Column – Confessions of a benefits manager

Article in full

The annual strategy review is to be held for a whole day at Le Mediocre Hotel, and for some reason Lazy Susan is all excited about it. To her off-site means off-work though I doubt anyone will notice any difference.

The day starts with the Highest Being (our President) giving us a run-down on the new company vision. I haven’t managed to commit it to memory but I can tell you the general gist, which is: Make more money. He goes on to present the company mission statement. A mission statement is something that every employee should be able to recite on demand, like their times tables, but again the actual words escape me. It pretty much boils down to: Make more money plus a few things you do merely in order to sound like a good company. So, that’s clear then.

It is interesting to reflect that strategic vision is one of the core competencies we assess when evaluating leaders in our company. Based on his presentation, I wouldn’t give the Highest Being much of a rating; a junior clerk could have put it more succinctly. Maybe we should assess the ability to ramble on unintelligibly, as it seems to be a common denominator for success in our firm.

The Highest Being hands over to another Higher Being, the VP of Human Resources, who is to present the mission statement for our overall department. Clearly, Human Resources falls into the category of things you do merely in order to sound like a good company, but no-one is prepared to admit that. Oh no. We are supporting the business strategy. We are strategic partners. We are commercially focused. We are unintelligibly rambling.

To prove that the HR department is fully aligned with the business (and, no doubt, to remind us all that he has an MBA from Cranfield) the VP goes on to present fifty slides of department business plan complete with Swot analysis and organisational structure review.

It’s this last which makes me sit up and pay attention. Rather ominously, the word outsourcing is mentioned at least three times. Apparently low-level transactional work will be outsourced, so that staff will have more time to focus on strategic work. Lazy Susan, hearing talk of less work, perks up a bit. But she doesn’t realise that the only reason a company outsources anything is so they can make a bunch of staff redundant. Any poor souls who are not actually laid off have to manage an outsourced team they have no proper influence over, and generally end up doing all the work themselves.

I console myself that the Higher Beings will not want to outsource executive pay. Oh no. They’ll want that handled by someone close at hand, someone they can intimidate. Furthermore, I don’t actually do any low-level transactional work. Lazy Susan on the other hand… no, even her job is probably safe. She doesn’t do any low-level transactional work either; she doesn’t actually do anything.

Another unsavoury part of this organisation plan is that departments within HR, like compensation, training and HR systems, are going to be renamed Centres of Competence. Honestly. It’s like calling a bunny rabbit ‘Spike’.

We are split into our respective teams to come up with our own strategies, goals and actions for the coming year. Lazy Susan and I find ourselves in a tiny break-out room with Big Bad Boss. I am hoping Big Bad Boss can explain the difference between strategies, goals and actions, because the Higher Beings seemed to express exactly the same thing in a slightly different way under each.

Big Bad Boss, a born leader, rambles on unintelligibly for some time without answering my question or saying anything useful. He says that before we can work on the strategy, we need to define our compensation philosophy. Philosophy? I’m sorry; this is all getting a bit silly. Philosophy, in case you hadn’t looked it up lately, means higher thought. I don’t think Socrates would have spent much time pondering whether or not we should target pay at market median. Call it a policy, fine, but let’s not claim to be philosophers as well as competent.

Big Bad Boss has clearly been reading his professional magazine again: he bangs on about working smarter and leveraging technology (this from a man who prints out his emails to read them). One hour later and we still haven’t come up with any real goals. I look at Lazy Susan who is staring out the window with a soppy look on her face, no doubt planning her evening with her boyfriend. I look back at Big Bad Boss who is drawing interlocking circles on the whiteboard to represent our interface with other departments. Very pretty, but does it get us any nearer to defining a team strategy? Finally, I realise that the actual task, as always, is down to me.

I decide to approach team goals the way I would my own. First, start with things we have done already, so that we know a few things will definitely get ticked off. Secondly, propose things we are almost certainly going to be asked to do; we might as well get credit for them. Finally, if that isn’t enough, add a couple of things which might look good on my CV.

Next time Candid gets moving on the relocation policy