Examining the Return on Investing in High Potential Talent



Image Credit: <lego.wikia.com

Image Credit: <lego.wikia.com>

…So this morning I stumbled across a piece from way back by Compensation Strategist Laura Schroeder. It’s a really solid read, and you can check it out here. The gist of the piece is essentially that a majority (70ish percent) of talent that employers label as high potential – and subsequently invest in – are poor investments, either because (i) their skills aren’t transferable to the next level or (ii) because they aren’t committed to the Company.

In the case of the former, there has been much written about the subject, including this piece from Korn Ferry which lays out a framework of how to assess if / when a talent should be promoted to the next level. But today I want to talk about the latter group – high potential talent that could be future leaders in your organization… if only they were willing to stay.

Schroeder points out that companies which aren’t leaders in some combination of rewards, development, and culture are at risk of losing their highest potential people because said talent is likely to find the top of the market (or at least a higher point in it) over time. Heavily investing in such talent not only speeds up the timeline in which this process occurs, but it also has the double edged effect of representing a sunk cost to the employer.

…Ergo, if we start from the place that these statements are true at least some of the time, to what extent should they be impacting talent strategy? If I’m a leader in an organization that can’t compete at or near the top of the market on pay or development (and my culture also fails to serve as a talent attractor and/or hook), should I instead be focusing on developing a less conventionally talented segment of my workforce? On one level most organizations adopt such practices in their recruiting efforts already: As an example; most companies don’t recruit at, say, Harvard or Stanford business school precisely because those graduates will by and large join the top 1% of employers which offer the best possible opportunities. In this respect I suppose that it similarly makes sense to assess what sorts of people are staying with your organization once you hire them and to then invest (and recruit) accordingly.

…Still, this approach sort of feels like surrender to me. The best companies are so because they have the best ideas and the best ability to execute on those idea…. both of which require the best people. As such, while investing in someone because they are predisposed to stay with your organization should certainly be a big consideration when assessing who your high potentials are… I also think that if someone is an incredible talent that the smart play is to figure out how to hold onto them… even if that means outsized compensation, development, and/or work considerations. Because in the long run, having the best talent wins.

Or maybe I have this wrong? This is just a Wednesday morning thought stream, so as always please share your thoughts in the comments section below.



How Expectations Shape Outcomes





…So this morning I was meandering through my favorite HR haunts for interesting articles when I came across this piece from Laurie Ruettimann. It examines our at times unrealistic expectations about reward, offering the following nugget:

We don’t work hard and make good choices for thank you letters and praise. We work hard and make good choices for a paycheck.

When I first read the above quote I couldn’t figure out exactly why it resonated with me, because I don’t necessarily agree with it – at least not in its entirety. A paycheck is certainly one of the reasons that I work hard and (generally) make good choices, but is certainly not the only reason. Among other reasons, I also do these things because they align with my values and give me a sense of personal pride.

…So what is it about the quote?

Stepping back, I think it’s because I admire the ethos behind working for yourself and not the approval of others. Be it working for money, personal passion, or something entirely more altruistic – the idea that one’s efforts and sense of self are separate from validation received (or not received) from others is a central life theme of mine. I have an enormous amount of respect for it.

…We all want to feel appreciated… but I think there’s a difference between wanting appreciation and seeking or – even worse – needing it to be engaged in whatever endeavor you’re pursuing.

I think this is important because – at some point in our careers – most of us will feel a little undervalued relative to what we bring to the table. This may come in the form of a bad boss, a non-glamorous role, or in the form of some otherwise unrecognized efforts. When this happens, I think it’s important to continue performing at a high level even when we don’t feel like it. The difference in approach here is the long-term developmental difference between becoming a technically competent professional and world class expert. This is because people that expect ‘thank-yous’ to work hard are slowing down when their peers with the opposite outlook are still hitting their stride. And over time, this difference in approach can have a dramatic impact on the trajectory of one’s career.

Ergo, the next time you’re feeling down or under-appreciated please remember this:

…Or do I have this wrong? As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.



Quote of the Week: “As soon as you trust yourself…



…you will know how to live.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe



For this week’s quote we can thank German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. I’m sharing it because it articulates one of the more transformative realizations I’ve (recently) come to in my life.

Sometimes, you’re the subject matter expert.

For many people, this is and always has been obvious. But – on a personal level – I can say this is a pretty big breakthrough.

…I am very good at executing. If you tell me what you need to have done, and by when, I will almost always find a way. I am resourceful, hard working, and have a knack for identifying who I need to influence to accomplish my goals and how to win them over.

…But I don’t question directives often. This isn’t because I don’t have my own thoughts on how to get things done, but because if someone is put into a position to make decisions I generally trust that they have the subject matter expertise to make the right choices.

I have always been an emergent leader – I step up to lead initiatives only when it is crystal clear to me that I am the best person for the job. Conversely, if I perceive someone in a leadership role to be competent I’m perfectly content to let them do their thing. I want to generate the best result, and I’ve never been concerned with credit. Playing in my lane and doing good work has served me well to date, and so if someone else is doing a good job running with the ball I’ve always been fine staying in the background.

…With that said, lately I’ve started to find myself in situations where *I* am the subject matter expert. In a room full of people with much more experience, sometimes *I* have the best ideas. And as someone that has spent his whole life trusting in experts, perpetually seeking knowledge from those that have been where I am before… it is more than a little jarring to suddenly find myself in a position where I’m sometimes the one in the best position to lead.

But it is also liberating.

…So I’ve decided not to just be a person who executes on other’s strategies anymore – at least not all the time. Going forward, if I think there’s a better way to do something I’m going to trust myself and just go for it. I don’t know how this shift in approach will work, but I’m going to find out.

As we get started this week, I will not tell you to replicate my new approach, because I don’t yet know that it’s the right one. I am 27 years old, and as a practical matter have quite a bit more to learn. With that said, I would encourage everyone reading this to think critically about the directives you’re given, and if something doesn’t make sense have the courage to push back. Believe in yourself. Have an opinion. And don’t be afraid to act on it if your gut tells you to do so.

You just might be more ready to make that decision than you know.

Happy Monday,


Sunday Reading: Estimating Risks, Unconscious Bias, and Rewards Innovation





1. Tim Sackett has a great post up wherein he points out human being’s general pre-disposition towards overestimating the likelihood of positive events and underestimating the likelihood of negative events. With these facts in mind, Sackett suggests that it’s the role of the HR Business Partner to mitigate risks as opposed to acting as advisory counsel. It’s a solid post, and you should check it out here.

2. Laszlo Bock, SVP of People Operations, and Brian Welle, Ph.D., Director of People Analytics at Google have an intriguing post up on Linkedin outlining a framework they’re using to move the needle on diversity within the Company. There are some good anecdotes to be found here, and the steps they’re taking to remove bias within their organization seem like they’d be transferable at other companies as well. Check out the full piece here.

3. Ann Bares writes about why the shakeup we’re all waiting for in the Total Rewards profession is likely to come from the outside. Citing a recent study, Bares provides evidence that everyone – but particularly experts – are predisposed towards disliking innovations and/or creative thinking that might disrupt conventional ways of doing things. This piece is worth the read for its anecdotes alone, but as always Bares goes a step further and provides insights into what our role as HR / compensation professionals might be when the time comes to integrate new (outside) ideas into our processes. This is a great piece, and you should check it out on Compensation Café here.

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.



Video Saturday: Advancing a Career in Compensation Management


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Successful compensation professionals from LinkedIn, Siemens Corporation and Marriott Vacations Worldwide provide career advice.

With Nick Vollrath, CCP, GRP, CSCP, Manager, Compensation, Siemens Corporation
Christina Hall, Sr. Director, Global Compensation, LinkedIn
Cathy Peffen, CBP, CCP, CSCP, GRP, WLCP, ACCP, MCCP, VP of Global HR Services and Executive Compensation, Marriott Vacations Worldwide

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.



Spotlight Friday: An Interview with Me, Human Resources Manager at Archer Daniels Midland


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Rory Trotter

My name is Rory C. Trotter Jr., and I’m in an HR Management Development Program at Archer Daniels Midland, one of the world’s leading agribusinesses.

I currently manage the human resources function at ADM’s cocoa division headquarters. I am responsible for talent management, employee and labor relations, communications, benefits administration, and payroll. I have three direct reports charged with executing on day to day HR activities and general administrative functions.

My career focus is in Human Resources because I believe tomorrow’s economy will be driven by those companies that most effectively leverage their human capital in the pursuit of innovative solutions to the 21st century’s unprecedented business and social challenges. To accomplish these aims, the best organizations will successfully use descriptive and prescriptive analytics to recruit top talent, identify and nurture said talent’s strengths, and ensure sustained productivity and innovation through the use of initiatives that both recognize and reward high performance.

1. Most job postings cite “X” years of relevant work experience and specific education criteria as requirements to be considered for the position. With this in mind, what prior work experiences and degrees/certifications/training helped prepare you for your current role?

I lead the HR function at one of my employer’s division headquarters, managing a team of 3 HR and administrative professionals and directly supporting a little over 300 full-time employees and contractors across a wide ranges of functions. I have a direct reporting line to the location’s Operations Director, with a dotted-line reporting relationship to the Commercial Director. Both my M.B.A. and my Master of Human Resources and Industrial/Labor Relations from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have been helpful in preparing me for my current role. The former was helpful because it provided me with a foundation in analytical thinking and financial accounting – both of which are valuable to have at various times in my job. And the latter degree was helpful because of the knowledge it gave me of how to mediate conflicts and labor and employment law. With that said, my work experiences across various roles over the last 30 months have been perhaps more valuable in positioning me for success than any formal education. I’ve worked as Labor Relations Rep, Recruiter, Compensation Analyst, Generalist, Line-Leader, and Projects Manager. In aggregate these roles have given me an in-depth understanding of our HR systems, culture, contracts and handbooks, compensation philosophy, staffing best practices, and awareness of key stakeholders and gatekeepers across the enterprise.

2. What (if any) additional knowledge or skills that you don’t currently have would make you even better at your job?

More knowledge of our day-to-day operations would be helpful as they would allow me to function as more of a strategic business partner on matters related to talent and succession. You can get a lot of this from reading financial statements (10-ks/10-qs/8-ks etc.) and working closely with Line Managers, but a deep understanding of a businesses’ operations can really only being gleamed from being entrenched in them. My role is relatively siloed, however, focusing mostly on HR-specific tasks such as employee and union relations, contract interpretation, payroll, benefits administration, communications, and staffing/succession.

3. Some jobs require the incumbent to be very analytical. Others require one to be a strong communicator, and others still require traits like patience, the ability to multitask, self-directedness, comfort with ambiguity, and exceptional attention to detail. Are there any behaviors and/or attributes that you would say are essential to performing the work that you do?

At any given time there are dozens of tasks that I’m juggling, ranging from the tactical/administrative (such as making sure open-enrollment activities and trainings are progressing as intended) to strategic (e.g. partnering with business leaders to project future staffing needs and build a bench). I have to be organized to keep track of everything, and possess prioritization skills to decide what’s operationally important to complete immediately as opposed to that which can wait for another day. Furthermore, employee relations issues are often unscheduled but yet require my immediate attention. Understanding the positions of all stakeholders involved in any given issue and being able to take action(s) that makes all parties feel as if their voice is heard requires me to have both empathy and strong interpersonal skills.

4. Jobs guru Lou Adler says there are only 4 job types of jobs in the world (producers, improvers, builders, and thinkers). Which type of job are you in?

This role is 25% Producer and 60ish% Improver. There is a small but not negligible (perhaps 15%) part of my job that involves builder work, but these are mostly one-off projects related to the roll out of new corporate initiatives or broader communications efforts. At times I am also asked to help on projects unrelated to my core job duties (M&A work, plant operations etc.).

5. Does your job involve either directly or indirectly supervising or managing people? If so, how many direct (or indirect) reports do you have?

Three direct reports. I have an HR Specialist reporting to me that is responsible for payroll, accounting, and select onboarding activities. I also have a receptionist and a general administrative clerk reporting to me.

6. How does what you do impact the business? Think complexity (different types of impacts) and scale (degree of impact). Put another way: Who and what would be impacted if your job wasn’t being done well, and why would it matter that they were impacted?

If my job wasn’t being done well the immediate impact felt would be that benefits administration, recruiting, employee relations, union relations, compliance training, and perhaps payroll would go unaddressed. These are operationally important activities critical to the function of the business. Performance management might suffer as well, since I play an integral role in partnering with Managers and their direct reports to address issues in this arena. Everything else could probably be handled by others in the short-term.

7. Is your job safe? Rate its safety on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being “seated all day in an air conditioned vault” and 10 being “I’m an astronaut going into space”. If your job isn’t safe, what working conditions (specifically) make it hazardous?

My job is a 2 or 3 on the safety scale. When I go out into the plant/operations I suppose there is a theoretical chance of injury… although we’ve only hand one lost time injury at our site in 3.5 years so even that’s a small chance. Otherwise, this is exclusively a desk job.

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.



The Impact of Jealousy on Employee Engagement





This morning I was browsing Laurie Ruettimann‘s blog, and this post caused me to start thinking about the role jealousy plays in influencing employee engagement – and what the implications of that are to our efforts in HR (and as managers) to keep our talent happy.

…So most people get jealous about things. Setting aside (for the purposes of this blog) the countless matters that drive jealousy in people’s personal lives, in a professional context people can be jealous of their co-workers pay/title/office/work assignments/parking spaces/job performance/insert-whatever-here. And that jealousy can and does adversely impact job satisfaction – in occasionally significant ways – that employers can’t control. Further, such negative feelings can not only impact retention (if an employee feels the need to go elsewhere to find more of what he/she doesn’t have compared against peers), but – if acted out – also the work environment.

I suppose as a practical matter people need to really address such issues on an individual (personal) level – finding a sense of inner peace that allows for one t to find happiness that’s not contingent on what others are doing. Conversely, I also think employers can (possibly?) play a role in this process by making the workplace a more fun place to, well, work, and by further encouraging their people to invest in rich experiences (because employees enjoying a rewarding personal life are more likely to be productive at work).

I am not sure of what exactly this looks like yet – or even if such engagement / happiness efforts should fall in the space of HR – but I like the idea that we can improve the bottom line for our businesses by actively helping our workforce be happier people.

Just a Wednesday morning thought stream…

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.



A Few Thoughts on Meritocracy From an HR Guy


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When Satya Nadella’s comments discouraging women from asking for raises in lieu of “trusting the system” went public last week much was written about them. A lot of it was insightful, and I encourage you to read a few of the above pieces if you have a chance. For those that missed his comments, however, see below:

It’s not about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along… And that, I think might be one of the additional superpowers that quite frankly women who don’t ask for a raise have. Because that’s good karma. It’ll come back because somebody’s going to know ‘that’s the kind of person that I want to trust. That’s the kind of person I want to really give more responsibility to.’ And in the long term efficiency, things catch up. And I wonder… And I’m not saying that’s the only approach.

…So if I were to distill why people were outraged by these comments, I would submit that it’s because they belie unawareness of a reality that countless working men and women the world over are all too aware of:

“The system” doesn’t always give you raises that reflect something approaching your value as you go along. Or, put another way; compensation is not always commiserate with performance.

…That isn’t to say that good work doesn’t get noticed – it often does, eventually. But good work being noticed doesn’t always translate into markedly more pay, and even when it does that doesn’t necessarily mean that it translates into “fair” pay. This is because determining “fair” compensation is tough. Doing so requires very accurate performance management systems, which are easier talked about in the abstract than blueprinted… and harder still to implement even when/if a great system is designed within one’s organization. As a practical matter, many employees chafe at the prospect of performance reviews, and their organizations are subsequently shying away from publicizing the criteria used to rate employees.

…Again, this is because at present performance measurement is at least a little subjective even in organizations going to great pains to quantify it. In many cases performance reviews are left almost exclusively to management discretion, which is frequently bound by few if any hard metrics. This means that the process of determining employee value is often an exercise mired in subjectivity.

To be fair, there is a certain degree of scientific rigor to developing a compensation structure. But it must also be said that pay ranges can be very wide, and that being paid a competitive wage that’s in line with the market is *not* the same as maximizing one’s earnings. Early in one’s career, if one is a high performer it’s actually much more financially lucrative to switch jobs often than it is to stay in one place. This is because an employee always has the most leverage when they’re mulling an offer – and certainly much more so than they do once they’ve accepted a job. Once you’ve accepted an offer a company knows how much you’ll work for… which makes it much easier to provide marginal year over year increases.

…And that’s the thing about meritocracies. The point of a compensation plan is to attract, retain, incentivize, and reward talent. Comp structures don’t exist to promote internal equity and parity so much as they exist to keep high performers producing high-quality work. Ideally, everyone is paid relative to their output – the highest performers make the most money, the lowest performers make the least, and everyone else falls in between. In practice? It doesn’t always work that way, and when it is working that way in an organization, said firm may or may not know it because – again – quantifying the performance of individual contributors is often as much art as science.

I suppose, then, that I would submit to you that being paid what you’d like to be paid is not so much a matter of asking for a raise as it is understanding leverage. Companies pay top talent what they have to in order to keep them happy and performing. And as a superstar will always generate many times his salary in value to the business he or she is employed by, this can often times be a very high number. The best way, then, to maximize earnings is to develop a skill set that can solve many employer’s business pain and then being unafraid to leverage that skill set in the market (and this often times means being highly mobile – as the best opportunities are not always in close geographic proximity of one another).

By freeing oneself to understand what constitutes compensable value, it’s possible to stop chasing an “equitable” wage (an impossible number because if businesses paid all employees commensurate with their value they wouldn’t turn a profit), and even wage page parity (a poor ideal to strive for because employees in the same jobs often have different but difficult to precisely differentiate impacts).

…This post was a bit tangenty, but for those that read to the end I hope it added some sort of value. This is just a Tuesday morning thought stream, but in the future I may try and better structure my thoughts on quantifying compensable value and how one can leverage their own to maximize earnings. My gut says that asking for a raise is not the way to accomplish the latter, though. It may work for some, but I really think maximizing earnings goes back to understanding one’s value in the market and leveraging it.

Or maybe I have this wrong?

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.



Quote of the Week: “The perception of the audience is the interesting part…


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…If the audience doesn’t hear what is going on, is it going on or not?” – Robert Fripp



This week’s quote has been attributed to English guitarist, composer and record producer Robert Fripp. It’s timely for me because my current role has recently called for me to lead several large(ish) scale communications efforts. And I’m finding that – when it comes to communications – intent and perception are often not the same thing.

An effective communications strategy requires one to see the world from the point of view of one’s audience. It isn’t enough to simply share information. Also critical are considerations around how that information is going to be received, how it can be interpreted, and how people may respond to it given their unique situations.

Often times, actions that may seem transparent to some may seem less so to others; answers that at face value appear direct in the eyes of one group may seem shifty to another; and messages intended to instill confidence can often create a sense of uncertainty.

…The above insights aren’t just applicable to mass communications, either. Any time a message is being disseminated to a person or group, the capacity for a mixed (or lost) signal exists. Thoughtfulness and empathy are the best tools I’m aware of to mitigate the risks that a message is lost in translation, but I am sure there are others.

With that said, as we get started this week I would encourage you to work to know your audience. Understand their point of view(s), and contextualize your message with said vantage point(s) in mind. This may at times feel like more art than science, but as with anything we can approve the efficacy of our approach with practice.

Happy Monday,



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