Earlier in the week I had a fantastic conversation with a friend around complexity versus scale. The conversation essentially centered on which work component had more compensable value. My friend argued as a general rule for 1. It always does. This is not just a cop out because I am compensation guy at heart, either. There are *so* many exceptions to things in HR that saying “this is 100% the answer” is seldom true. complexity, while I argued “It depends.” 1
With that said… the argument for complexity over scale is multifaceted, but a factor in the argument for complexity over scale concerns the number of stakeholders in a complex operating environment (versus a less complex one). More specifically, in highly complex roles there are typically many decision makers that must be influenced to get things done.
Using an HR example (I love HR examples), a Regional HR Manager supporting a 1,200 person client group spread across 4 states and 12 sites will almost always have a more complex job than an HR Generalist / Business Partner supporting a 1,200 person client group made up of a singular function or department. Ergo, in a direct comparison a Regional HR Manager has a bigger job than an HR Business Partner handling similar scope because he / she must influence at least 12 site leads, dozens more departmental heads, and also stay aligned with the corporate HR function. Further, the Regional HRM may have a Business Unit President or Regional Vice President / Director that he or she reports up to. Conversely, an HR Business Partner need only be (theoretically) aligned with his or her direct manager and the functional / departmental head of the client group.
Expounding further on this position, the thinking goes that even if the HR Business Partner supported a much larger client group than a Regional HR Manager (think 1,200 employees in one functional group for the HRBP versus 400 employees across 3 states and 4 sites for the Regional HRM) the number of stakeholders the Regional HRM has to deal with drives the complexity of the role up to such a high level that the scope of the HRBP’s role is minuscule in 2. This same logic could be applied in other instances as well: A site HR Manager supporting a 150 person client group made up of a variety of highly skilled employees (and a bargaining unit) has a more complex job than an HR Manager supporting a 600 person non-union site made up of mostly unskilled labor. The job of the CEO at Exxon Mobil versus, say, Wal-Mart is another good example: The Wal-Mart CEO is the leader of a much larger employee population, but the Exxon Mobil operating environment and business model is arguably more complex. comparison. 2
I certainly agree with the thinking that all other things being equal, complexity rules the day. Where my viewpoint differs, however, is the implicitly stated idea here that stakeholders are principally people empowered by an organization to make decisions.
Once an employee population grows beyond a certain level, the truth of the matter is that multiple decision makers are needed to manage the population regardless of who is a formal decision maker.
These people are all stakeholders.
Michel Foucault has some great writings on power that expound on this topic 3. This deserves its own post. Another day etc.3, but without diving into the weeds on theories around power and influence, I’ll just say that just because someone doesn’t have formal power doesn’t mean they don’t play an integral role in decision making processes.
An HR Business Partner who supports a 1,200 employee population of salespeople isn’t just concerned with pleasing his or her manager and the department head / President. This is because the department head can’t possible effectively manage a population that size alone. If the Sales President is any good at the job he will have a host of managers and individual contributors whom he leans heavily on when making decisions. Decisions made from the top down impact everyone in the organization, and a good leader has people lower in the organization whom he / she looks to for counsel even if those people don’t have formal decision making power. A good HR Business Partner has to generate buy-in not only from the functional head of the department he / she supports, but also all of the various stakeholders within the department with significant decision making authority. These people may or may not be aligned in the same direction.
Trivializing the impact that informal leaders have on the decision making process based on their place on an org chart is to fundamentally misunderstand the way that decisions are made.
Of course, depending on how a department / function is structured, it’s entirely possible that the number of stakeholders is exactly aligned with what one sees in an org chart. As an example, at a large supermarket the number of decision makers might be an incredibly skewed ratio.
…Like I said, it depends.
When looking at compensable value it’s critical to weight both the complexity and scale of a job in line with the realities of the organization. There are going to be instances in which as a general rule scale trumps complexity, and there will also be instances where the converse is true.
4. I’m having internet issues at home again. We’re floating past 900 words and I’m posting this from a Panera Bread, 4 so let’s wrap it up here.
As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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