The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Compensation Professionals

It’s hard. Sometimes it’s very hard. You took the classes. You studied the facts. You brought in great outside experts. You have determined the solution. You are the expert and you know what you are doing. How can they say no? “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” ― Dwight D. Eisenhower

My job is to go into a meeting with the head of HR, a CEO or Board with what I believe is the perfect solution to their problem. “You should get rid of the old XYZ plan and put in a new ABC plan.” Occasionally I leave those meetings excited and ready to act on a very different solution. “Let’s leave the XYZ plan alone for now and work on adjusting base pay and equity for this key group of employees who are critical to the next six months of our success.”

As an HR or compensation professional, even the best plans require the agreement of others. Some of you have taught sessions on how to get a seat at the table. Many have taken courses on how to negotiate, be persuasive or sell ideas. Sometimes that extra chair just doesn’t fit in the room. Sometimes no matter how much evidence you have to support your idea, it simply isn't going to happen.

This does not make you a failure. It does not make your idea bad. It doesn’t mean that you need to forget your great solution or leave it in the rubbish. It also doesn't mean that you are done. It is frustrating, but it is nothing more than a temporary setback.

The best plans usually solve more than one problem. An effective approach after losing the first round of discussions is to find the most important (or well-received) nugget in your “big plan”. Polish it up like a diamond and go back in with the idea they can't refuse.

Even a little help is better than demanding that you get everything you want. If you can’t get that incentive plan budget for the entire staff at least make sure you get something for the group of people without whom you will suffer or fail.

We plan for the opponent we expect, but we must fight the opponent who shows up.

Maybe your board won’t support the mission critical solution your have devised. Instead of waiting until next year and trying again, consider recommending Plan B or Plan C. Have an idea of what these might be, but prepare well enough that you can suggest potential alternatives quickly and thoughtfully.

Instead of getting approval from the top down, you may have similar issues getting buy-in from the ground up. Your employees may not be enamored with the “motivational pay for performance plan” you rolled out with great fanfare. Your sales people may find that the new commission program you designed to fix their complaints about the terrible old plan is even worse.

We often discuss communications as a solution to these kinds of problems. Better communication is always a good place to start, but even best communications can’t solve every problem. Don't be afraid to regroup, retool and try a smaller, different or less exciting idea. Even the best-laid plans may be useless once the real fighting starts, but even the smallest solutions move you forward, regardless of the plan.

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