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Can’t You Just Convert the Currency?

Chuck Csizmar – CMC Compensation Group

It is human nature to look for simple solutions to perplexing problems.  Simple avoids confusion, keeps you “on message” and helps create greater employee awareness and appreciation of programs and policies. However, when you are dealing with the diversity and complexity of international compensation it is just not that easy – nor should it be.   For those seeking the simple life it can be difficult to understand and accept that each country operates in a different environment from the next.

Perhaps because of its long history of isolationist tendencies, or perhaps due to a bit of Yankee arrogance, but US managers tend to struggle with the challenge of this concept more than other players on the global scene.

For the most part US Managers do not want to hear that pay levels in Finland, or Argentina or Tunisia are different from the US.  They would rather treat everyone the same, call it globalization and consider themselves a one-world player.  Many push an agenda of simplicity that is in fact a misleading distortion, will be a costly strategy to implement and its results will more than likely irritate key talent within their workforce.

Consider the senior manager who simply wants to convert a foreign national’s salary into US dollars – based on a concern with what they call “internal equity”?  The assumption is that everyone pays approximately the same for an “XYZ Manager”.

Other considerations:

  • If simple conversion was a viable approach, why do we not see such formulae prominently displayed by salary survey providers?
  • Employees will be skeptical of the simplistic approach, as in their mind too many local realities would be ignored in favor of what is perceived as the Company somehow saving money
  • Lacking a strong correlation you will either needlessly increase your compensation costs, or under-value your employee talent and risk disengagement – or worse

I once developed a formulaic approach that explained to a COO why he could not (should not) establish internal equity between the US and the UK by simply converting GBP into USD.   I factored in a host of elements, including local taxation, competitive pay levels, incentive practices, cost of living, required social charges, benefit costs, etc. to make my case.   My point was that a simple conversion would be a distortion of the economic realities that drive pay levels in both countries.

Sad to say, but the explanation was ignored and the COO, though he acknowledged the logic of my argument, continued to prefer a simple conversion to establish relative values in his own mind.

To operate successfully on a global basis management needs to understand, to truly believe that each country operates like a separate and sovereign national entity, with distinct economies, taxes, competitiveness, employment laws, culture, statutory benefit requirements, etc. that make a 1:1 comparison with any other country a distortion that will cause you to either over spend or under spend your reward dollars.  Either result should be avoided.

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