Author Archives: cmc4700

Who Dresses for Success Anymore?

Author:
Chuck Csizmar - CMC Compensation Group

It hasn’t been that many years ago that the term “business casual” was coined to describe a new flexibility in acceptable office attire .  To many business leaders though, the phrase meant no more than wearing a red tie, and perhaps only once a week.

Well, that was then.  Today, attitudes and customs are quite different, and typically much less conservative.  For example, it is not uncommon in some circles for male employees to forgo the use of socks within an office environment.  I know, because recently I visited such an office and saw for myself.

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Are You Diligent with Your Due Diligence? (Part II)


Author:
Chuck Csizmar –
CMC Compensation Group

Anyone who has ever been involved in a merger or an acquisition team remembers their first time; how green they were, how much they didn’t know and how much of a challenge it was just getting up to speed.   They didn’t know what they didn’t know.  Most neophytes are shell-shocked by the complexities involved, the myriad moving parts – and when the business target is an international concern, or has a foreign footprint, then it’s often a case of “what do we do now”?

Provided below is Part II of a due diligence checklist for international M&A deals, one that I wish I had when I was thrown to the wolves for my first overseas acquisition.  Continue reading

Are you Diligent With Your Due Diligence? (Part I)


Author:
Chuck Csizmar – CMC Compensation Group

Anyone who has ever been involved in a merger or an acquisition team remembers their first time; how green they were, how much they didn’t know and how much of a challenge it was just getting up to speed.   They didn’t know what they didn’t know.  Most neophytes are shell-shocked by the complexities involved, the myriad moving parts – and when the business target is an international concern, or has a foreign footprint, then it’s often a case of “what do we do now”?

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The Case of the Twisted Quota

Author:
Chuck Csizmar -
CMC Compensation Group

For many global companies with a direct sales force the design and administration of their compensation program is in a constant state of flux.  It always seems to need a further bit of tweaking, as dissatisfaction follows in the wake of any plan design.  Why?  Every uncomfortable participant who’s on the receiving end, from senior management to the employee pounding the street, feels that they know what’s wrong.  The verdict is that not enough money is offered for successful performance.

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Transitioning Compensation from Classroom to Reality


Author:

Chuck Csizmar -
CMC Compensation Group

I once supervised a Compensation Analyst who had learned her craft through professional seminars and workshops.  One result of that education was her favored response when faced with a challenge at work:  “the greatest minds in Compensation say that . . . ”   It took patience to educate this budding practitioner about the difference between classroom / textbook answers and workplace reality.

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The Challenge of International Market Pricing

 


Author:
Chuck Csizmar - CMC Compensation Group

“What is the competitive market price for a particular position?”

It’s a simple question.  If you work in Compensation, this is what you do.  And if you’re in the US, the survey sources you can call upon are numerous and well-stocked with participating companies and benchmark matches – the blessings of a large country.  In fact, it is a common practice to segment the data (report separately) on the basis of industry, revenue size, or geographic region.  In some instances you can further refine your analysis by operating budget, staff size or even years of experience.

For those accustomed to such robust analysis it can be a real wake-up call when asked to conduct a similar analysis for operations in another country.  Suddenly your content-rich environment has disappeared, and in its place you find that the availability of good information can no longer be taken for granted.  Now what do you do?

Your large country database is gone.  Instead, you face a limited selection of survey sources and each offers only a fraction of your normal participant count – a far cry from business as usual.

Such is the key challenge when pricing international jobs – the limited number of companies included in surveys, even by the major vendors.  For example, Mercer Netherlands has 81 participating companies.  So it is not unusual for a market pricing analysis to include only 4 – 5 “matches” – but is that representative of common practice?

If you’re the one on the asking end of the original question, let me share the challenges your analyst is likely to encounter.

Impact of Reduced Participation

  • Limited industry segmentation:  Reported data will likely cover multiple industries, with limited or no segmentation.  If you’re in either a high or low paying industry, surveys will provide inflated or discounted  information.
  • Hard to segment by revenue size:  To the extent that larger companies pay more than smaller you lose that distinction as well.  This can be especially problematic if you’re a small company.
  • Global responsibilities vs. strictly national:  The distinction is often blurred between national, regional and global responsibilities.
  • Combination jobs not well represented:  You will find yourself matching against jobs “close to” your own, just to gain a “feel” for pay levels.  If your job content varies from benchmark descriptions, reported data might not capture such idiosyncrasies.
  • Poor matches and / or no data when less than 5 respondents:  Surveys tend to provide an “n/a” when they do not have enough participants.  When you start with limited companies it’s not unusual to find unreported jobs.
  • Forget Regional variations:  While it is often the case that certain geographic regions have higher pay levels, the reported data is usually national.  You may assume that participants are in the higher paid region, at your risk.

What to do?

Frustrating, isn’t it?  You can’t very well throw your hands into the air, complain about poor survey quality and move on to something else.  The limitations are there and you have to play with the cards you’ve been dealt. Management is waiting, wondering what is taking you so long.

Working with limited resources is a test.  Your challenge is to balance an understanding of the subject position, the industry and the vagaries of limited data points in order to determine which figure best represents your position’s competitive value.

To succeed you must utilize subjectivity and your professional judgment to consider the available data and gauge which figures best reflect the job under review.  The correct answer will no longer jump off the page at you.  Compensation has become an art, not a science.

  • To improve your matching, consider either the 25th or the 75th percentiles instead of the median or 50th percentile to reflect your position: this can be effective with poor matches, or concerns that the reported job is either larger or smaller than your own.
  • You may have to add or subtract from a benchmark job to gain a more appropriate figure for your position.  For example, if your job is a VP but the survey matches stop at the Director level (or converse), you may have to adjust up or down to create a better “guesstimate.”  Note: in such a case don’t forget that the incentive percentages will likely differ as well.
  • There is no formula in making adjustments, but changes in organizational level are usually around 15% – 20%.  Within-level description changes are usually around 5% – 15%.
  • If dealing with only a few positions you might have greater success by individually pricing jobs through a vendor’s database of multiple surveys, government sources and local surveys.  Vendors like ORC, Birches Group and a few others offer this select service.
  • Be careful of the arithmetic exercise (averaging averages, inappropriate matches, assuming numbers, etc.) that delivers a figure you cannot validate later.  Caution: a number is remembered, while often the qualifiers that follow are forgotten.  Make sure that you document such concerns before providing specific data.

All this subjectivity means that your judgment might suffer from more skepticism, even criticism, as you cannot simply point to a survey page and say, “there it is.”

Does all this subjectivity ruin the value of your analysis?  Not at all, as long as you inform management about how limited survey resources have impacted your analysis.  They expect an answer to their question (market value?) and you need do the best that you can with the resources you have available.

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Sometimes You Have to Spend

Author:
Chuck Csizmar - CMC Compensation Group

Many companies with international operations are reluctant to purchase compensation surveys covering their multiple countries, on account of the cost.  To them it’s like having to survey multiple USAs, no matter the headcount involved.  As discussed in an earlier post, Shock and Awe, the cost of these international surveys can be prohibitive.

For example, if the US-based Acme Manufacturing Company has operations in Germany, India and Argentina, survey costs for these three countries would be 2-3 times the cost of comparable US surveys.  As most compensation experts recommend using multiple sources to better gauge market trends, the cost factor very quickly becomes an eye opener.  The more countries you operate in – well, you get the point.

Hence the hesitation.

However, is putting off a competitive pay analysis a good business decision?   What is gained by keeping ignorant of whether your compensation packages are competitive or not?  Of course, by happenstance you may be lucky and are already providing compliant and competitive rewards.  More likely though, the odds favor that you’re either overpaying or underpaying your employees.

Long term Impact of the Status Quo

Let’s look at the scenarios that can be playing out while you remain unaware.

Over Payments:

  • Where local compensation costs are higher than the competitive market, without a corresponding ROI in productivity or performance (more pay is not a 1:1 correlation).  You are wasting money.
  • Most employees will not recognize that they’re being paid above average, so any presumed positive perception is only an illusion.

If you’re overpaying, but don’t realize it because you haven’t obtained credible survey data, you will likely presume that everything is okay.  In other words, you’ll think that your pay is on par with the market, when in fact you are paying at above market rates.  How much money (the differential) will you be needlessly paying out on account of this presumption?  Chances are, the cost of finding out – of potentially identifying a key problem – would be a small fraction of the money being misspent.  Is this an efficient use of your reward dollars?  I don’t think so.

Underpayments:

  • Employees feel that they are not being compensated fairly
  • Your ability to attract the right caliber of employee for your operations will be weakened by low compensation rates
  • Employee engagement, productivity, morale, attendance etc. will be less than what they should be, feeding off negative employee perceptions

If you’re underpaying, but don’t realize it because you failed to obtain credible survey data, you may also blindly consider that everything is okay.  After all, anyone who leaves does so for more money, right?  But doesn’t everyone?  So you may not learn much through staff defections.  Have you considered the annualized cost of losing just one experienced staff member?  And should you lose more?

Choosing instead a course of hesitation and delay will not rectify any festering issues; they don’t go away or fix themselves.  Instead, your inaction will worsen the situation and make eventual corrections more painful.

Cost of doing business

Do you remember that ad line, “you can pay me now, or pay me a lot more later”?

While squirming to avoid costs the company might try to obtain free data off the internet.  Good luck there.  Pundits will tell you that the value of free data, even if available is usually less than what you paid for it.

Instead, ask yourself if you would spend a dollar today to save three tomorrow?  That’s the question you must answer, to gauge the economic value of knowing the competitive position of your international employees.

Your financial folks might see it another way.  They might see only a finite dollar amount being spent, against a “maybe” savings estimate.  They will ask you for guarantees you cannot give.  It’s not like buying a machine that will increase productivity, lower production costs, raise profit margins and lower the cost of sales – all measurable.

Would you pay to learn how competitive are your services and product lines?

To make informed and effective business decisions, management requires knowledge of present circumstances, the challenges being faced, the import of the status quo and the implications of change.   When dealing with the single greatest cost to your organization, employee pay, it would be well worth your effort to spend what is necessary to give senior management the proper ammunition for decisions that could drive the business forward.

Yes, it would be well worth the cost.

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The Easy Road to Global Compensation Success?

 

Author:
Chuck Csizmar
– CMC Compensation Group

How many success stories start with the phrase, “I took the easy road”?

Most companies (@85%) with global operations tend to pay their internationally-based top level executives in accordance with some form of global compensation structure – in order to level the playing field for those with multiple country responsibilities.

However, for the rest of their international population it’s not as straightforward.

The Challenge

Companies with local national employees (hourly, professional, management) face a challenge and a risk when it comes to deciding how to reward (pay) in each of their operating countries.    Do they “do as the Romans do” and follow local practice, or do they seek to create a standardized global framework in an effort to equalize pay practices?

For those developing strategies to effectively pay employees across the globe, the headache is in dealing with a diverse collection of economies, cultures and competitive pressures – some of which may be moving in different directions.  However, the strategy of recognizing country-specific differences in pay methodology often comes up hard against the interests of corporate staff administrators, who traditionally look for the easy way, the simple way, the one-size-fits all way of dealing with far-flung employee groups.  For many companies and international compensation practitioners, it is actually the administrators whom you have to overcome.

The headquarters staff will ask, “What difference does it make?  Unless otherwise required by legislative action or representation, why can’t we be fair to all our employees in the same way?”  Here are a few metrics to illustrate what they wish to standardize:

  • Value (price) jobs irrespective of locale
  • The pay mix of base salary and incentives
  • Universal date for pay increases
  • Average pay increase percentages
  • Pay-for-performance vs. general adjustment increases

Why Not?

Why doesn’t one size fit all?  Why can’t you treat all employees in the same fashion – because they all belong to the same “XYZ Corporation”, right?  You should consider the following before taking out that cookie cutter.

  • Economy:  When you’re dealing with country-specific inflation rates that range from flat to 20%+, do you really want to offer the same percentage salary increases?  What if one country is in the grip of recession (US), while another remains relatively unscathed (Australia)?
  • Culture:  In some areas of the world, job and income security needs command paramount interest over pay-at-risk, so in the pay mix the base salary dominates the variable portion.  For example, while China has a very aggressive sales compensation environment, in India there is more interest in base salary and their CTC (cost-to-company) package than variable pay-at-risk compensation.
  • Competition:  Companies react to the cost of labor vs. the cost of living.  If the market they are in rewards in a certain fashion (pay mix, commission vs. bonus, quarterly vs. annual rewards, etc.), companies who provide a different approach risk lower employee engagement as well as a talent drain.
  • Representation:  National unions often dictate pay actions that could reverberate up the hierarchy as companies strive to maintain equitable treatment with their other employees.  Works Councils will have their impact as well.

On the other hand, varying your practices according to country-specific conditions could cause a degree of consternation with the back office staff and their computerized systems.  These are folks who like things neat and pretty.  In their defense though, senior management often asks for standardized metrics that may be difficult develop and compare:

  • Tabulating global statistics when definitions or methods vary
  • Identifying global trends based on diverse conditions
  • Balancing the impact of cross border movement

If you force international operating units to convert their practices to an uncommon format and methodology, the result could be more than just confusion and local administrative difficulties.  It could also mean the greater likelihood of overpayments in some quarters while paying less in others – all for the sake of sameness and common report generation. This would result in a combination of hurting employees while also hurting the business.

Remember that ease of administration is rarely an effective rationale for making good business decisions.

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Shock and Awe

Author:
Chuck Csizmar – CMC Compensation Group

When you first look to purchase compensation surveys for your international population, it’s going to be a real wake-up call.  For those accustomed to only US surveys you will find that the available data in many countries is more limited than what you’re accustomed to seeing, as are the number of companies involved.  What won’t be reduced though is the expense.  Quite the opposite.  If you have multiple countries to deal with, your budget for credible compensation data will likely become a multiple of your US experience.

When I worked overseas my budget for compensation surveys was 3-4 times my previous US budget – and I only had to worry about Europe.  What a shock that was – spending much more and arguably receiving less.

Think on it, though: each country is a separate USA, a unique national entity having country-specific labor laws, employment regulations, tax structure, competitiveness challenges and variations of economic strength.  For each you will need a country-specific survey to assess the local competitiveness of your employees.

International HR practitioners will need to adjust their thinking to react effectively in smaller countries, where the working population is limited and so is the number of survey participants.  It will be difficult to slice surveys by geography, industry or employee segment, as the data points grow smaller and smaller with each criteria.  For example, a well-regarded Mercer survey for Sweden showed 202 participating companies, while the Netherlands counted 81.  Meanwhile the US survey totaled 500 companies.

To compound this dilemma of accessing credible data you will typically be required to pay “list” costs for each survey, as compared to the US where I was able to gain lower 2nd copy costs and often times managed to wheedle discounts or “anticipated” participation rates.  Such tactics are not as readily available overseas.

Availability of locally-grown survey data is another challenge.  I have tried to locate such sources, even those provided in the local language, in order to create a greater “buy-in” sense from management, but with very limited success.   Even global companies with non-US headquarters tend to use the multi-national consulting firms.

Accessing International Resources

Should you require information for international compensation practices, below are a number of useful sources, each of which can be tapped via a Google search.  Note: many of the non-US sources focus on limited employee segments or functional areas, which may limit their usefulness during a general search.

Towers Perrin Mercer Culpepper
Hewitt Associates PwC CSi Remuneration
(AUS)
AON Hay Group VenCon Int’l
Reseach (GER)
Radford McLagen Economic Research
Institute
IPAS TymWork (SWE) Western Management
Group
Taylor Root (UK) CFA Institute EuroComp
(Western Mgmt)
Federation of
European Employers
Executive Resources
Limited
Watson Wyatt
Birches Group LLC Euro Remuneration
Network (GER)
Organization Resources
Counselors (ORC)
Ernst & Young Croner Reward (UK) Robert Walters (UK)
Baumgartner & Partner
(GER)
Interconsult Ltd
(UK)
Australian Institute of
Management

Should you only have a few positions (2-3) in a given country you can reduce costs through individual job pricing, vs. the purchase of an entire survey.  More than a few positions though, would render this tactic economically unfeasible.  A few notable sources (though others from the above list may also be able to help):

  • ER Limited
  • ORC
  • Birches Group

Note that I have not included sources from the current vogue of online surveys, like PayScale and Salary.com.  To my mind these sources still have credibility problems to overcome before they would be accepted by senior management as a viable resource.

Another effective strategy for reducing costs is to age current data forward, coupled with the use of biennial purchasing.  However, if utilizing this strategy have a care to limit its use to countries with stable economies.  Using such standard growth figures would miss the mark in countries showing greater volatility.

The Cost of International Operations

Too many HR practitioners and their Managers fail to take into account the expenses involved in keeping their international compensation programs competitive, especially where the organization has a small footprint in a given country.  For companies new to the international scene, and for those with small populations in several countries, the shock of survey costs could be daunting.  Many times the result is a reluctance to purchase the data, in some cases letting matters on the ground continue to fester – potentially overspending and / or creating debilitating equity problems for themselves.

Call it the cost of doing business, but if you’re going to maintain effective operations overseas, and you want to provide a competitive reward package (of course you do!), it would be unwise to shortchange the process by guesstimating or otherwise trying to make-do without credible information.

The cost of surveys is a fraction of the possible financial impact that could result from retaining non-competitive reward programs.

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Base Salary – Not So Basic!

Author:
Chuck Csizmar – CMC Compensation Group

Ever find yourself confused when asked to provide an international employee’s annual rate of pay?   Compared to the US, you will find scant uniformity between countries as to when and how monies are paid to employees, and this diversity can lead to confusion, misreporting of data and the potential for internal equity squabbles.  It is especially a concern when a US Manager attempts to hire a foreign local national without being certain of country-specific pay practices.

To a US employer, the term “annual base wage” or “annual salary” is simply the cumulative amount of payroll dollars (regular paychecks) dispensed over a twelve month cycle.  However, in many parts of the international community, it’s a bit more complicated.

Numerous countries consider statutorily required or common practice holiday (vacation) pay and Christmas (December) payments as part of what they term “basic salary” – which they report as a monthly calculation.  So what is the annual salary?

Defining Your Terms

In the US, annual salary is a common reporting term, an identifier to the company and the employee of the value paid to each position. To quote an annual salary is common practice.

The trick when considering global practices is to remember the distinction between the two annual terms:

  • Base pay – the amount of non-incentive wages or salary paid out over a twelve month period for work performed
  • Basic pay – the amount of non-incentive wages or salary paid out over a twelve month period for work performed, but including additional payments (usually in monthly increments) not directly related to the work effort

Some US companies prefer not to deal with the issue, relying instead on the US model of quoting an annual salary – then dividing by the total number of monthly payments due in order to calculate the monthly gross paycheck.

A client of mine once insisted on offering a candidate 75,000 euro, but no more for a key position.  When informed that in Belgium an extra month (13th) is common, and in fact mandated in many collective agreements, the response was “fine, as long as the total base pay isn’t higher than 75,000 euro.”

That candidate did not accept the position.

Here are a few representative examples to illustrate the diversity of practices across the globe.

  • Singapore:  While a 13th month payment (Annual Wage Supplement) is not mandated, it is common practice.  Executives typically receive 1 to 2 months pay as an additional bonus.
  • Mexico:  Companies are mandated to give employees a Christmas bonus equal to 15 days pay.  Common practice is to grant 30 days.
  • Peru:  Employees are entitled to a 13th and 14th month bonus; the 1st extra month is paid in July and the 2nd in December
  • Italy:  In December, employees are paid a Christmas bonus equal to a month’s salary.  In many contracts a 14th month’s salary is included and is paid in June.

The extra payments are not rewarding work performance, but typically provide extra monies for either vacation time or Christmas.  These practices are not commonly followed in the US.

What to do

To avoid confusion when dealing with local national employees it is helpful to talk in terms of monthly pay, the term commonly used by the employees.  No matter how many monthly payments are made, for whatever reason, simply multiply the payments to reach the annual figure.  To your international employee that is considered an annual pay entitlement, though not an annual salary as practiced in the US.

When reading compensation surveys make sure to check the definitions used; oftentimes the survey will report both an annual salary and a “guaranteed annual cash” – the latter inclusive of holiday bonuses and extra month’s pay.

Avoid setting a US-style annual salary and then dividing by the number of required payments to derive a monthly pay.  Instead, determine what you will pay on a monthly basis and multiply those payments by country-specific statutory requirements and common practice to derive (build-up) the annual salary.  It’s a bit more confusing for US companies, but it will be more meaningful for your international employees and likely save you employee relations issues down the road.

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