Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

When expertise becomes an enemy of quality service 15 – personnel policies as dynamic and at least ideally, coherently and consistently organized operational systems 3

Posted in career development, HR and personnel, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on November 1, 2016

This is my fifteenth installment to a series on expertise, and on what an employee or manager needs to bring along with it, if it is to offer real value and either to themselves or to the business they work for (see my supplemental postings section at the end of Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 69 and following, for Parts 1-14.)

I focused in Part 14 of this, on a hiring and retention challenge that can reasonably be seen as at least a potential problem – and that I have seen turn into a virtual nightmare:

• Balancing a need to be as competitive as possible when seeking out and securing new special skills employees, and by offering them a more competitive salary and benefits package than other, less critical need new hires or current employees can expect – and particularly when there is more demand for these special needs hires than there is supply of them,
• While still being as consistent as possible in how all employees are treated and compensated, and while still appearing to follow this approach, so as to prevent even possible appearance of unfair or discriminating bias.

I wrote Part 14 in terms of a briefly and selectively sketched out scenario example in which standard ongoing personnel policy and its implementation, have set a business up for trouble as the nature of their required workforce has changed, and as their old two-tier system for characterizing and compensating non-managerial employees has begun to significantly break down. And as a part of that scenario, I suggested some basic and familiar work-arounds and resolutions, just to note how they can and do break down too. Then I ended that posting with this anticipatory note for this next installment to come, where I stated that I would discuss:

• The more traditional approach of businesses keeping secret their established salary ranges and related terms-of-employment details, and the increasing likelihood that any such secrecy will be breached with everyone able to see this type of information, and for any and every type and level of position in a business – any business.

I added that my goal there will be to at least begin a discussion of personnel policy best practices in an age of essentially complete transparency, as the interactive online experience and social media are giving us. And I will do so, as a basis for an at least opening a discussion of how this fundamentally challenges old Human Resources assumptions and old policy and practice norms, demanding fundamental change in how personnel policy is framed and executed. And I begin that with the old assumptions of secrecy and of consequences from its breach, and of transparency and its impact. And I will prepare for that here and now with a very real-world case in point example from my own work experience, where I saw the old and then-routine of this play out.

I know that I have cited and at least briefly recounted this workplace story in this blog, but not recently and just in brief noting detail. I return to it again here for its significance in understanding traditional Human Resources policy and practice, and for its immediate relevance to this narrative. I was working at a relatively large business a number of years ago, that for economy of scale purposes had strategically positioned shared copy machine and printer rooms that locally situated employees and managers could use. And it was common practice there, in accordance with this intent for people who worked in cubicles and offices near one of these resource rooms, to print documents that they needed as hard copy, at their nearest such printer/copier room, and then walk over to it to collect their documents. These printers were set up with what was expected to be enough memory so that a significant number of specific individual printer tasks could be uploaded to their queues for printing in order received, so as to prevent appearance of favoritism and to limit discord among resource users, and to improve systems efficiencies.

That description, up to here sounds very reasonable and it in fact was and is for its attempts to offer necessary services, and do so efficiently and at minimal resource support costs. The case in point example that I would cite here is not so much in how this shared resource system was set up, and with a carefully determined number and positioning of these share work resource stations – based on empirical overall printer and copier workflow levels and needs through the building. It is all about how these shared resources where used, and sometimes without regard to document confidentiality considerations. Material that were added to a print queue might only actually get printed after a significant delay and well after being sent to the printer, because of print requests submitted before it. And when it was printed, it would often sit in the printer output tray until collected and either by the person who requested this printing or by whoever came in and wanted to select out and collect their own printing – or anyone who simply saw the output tray was filling up and decided to clean things up. A lot of material ended up on a large table set aside with staplers, hole punchers, blank file folders and the like, where it would wait to be picked up by its owner.

And this is where and why I raise this story here. I walked into the nearest printer room to my desk one day and I saw some of the most fundamentally confidential information that this business’ Human Resources Department held, laid out on that table for any and all to see – and from how it was laid out it was clear at least someone had looked at it and found it interesting. And they might have even used the copier there to make their own copy of it.

• The document in question was a complete listing of all employees and managers in their entire Information Technology Department from low level technicians up to and including their Chief Information Officer with all of their base pays and the overall calculated values of their compensation packages (with all benefits, etc included.)
• Certainly at the time this took place, businesses could still keep personnel compensation confidential and even from the bulk of their own Human Resources personnel, at least for the complete picture. And virtually all businesses and of all types, saw that as essentially important and both as far as individual members of the overall staff was concerned and as far as salary ranges for specific work positions and work levels was concerned.
• Individual compensation disclosure raises significant liability issues for any business and even now, as a breach of confidentiality of highly sensitive personal information. This is at least as important an information security lapse now as it has ever been and it can even be seen as more of a challenge now as computer network hacking has become more common and more invasive in its potential for loss of control of confidential personal information. But demographic level, salary and related range information has traditionally been viewed as vitally sensitive information too and for any business that wants to be able to negotiate salaries from a position of strength.

That secrecy used to be largely possible, and a prospective new hire or a current employee who wanted to know how their proffered or current compensation measured up against others generally had limited means at most, to know that. The concern was that they might find out anyway.

• A new hire might be facing a more mid-level salary and benefits offer relative to what this business pays others with similar jobs and job titles, or even a relatively high-end compensation package if they offer exceptional value. But they might find that they are being offered a low-end compensation package and even though they demonstrably exceed all of the acknowledged new hire skills and experience requirements for that job that are called for in its posted description, and even when the manager who offers to hire them acknowledges the value they offer for that. Most businesses are loath to hire anyone much above the minimum for the compensation range of the position they are hired for, so they cannot reach of its pay scale maximum too quickly, forcing a rapid promotions requirement. But this type of reasoning does not make them look good as an employer.
• And for current employees, they might find themselves to be receiving a low-end compensation package there too, and wonder if their age or ethnicity or some other disallowed discriminatory factor might be contributing to that.

The concern faced by Human Resources in this, is that disclosure of salary and overall compensation ranges offered would both limit their ability to control overall personnel costs and create discord among employees and managers who find themselves to be under-compensated in comparison to others, including others who they know and who do not present themselves as being better or more valuable assets to the business. And businesses traditionally developed and implemented personnel policy accordingly.

That was then; this is now. And now means an ever increasing number of online resources that can be used to find the salary ranges for given positions and titles within businesses, and across sectors and industries, and how businesses compare and in detail for overall compensation packages. And that is just the beginning as far as availability of resources for looking behind Human Resources’ traditional secrecy veils – and for essentially anything that a current employee or job candidate might need or want to know, to understand a business’ negotiating positions and options and their own in this too.

One of the best known of these resources is Glassdoor, and I begin there for the breadth and range of options that it offers, and both for sharing information about businesses and their compensation ranges, and as they organize all of this community-sourced input. But there are many, many other such sources and effective due diligence usually means checking for information and insight from several of them. Two other well known resources here are Payscale and Career One Stop / find-salary. And you can easily find more through Google or similar searches (e.g. Google / salary information by company.)

So secrecy is no longer actually possible here, and certainly for demographic level data that does not reveal personal information about individuals who are not required to divulge such information. (Chief executive officer annual salary and overall compensation data is often revealed, for many types of publically traded companies as an exception to this basic pattern, but confidentially is required for safeguarding personal information regarding most of us.) And this has consequences and ones that in effect demand change in both Human Resources expectations and practices. I will step back from the specifics of this posting’s case in point example in my next series installment to consider personnel policies themselves, and particularly where compensation-related matters are concerned. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 (with this included as a supplemental posting there) and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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