HR Pros watch Top Recruiter and expect it to look exactly like their everyday job(s) they will be disappointed!  Quite frankly, the last thing I would want to watch is a reality show that is filmed at my office!  So, the location of Miami and the Top Recruiter mansion are quite lavish and scenic – there is not doubting that.  But boy, do I enjoy seeing these locations and they make for a great backdrop to the show!

Now that we have established what to expect (it is a TV show and entertainment first) one can now formulate their opinion as to whether or not they think the show is in fact reality or just hype.  Personally, after having watched all of Seasons 1 and 2 and now the first two episodes of Season 3, I think the show does a great job overall of showcasing the recruiting profession.  Sure, some of the personalities are (portrayed) as being a bit over the top, but hey it is  television.  The challenges that they are put through are an accurate reflection of what top recruiters need to be able to do: source using the latest technologies, leverage social media, effectively network and establish credibility, find a candidate on short notice who possesses a unique skill set, interview and assess, pitch candidates on a client’s corporate employment brand, etc.  The recruiters are judged on their ability to be creative, innovative, think on their feet, be professional and credible and how they represent the overall recruiting industry and profession and be able to provide solutions to their customer(s).

Setting aside the glamourous locations the show is shot at (in Miami), I think the show brings far more reality to the recruiting profession than hype.  That is to say, I feel it does a really good job representing what it is like to be a corporate or agency recruiter.  It gives a nice flavour as to the types of scenarios recruiters are faced with and it does shine a nice (positive) light on the necessary skills required to be a successful recruiter.  While not everyone who is in the recruiting business flies around on jets, drives a Porsche and lives in a mansion, the show does highlight that being a successful recruiter can translate into high degree of personal success if you choose it as a profession and in fact, it is a worthy profession to get into.  The show works hard to dispel some common stereotypes that recruiters are all used car salesman types that would do anything for a buck.  Ultimately, the show uses the tagline #themovement.  It’s ultimate aim is to change the way people look and feel about the recruiting profession and I do think they are succeeding (positively) in achieving this goal.

As far as the entertainment value goes, the show has a very high production value.  It is expertly shot and edited.  The challenges, interviews and behind the scenes looks are all spliced together seamlessly.  I find myself feeling that the 20-30 minute episodes aren’t long enough!  So, based on the fact that I feel Top Recruiter shines a nice spotlight on the recruiting industry/profession as a whole, I highly recommend that anyone interested in the profession takes the time to watch.  You will be entertained and you will learn.  Overall, I recommend the show and do feel that Top Recruiter is far more reality than it is hype and I am looking forward to the rest of Season 3 and hopefully a Season 4!

What about you? Have you watched?  What do you think?  Does it accurately portray the profession?  As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.


“I’m not paid enough!” (Part II)

In my last post on this subject, I blogged about the two type of issues that generate this type of statement from an employee. I indicated that whenever a manager or an HR Pro hears this statement, it is either a situational based issue or one of circumstance.  In this post, I focused exclusively on the situational based challenges that one might face and gave some insight as to how to resolve them.  As a quick reminder, the situational based challenges are ones whereby an employee is dissatisfied with their compensation based on workload and/or role/scope creep.  These situations are ones that are often well within the organizations control and typically only affect an individual employee.  These are typically referred to as internal equity compensation issues.  You can link back to this post by clicking here.

Pay Increase 2This post will focus on the 2nd part of this compensation challenge.  That is, when the statement of claim of not being paid enough is one of circumstance.  What I am referring to is when an employee, who might not have felt underpaid before, has started to feel this way due to a particular (specific) circumstance or change in circumstance.  You often see/hear of this when an employee is talking to their peers who work for similar organizations and/or in similar industries.  They get to talking and start to feel that they are underpaid for what they do.  They might even begin to look at online salary surveys, refer to professional organizational surveys or even refer to news articles, regional economic factors, etc.  These type of compensation challenges are commonly referred to as external equity challenges.

The bottom line is that these types of concerns are circumstance driven and require an “apples to apples” comparison and discussion.  When managers and HR Pros get wind of these concerns coming from an employee or employees it requires dialogue and education.  Managers will need the direct support of HR to have these types of conversations.  It is best to hear the employee out first and try and understand what is driving their concerns.  From there you can better game plan the conversation.  It has been my experience that in order to gain an understanding with the employee, the manager and employee have to understand:

1) How the organization determines its compensation structure – were job evaluations done, how were pay bands determined, etc.  Is the issue one of overall job value or is it where & why the individual employee resides in their pay band?  It could even be as simple as letting the employee know that there IS a compensation structure and salaries just weren’t abitrarily determined.  Often this goes a long way in the understanding and resolution of the issue.

2) Why the employee is paid what they are for the job that they do – this is a discussion that focuses more on performance and how that has impacted the employee’s movement in the compensation stucture.  This is a very employee specific conversation that requires the manager to speak candidly about performance.  Often this is a positive conversation if the employee has progressed nicely along their band and resides in the top quartile(s).  They need to “see” that they are being paid at the highest levels.

3) Industry data – the manager and HR need to understand where the compensation data is coming from and how it relates or doesn’t relate to your organization.  Geography is important as many salaries differ simply based on cost of living  The computer programmer you hire in Vancouver will make more than the one you hire in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Likewise, industry is a big driver.  If you work in healthcare or environmental services, those jobs will often be paid less than ones in the oil and gas industry (for example).

4) The total compensation package – it is also key to look at things beyond pure salary.  A comparative salary difference of $15K might seem like a lot at first; however, if your organization offers flex time, compressed work weeks, professional development assistance, tuition aid, cheap(er) benefits with a retirement plan, an entrepreneurial or innovative work environment and a nice work/life balance, than that might be worth more, comparatively speaking, compared to the $15K more you might get elsewhere but have to work 70 hours a week to earn with the majority of your time spent away from your family.

5) The company’s ability to pay – often people get caught up in just the numbers as it pertains to salaries.  However, you also need to compare same/similar organization sizes and profitability.  Even within same/similar industries, a Fortune 100 company with 25,000 employees typically has a higher ability to pay than does a 50 person company in its 5th year of existence funded by its original founder/owner.  Bottom line, the company’s ability to pay is critical comparative factor when addressing circumstance based compensation challenges.  If the organization is coming off a couple of lean years, then they probably aren’t able to pay top quartile salaries.  As well, an organization has to be able to balance its books and often providing an employee a greater understanding of the organization’s financial position will help in addressing their compensation concerns. Again, the company is trying to rationalize all this against external factors (circumstance) which makes the conversation that much more difficult.

When faced with circumstance driven compensation challenges, I encourage you to have this open dialogue with your employee(s).  Share the facts (as you know them) and make sure to position things appropriately with them.  When comparing apples to apples, it may become apparent (to the employee) that they are in fact paid appropriately.  However, you should also be prepared that when reviewing factors 1-5 above, you still may have an under compensated employee and you should be prepared to address that issue too.

Image courtesy of jscreationzs/







“I’m not paid enough!” (Part I)

As managers and HR Pros we have all been faced with this statement before. Whether it is a general statement by some staff (i.e. a ‘feeling’) or perhaps it is coming from someone who reports to you that has been stretched too far on an assignment or spread to thin in their current role, it is a situation that must be addressed because it is one of those sore spot issues that festers, causes resentment over time and ultimately leads to disengagement and turnover. So what to do?

First off, you need to determine whether or not the issue is one of situation or circumstance. This post is going to focus on when the issue is one of situation.  The good news when dealing with an issue of situation is that these issues are quite often within the organization’s (manager’s) control to address and resolve.  I will blog about circumstance-based compensation challenges in a post later this week.

Pay Increase 1If you are dealing with a compensation issue based on situation, than your focus needs to be on communication, understanding, coaching and support, with you ultimately getting to the root cause issue. That is, in situation based compensation issues, what your employee is probably saying is that they are not paid enough for what they are being asked to do. Often this is when your employee is doing the work of one or two other people. You often see this is in departments where there has been some turnover and staff haven’t been replaced. The workload is spread out amongst one or two stronger performers who “can handle it.” The weeks and months go by with the work continuing to get done and as the manager you start to think, “hmm, maybe I don’t need to replace/add any staff.” The problem is that this takes its toll on your employees and they start to feel taken advantage of, hence the reason you start to hear the “I am not paid enough” comments.

As the manager, you need to start to work with these employees and get them to see the light at the end of the tunnel. That could come in the form of a commitment to add headcount by a certain date, or take some of the workload off their plate and spread it around to others. At the very least, there needs to be a carrot – whether that is some paid time off (aside from their regularly earned vacation), a bonus or some other monetary reward.  At the end of the day, the compensation issue is coming from the situation that they have been thrust in and/or accepted up to this point.  This is also, primarily, an internal pay equity issue.  That is, it has almost nothing to do with outside factors, hence the reason it is within the organization’s control to address.

A similar issue also arises when it comes to role issues (as opposed to workload).  This is  another example of a situational based compensation complaint.  You see this is in cases where an employee is asked (or allowed) to step outside of their regular role and take on an assignment with greater responsibilities.  They are never given any formal title or compensation increase but the organization benefits from the employee performing in the higher paying position (without paying them to do it.)  It is incumbent on managers and HR staff to not allow these situations to persist long-term.  Again, staff will feel taken advantage of and will begin to resent their company.

You can’t look at this type of situation as “getting a deal” because any short-term salary savings you think you are getting will be gone the minute that employee attains.  Employees don’t have a problem with taking on roles to show what they can do - kind of like a “try before you buy” type of deal. However, once they have proven themselves to you, you need to put your money where your mouth is, organizationally speaking, and do the right thing by officially promoting and compensating them.

Bottom line, as a manager and/or as HR Pros, when you hear an employee or employees state, “I’m not paid enough” AND you can determine it is a situational based complaint/concern, it is well within your control to address things.  Talk to the employee, understand the situation that they have been placed in, take steps to alleviate workload issues and/or to address role enhancement issues.  Keep in mind, left unaddressed, situational based compensation issues are major drivers of disengagement and turnover.  Next post, I will address circumstance based compensation challenges.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

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