Great Compensation Pros are Like Swimmers not Runners

Stickman swimmer

Stickman swimmer

I recently had a medical issue that put me out of commission for a few weeks. Although this gave me some time to reflect and catch up with friends and colleagues, it also made me realize that, like nearly everyone reading this article, I really didn’t have the time to put my work on hold. That is when I realized that being compensation professional is often like being an open ocean swimmer. Last year a friend came out to visit San Francisco so her 12 year-old could participate in a swim from the infamous Alcatraz Prison to the San Francisco shoreline. It was an amazing spectacle, with almost one hundred swimmers churning the water. Boats, coaches and support teams surrounded the swimmers of all ages. They were cheered on, helped out and given instructions, but in the end it was their skill and will power that got them to land. (And, no, it did not inspire me at any point to personally participate in the swim.)

In nearly every activity, you can stop and catch your breath without real risk. On a bike you can coast down hills and even pick up speed while doing it. When running or walking you can simply stop and step aside until you are ready to go again. However, when you’re swimming in the ocean, you have to keep moving or you will sink, freeze or get swept away. The compensation world is very much the same.

Very few corporate compensation professionals have the same luxury of specialization as I do. Even with my focused practice, I must always be reading and studying to stay ahead of changes in regulations and trends. And, as an internal compensation professional, you too, have stay current with everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything.

Not only must you work to keep your company on course with its compensation philosophy and execution, but you must also keep everyone else in the company up to speed. As pay for performance moves from a trend to a mantra, you are required to be an expert in business strategy as well as market trends, financial metrics and even motivational speaking. All of this must be done with smaller budgets and tighter timelines than ever before.

So, how are you to get it all done well? First, it requires training. It can be tedious and boring. It can be painful and time consuming, but without training you are likely to sink before you make it to shore. Second, it requires a support team. This includes internal staff, external help and the occasional “attaboy” from a random stranger. Finally, it requires perseverance. Sometimes we forget to pat ourselves on the back for diving into a career that, by design, leaves no place in which to rest.

When you get home from work tonight, you will likely still thinking about the remains of your workday, or planning for the urgent project that must be done tomorrow. I suggest you take a moment to congratulate yourself for succeeding in a field that, like ocean swimming, often seems too daunting to even attempt. Then, look ahead to the summer and figure out how to build a little raft to float on for the much-deserved break or even a vacation that you hopefully get to take this year.

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