Confessions of a benefits manager: Spot the manager

Candid is tasked with identifying criteria to create a ‘senior manager’ title in the company, but soon enters a minefield

Following the success of our project looking at executives, Big Bad Boss wants me to do it all over again for the next level down. Apparently, the US wants to create a new band to help motivate high-flyers without giving them any more money, so the idea is we create a special ‘senior manager club’, which may (or may not) receive some associated benefits. However, before we can even look at the benefits side of things, we need to define who can be called a senior manager.

So, Big Bad Boss wants me to gather data on all the non-exec-level managers in the company and come up with criteria for the senior manager title, just like I did for executives. Sadly, what he doesn’t remember is that it took days to review a couple of hundred executives. To look at all potential managers globally will take weeks. He has given me until next week. Typical.

Worse, because the vast majority of managers are in the US, completely outside my remit, I don’t know them well enough to be able to assess their jobs. There is no point looking at job descriptions because I know from experience that most of them are wrong, and in any case they are written to help recruit a candidate, not to evaluate the position. I will need to liaise with the local HR managers. My heart sinks. Some HR managers are really clued up on their territories, but others are not. Some seem to survive simply by avoiding answering any questions, so no one ever realises how little they know. This is going to be a long week.

I start with the woman who is responsible for finance worldwide. She tells me she is new here and that I should work directly with her team. That means three phone calls instead of one, so I am not impressed. The bit about being new is ridiculous because she has been with the company for over a year, but she is still using it as an excuse. Her team are a lot more helpful, but they do start to get into a tizz about what the project is all about. Are we going to change people’s titles if they are already called senior manager? Are we going to take away benefits? I try to allay the panic. No, at this stage we are just gathering data.†

Unfortunately, they run back to Ms Finance, who rings me to find out what all the fuss is about. What is the objective of the project? What changes are we making to benefits anyway? She fires off a host of questions, which I have already answered, had she bothered to turn up. She asks me to prepare a Q&A document to be sent to local HR teams to cover all these questions as they are raised. I point out that they were covered in the presentation I sent to her. She is adamant that I put it into a question-and-answer document. I am fuming. It will take me an unnecessary hour to reformat the document and no one will read it anyway. However, for someone who is ‘new around here’, she can kick up a lot of fuss, so I just get on with it.

Interview HR managers

Having sent the presentation and the Q&As in advance, I proceed to interview HR managers in charge of the facilities and legal departments. They are fairly small groups and I can tick them off quickly. But it is clear from the questions that no one reads Q&As. What a surprise. Other groups are even more tricky. IT is full of ‘managers’ who don’t actually manage anyone, but they have some sort of high-value expertise. Sales managers often don’t manage anyone either, but they need sexy titles to impress our customers. It is a minefield.

Then, having dug into what everyone does, I try to look at it from a market-pricing point of view. Some roles are higher value than others, and we need to factor that into any banding changes. It takes hours to add data points for all the roles.

With all the data in, I can propose some guidelines that broadly fit our own data and that from market studies. I also produce a long list of anomalies, a long list of employees who have senior manager titles but should not, and a short list of those who should be upgraded, according to my guidelines.

I know this will be contentious, so I arrange to review the list with all the HR managers concerned, including Ms Finance. Unfortunately, she tells me once again that she is ‘new around here’ and I should speak to her team directly. I guess ‘new around here’ is a euphemism for ‘can’t be bothered’.

Finally, the criteria validated and the lists scrubbed, I arrange to take the results to Big Bad Boss. He wants to include some of the HR managers, so it turns into a bit of a multi-country conference call. All is well until Ms Finance calls in. She has a series of inane questions, all of which are in the Q&As she asked for. She also says, quite aggressively, that she didn’t know about any of these anomalies and she will want to review the list in person, which is exactly what I had already tried to do. Suddenly, now that she is in front of Big Bad Boss and a few other Higher Beings, she is not so ‘new around here’.

Now why is it I can’t get away with that sort of thing?

Next time… Candid sets up a networking group.

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