Confessions of a benefits manager: Executive stress

A global executive evaluation project opens Candid‘s eyes to some ‘rationalisation opportunities’, but the results prove irrational

Most people would be excited to be given such an important project. Global executive evaluation sounds very grand and, I’ll admit, it will look good on my CV, but I have a nasty feeling about it all the same. Part of the problem is that Big Bad Boss has his own ideas about how I should tackle it. I hate that. Tell me what to do if you must, but just don’t tell me how to do it. Call me a control freak, but micro-management gets me so riled up.

Big Bad Boss wants me to add data on spans and layers to my executive evaluation sheet. What has that got to do with grading? Surely that is an organisational design issue? I get one of those waffling answers that Higher Beings and politicians are so good at. I am none the wiser.

I arrange a meeting with the girl who runs headcount reports to see if we can even get information on spans and layers. She doesn’t turn up. I call her and she says she didn’t realise it was urgent. Hello? Is that any reason not to turn up to a meeting you have already accepted? Don’t get me started on meeting etiquette again. There is an epidemic of basic rudeness around here.

Eventually, I get to sit down with her and explain what we need. For each executive, we need to know how many direct reports they have, what their total headcount is, and how many layers deep into the organisation. Naturally, it is not that simple. Nothing ever is. We have this stupid matrix organisation that has dotted lines and functional cross-charges going in all directions, so the chart looks like some sort of untidy spider’s web. She can’t produce anything that ties to the headcount reports the Higher Beings are used to seeing because she makes a load of manual changes to them based on recharges. I tell her she can do the same manual changes to my report, or she can get the system updated properly. I don’t care, but this has got to be done. I am nice about it, but I am firm all the same.

A week later and it still isn’t done. If I don’t deliver, it will be my feet in the fire, not hers, so I need to escalate this lack of response to her manager. I don’t like doing this. I really don’t like it when people dob me in like that, but needs must when the devil drives, especially when Big Bad Boss and his even more odious manager are the particular devils concerned.

Finally, I get the spans and layers data and sit down with Big Bad Boss. So, erm, what is this data supposed to tell us, exactly? I don’t grade someone based on how many direct reports they have. Market data might refer to total headcount of business unit in some circumstances, but spans and layers down are never mentioned. So, what have spans and layers got to do with anything, I ask again. Big Bad Boss waffles and mumbles and the dark answer finally emerges. I am to highlight any executive with fewer than three direct reports or more than four layers, to help identify rationalisation opportunities. Aha. It is time for the annual cull, only this time the focus, for a change, is on the big boys. Well, this should be fun.

Data highlighted accordingly, I have to sit down with each Super Being (senior vice-president with special emphasis on ‘vice’) to look at their team. I thought spans and layers were irrelevant, and so they prove to be. When it comes down to the discussion about any executive with a low span, nine times out of 10, if they like them, they are considered a subject matter expert. If they are not happy with him, it is a rationalisation opportunity. I identify 12 such opportunities. Sadly, Big Bad Boss is not one of them. Thankfully, nor am I. Phew.

We also have a list of identified ‘grade outliers’, which makes them sound like some sort of bandit. These are Higher Beings who, if we graded them properly, would have a grade higher or lower than they have today. Actually, predictably, most of them are graded too high right now. The decisions are overtly biased. If someone’s face fits, they keep their grade. If they don’t like them, they do not. If they are in a country where they could kick up a fuss and sue for changing their terms, we don’t change them, but plan to make their life difficult until they leave of their own choice.

Big Bad Boss sticks his nose in again and gets me to add length of service and age to the report. Since when do we grade anyone based on age? Oh, and by the way, it would be illegal if we did. Even length of service is meaningless in this context. Yes, it can be valuable to have Higher Beings who have experience in the company, but it doesn’t mean we are going to promote someone on that basis. Nor are we likely to downgrade the people who have joined only recently. Stupid man. I grit my teeth to avoid muttering it out loud.

For the final presentation, I have to do a detailed costing of the outcome. Certain grade levels attract certain benefits, so there is a whole list of winners and losers. Predictably, overall, our executives are winners, and the whole exercise will cost hundreds of thousands. Higher Beings always end up better off in the end.

Next time…Candid has technical problems.

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