What Would You Do As A New Compensation and Benefits Manager?

Warren Heaps – Birches Group LLC

A few weeks ago on LinkedIn, Ravinder Bhan asked the following question:

“You have just joined a company with more than 15, 000 employees as a (Compensation & Benefits) manager.  What are the first three things you would do to make a lasting impact at the organization?”

As soon as I noticed this question, I was compelled to answer it.  Here is the answer I posted:

“This is truly an excellent question.  For C&B to be an effective business partner and not just another run of the mill HR function, as you state above, it requires an immersion in the business.

To that end, here are my three things:

  1. Understand the business. Talk to the business leaders, their deputies and employees. Learn what the company does. Don’t just sit in corporate and get opinions from those at HQ – go into the field and see what happens there. If it’s a manufacturer, visit a factory. Spend time with the sales force, meet some customers. And if the company is global, and you are responsible for international as well, get on a plane and follow the same steps in the key operations overseas.
  2. Take inventory. Compile information about how the company manages C&B. Hold off on judgement – instead, focus on gathering information and getting a complete picture of what are the prevailing practices. Talk to managers about what’s working and what’s not. Learn the HRIS system and do some analysis yourself. Speak with the incumbent consultants to understand their role and their perspective about the company’s practices. Find an industry group of peers and get involved, and do some benchmarking.
  3. Formulate your strategy for impact. To do this, look for opportunities to make changes that will improve efficiency and eliminate bureaucracy; programs to empower managers to manage rewards, and hold them accountable to do so; initiatives to support globalization (if applicable); develop dashboard metrics for management to measure effectiveness of C&B programs; and finally, cost-saving steps, such as multi-national pooling of insurance and strategic relationships with providers.

Of course, the above is not a one-year plan — it would take two or three years to achieve. But there would surely be a lasting impact.”

There were other answers to the question, about 15 all together.  I was flattered to be cited as the Best Answer (many of the other answers were excellent as well).  If you want to, take a look at the whole Q&A on LinkedIn. But the timing coincided with the Olympic Games, so I sort of felt this is my gold medal.  Those of you who know me, know for sure that there is no way I will ever get a real Olympic medal :-).

These days, there is so much being stated about how HR needs to “get a seat at the table” and “become an effective business partner,” I thought sharing this topic with our readers would be beneficial.  In particular, I am keen to understand what your first three things would be if you were to find yourself in the situation described above?

Would you follow the same steps that I outlined?  Why or why not?  What else would you do?  How would your actions be influenced by the culture of country where you operate?

Please tell me your thoughts by leaving a comment.  I am very anxious to read some more “Best Answers!”

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Warren Heaps

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9 responses to “What Would You Do As A New Compensation and Benefits Manager?

  1. .. and I am sure the day you get Gold, you will leave on the Silver for me 🙂

  2. Warren Great Article!

    These tips are great for me!, taking in consideration that we were bought by Kraft foods, and i need to understand two different culture on how to run C&B.



  3. Very helpful for any interview!!

  4. Hi Warren,
    One of my former bosses, a world-class HR leader, taught me that one of the most important things is to “start well”, by mixing what I called “quick wins” in my LinkedIn answer to this question, with a longer-term approach.
    The quick wins are easy things to implement that will bring a tangible change quickly to your organisation. They don’t have to be huge, they have to be useful and visible. This makes the organisation take notice and understand that you will take action. And it also makes you gain credibility when you ask for more time to do the strategic stuff – because now you’ve also demonstrated that you can make fast moves if possible.. so if you say you need more time, it’s because you really need it.

    • Sandrine,

      Thank you for your comment. I agree fully that quick wins are an excellent approach to establish credibility in a new organization and “earn your stripes” with customers.

      The same approach also works with staff. When I first became a Director of Compensation, the simple step of having regular staff meetings and providing technical training to the group helped build rapport and provided strong signals that I was there to support the team.


  5. Lawrence Laier

    I strongly agree with Warren’s approach. To be valued business partners, HR professionals must start with an understanding of the business along with its cultures and existing structures.

    I would suggest that beyond these fundamentals, it is also important to understand where the business is going. Are the current programs working well, or do they need to be adjusted for strategic change or adaptation to new business challenges?

    Compensation is the most powerful tool in the arsenal of human resources professionals because It allows human resources professionals to “engineer” behavior. Compensation professionals have a number of tools to apply – base salaries, incentive bonuses, long-term pay, stock/option awards and deferred compensation that can be effectively aligned with concrete business objectives. If the compensation system reinforces the company’s objectives and values, it will be a prime driver of success.

    • Lawrence,

      Thanks very much for your comment. Indeed, reward programs in all of their flavors have an enormously powerful effect on employee behavior, and company performance.


  6. Nanita Minnaar

    I agree that partnering with business should be a first step. Even though some HR challenges are similar accross industries, there are certain challenges that are unique to every organisation based on the industry, culture, strategic direction and a host of other factors

    We, as HR professionals should first understand the challenges that are unique to the specific organisation. A sure way of getting to know the business is to partner with the various business units/functional areas and understand and gather information on the unique challenges that are experienced.

    In compensation and benefits as well as HR in general, we need to provide business with the tools that will enable them to concentrate on what they do best. In other words what am I doing to assist business to instill a performance culture, for example?

    In South Africa, great emphasis is placed on getting our employment equity figures right. How many Directors or Business Unit Heads know their equity figures off the cuff? What can i do to provide them with a tool to measure these on a monthly or quarterly basis. The implementation of a dashboard/HR sustainability index where targets are set and business can measure performance against targets, is a sure way of providing a snapshot of this, to business (for every function), depending on what teh organisation want to see measured.

    Some organisations, like mine, offer a basket of great benefits, and with great, I am comparing to the SA market. However, if they are not made visible, it goes largely unnoticed and may be taken for granted because employees do not compare apples with apples, in talking to peers in other companies. Something like this may be a quick win, without incurring additional costs. Another example can be the review of services offered by suppliers with existing contracts. Are we getting what we pay for, do we get the service we deserve etc. Cost savings may be incurred through surveying these and doing the necessary market research.

    In SA we will be hosting the World Cup 2010 here. Companies may have largely underestimated the impact of this on productivity. What can I do, from an HR point of view to assist business to put some contingencies in place to minimise any negative impact on productivity?

    Having said all of this, my approach would therefore be, to partner with business, gather information do sufficient research and finally formulate a strategy that would specify, quick wins as part of my short term goals, identify the medium and long term goals and endeavour as far as possible to implement the cost saving initiatives as soon as possible.