Stickman Racing Checkmarks.jpeg

Checks on the Chalkboard

Is everything you do necessary? Perhaps, I should ask the question differently. Is everything you do, making it easier to get everything done? Today’s post is about the practical. It’s so practical that it applies to just about everything, including compensation.

I was working with a client recently, and a lesson from a long-ago teacher came to mind. She called it “Check on the Chalkboard.” She had each student do a series of basic math problems. She then created a team of the fastest students and a team of the slowest.

The teams raced each other in a relay-style format. You got up from your chair, did a math problem and went back to your chair. In the first race the “fast team” won easily. It seemed patently unfair. The rules changed for the second race.

In the second race, the “fast team” was asked to put a check mark on the chalkboard after they correctly answered each question. The checkmark had to be placed in a numbered box (I believe there were ten boxes, representing the members of the team).

The fast team answered questions like lightning. They sprinted to the green chalkboard (it was a LONG time ago) and made a messy check in their assigned box. It seemed to take very little time even as it added an element of excitement and chaos to the race.

When the dust settled, the “slow team” was the clear winner. Burdening the “fast team” with a simple additional task slowed them enough to lose the race. The checkmarks had no purpose other than to change the outcome of the race. Each checkmark was insignificant. When they were combined, they changed the game.

After I remembered this lesson from my youth, I started seeing checkmarks in the processes followed by nearly every company. Most of the checkmarks are tiny things. Many are performed because the supporting systems have not been set up to their full capabilities. Some are a result of out-of-the-box features. Most are unique to a specific company and have no known origin. They are done, simply because “things have always been done that way.” They offer no upside. They support no known purpose. They seem to exist simply to slow things down.

In our haste, we often forget to ask why we do things. We are so consumed with getting things done; we do more than we need to. All of this can keep us from doing more important tasks, like evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of our programs and making improvements where needed.

Compensation departments are increasingly asked to do more with less. Our jobs can be complicated and our customers are every person in the company, and often many people outside it. All of those people are going to add checkmarks to our processes. It is essential that we do our best to avoid any of our making.

The best way to police your processes is to ask yourself why twice. The first thing you need to ask is: “Why am I doing this?”. If you have an answer, the next question you should ask is: “Why is it important?” If both answers make you feel warm and fuzzy, then carry on. If not, you may have just identified a “checkmark” on your chalkboard.

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