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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

In the world of pay, we are almost always looking forward to the upcoming year or more. We often operate with little or no reference to our histories. If we are going to measure our success, we should probably understand the path that got us here.

I often work with companies who can provide very little information on how and why they are in their current state. They can speak in broad generalities, but the details are hard, or impossible, to grasp. None of these people are dummies. To the contrary, most are smart professionals who work hard to make the best decisions every year. How well can you explain your past decisions and actions? 

What did your survey data look like three years ago? How did pay for each position align to it? Do you have these details and do you communicate them in any reasonable way?

How about your LTI plan? What were the specific "asks" and "expectations" five or six years ago How well did you meet these objectives and did you ask your employees or executives how effective the plan was in motivating them to those achievements?

Things in the past get fuzzier over time. This is especially true for tasks that require complex decision-making and involve discretion. We make hundreds of small decisions like this every time we benchmark compensation, determine incentive pay levels, set goals, and decide on merit increase minutiae. When we look back even a couple of years, the drivers of our decisions are often difficult to explain or defend. In a data driven world, our eternally spotless minds will prove to be an insurmountable obstacle.

A growing best practice is building regular reporting summaries at critical decision and measurement points. These summaries often include pictures or easy data visualization because our brains are best at remembering images. These summaries become a diary of our past. At their best, they also include the "why" of each decision. This approach to remembering history is seen in things like "Facebook memories" and old family videos but is very new to the world of total rewards.

Imagine if as you started planning each year you could quickly review the key decisions, failures, and successes that brought you to your current position over the past several years. While there are all kinds of tools that can help with this, a simple solution is a series of slideshows. 

Build a template for each program or process. Every decision cycle, usually annually, but more often for things like sales plans, create a quick set of charts representing your current state and desired state. Put together a bullet point of why you made key decisions. Then each following year, add new slides linked back the prior slides. As time progresses, you will easily be able to track whether you’ve been delivering real value (or not).

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