Many great bakers are average cooks. Many great cooks avoid baking all but the simplest of things. Baking requires precision in measurement and actions. Even a small mistake can result in an inedible mess. Cooking requires creativity and flexibility. The best outcomes are usually a result of unique twists that match the food to the audience. Compensation requires you to be both a baker and a cook.

A client recently had a member of their board ask that a new analysis be done for a new executive in exactly the same way as performed for a prior executive a couple of years ago. The company is unique in industry, location and compensation philosophy. Its peers have continued to grow, change and even disappear over time. It is simply not possible to replicate the exact recipes and processes used to create the numbers from years ago (or even more than a few months ago.)

Executive pay is often more like cooking than baking. You are beholden to the ingredients that are fresh at the time you perform the task. Data sets, like great veggies or herbs, are often only available in small quantities at certain times of the year. Some professionals thrive in this environment, loving the swirl of possibilities and the frequent changes that must still result in predictable success.

Broad-based pay can often be more like baking than cooking. The data sets are larger and less volatile. Like flour, butter and other less perishable ingredients, you can expect some level of consistency throughout the year. You have a specific recipe that you can follow with only perhaps a replacement of the fruit that goes in the pie or muffin. Many professionals live for this organization, process and exactness.

What we seldom recognize is the precision required to create great art or the creativity required to make a recipe better.

Cooks must practice new things all the time while being flexible with both the ingredients available and their patrons’ tastes. They must learn flavors and techniques to build meals from a wide range of disparate sources. All of this practice must come together at the time of execution so that quick decisions can be made and executed without fear or hesitation. Differentiation is easy and variety allows for many different choices at every meal. Execution is often as much a matter of taste as it is technique. Incentive pay professionals are chefs.

Bakers must work and rework recipes, sometimes for years, to create something that is completely new and confidently repeatable. Differentiation is hard since the ingredients are so similar. Since there are also fewer opportunities for baked goods in any meal, the final product must have wider application and appeal. Execution is about rules and techniques first and taste will generally follow. Board-based pay professionals are bakers.

In reality, most compensation professionals do a little of each of these nearly every day. They are less likely to be as specialized as the pastry chef at a five star restaurant and more like the head chef at the local family café. In other words, you are right. Your job is probably harder than most people realize. When you do it right, most people simply get what they expected all along. When you do it wrong it is obvious to everyone.

In your current position do you identify more as a baker or cook? Which is more enjoyable for you?

Dan Walter is the President and CEO of Performensation a firm committed to aligning pay with company strategy and culture. You may want to get a copy of “Everything You Do in COMPENSATION IS COMMUNICATION” written by Dan Walter, Ann Bares and Margaret O’Hanlon of the Comp Café as a practical guide to improving the communication process. Dan has also co-authored of several other books you may find useful including “The Decision Makers Guide to Equity Compensation”, “If I’d Only Known That”, and “Equity Alternatives.” Dan welcomes connections on LinkedIn. Follow him on Twitter at@Performensation and @SayOnPay.

Profit Sharing Incentive Plan

Quantify Your Qualities