Guest blog by Gerry O’Neill, CEO at Curo Compensation
There’s something I’ve always admired about top sportspeople that’s more than just the distances they can jump or throw or the speeds at which they can make their bodies travel: it’s the programme of continuous improvement that’s all designed with one aim – to be the best. Getting there doesn’t happen by accident and there isn’t an elite athlete on the planet that doesn’t know the difference between process-based outcomes and goal-based outcomes.
The former is the cumulative difference lots of small processes in their training plans can make to performance – like maximising the angle at which a 100m runner explodes from the blocks to ensure the most efficient transfer of power, or understanding the difference proper sleep and nutrition makes. The totality of these tiny processes can add up to create a 0.1 second difference in 100m race. Nowadays that’s the difference between first and middle of the pack. Goal-based outcomes are not the same. Athletes use outcomes as a way of reaching their goals – these might be to improve their PB or win Olympic gold. In short, they understand how the former leads to the latter.
Which is why I think reward professionals really do need to be much more like sports people in their outlook. I believe that reward has lost touch of its ultimate end goals and has, instead, become fixated with just the process. More worrying than this, lots of reward people I see have turned being administrative – reducing error and ticking boxes – into their goal, when really it’s just a process. It’s like they’re doing the training (the basic things they need to do), but they’re not actually trying to win the race; i.e. turning all this work into something with a tangible outcome.
Busy being busy
It reminds me a bit about that phrase ‘busy being busy’ – running around being madly busy and outwardly doing work; but that’s all. There’s a lot of time and effort being exerted, but the work isn’t being actually being turned into anything more useful than (in this case) making sure someone’s on the right bonus band or that they’ve been paid on-time.
This is a shame. When reward professionals are busy being busy they are just administering the process rather than using it to actually give strategic business advice – like determining what level of reward, aimed at which population of the workforce, improves productivity or retention and by what amount (with actual bottom-line metrics to boot).
This lack of interpretation from reward is very different to the service their HR colleagues provide. When internal stakeholders go to HR for advice – be that employees, the FD or the CEO, HRDs generally give advice, based on metrics they have, whereas reward professionals often do not. This tendency not to take data forward was dramatically revealed when I opened a trade magazine aimed specifically at reward professionals recently. Advertised was a course to do Excel! In other words, yet more focus on how to just admin the process, rather than the value-add insight that flows from it. What I would have liked to have seen was a course about interpreting data, and using analytics, to improve the outcome of the review round. We’re clearly not there yet.
Don’t get me wrong. Of course, reward needs to be done efficiently and without error. But this is stuff that’s expected and easily delivered. This is IT doing the basics. Taking things forward involves a degree of IT-enabled change – this is where reward either takes a process and improves it or puts new processes in place that the previous system (Excel or IT) couldn’t do.
What’s needed as much as anything is a change of mindset. HR used to be an admin function too but – out of necessity and for its own survival – it evolved into a business support function. Reward needs to make this evolutionary change too. Being the busy hamster on the wheel simply won’t do!
The key – I feel – is believing in the improvement that could be gained by embracing this change. Athletes have an inbuilt belief that the smarter they train, the better the outcome will be. I think reward needs to adopt this positive outlook too and focus on delivering to strategic business goals – gaining insight, data about performance and productivity – and ensuring the processes they need to help take them take on more meaningful importance. Reward professionals deliver the most value by being able to focus on the business-driven, goal-based outcomes and not just getting lost managing the process.