Dan Walter is the President and CEO of Performensation. He is an independent compensation consultant focused on the needs of small and mid-sized public and private companies. Dan’s unique perspective and expertise includes equity compensation, executive compensation, performance-based pay and talent management issues. You can follow him on Twitter here.
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 am in a unique position. Being a compensation consultant means understanding how company strategy, human interaction, motivation, money, communication and results impact everyone. I believe that every position I have ever held (and there have been a kaleidoscope of jobs) has helped prepare me for my current role. My experiences help me understand the “Creatives”, the “Analyticals” and every person in between. Working in positions that paid hourly, commission, sweat equity and Fortune 100 Salary+Bonus helped me grasp how pay works to help or hinder success. My extensive history in administering compensation plans and designing the systems to support them has helped me create programs that work in both theory and reality. Each year I also attend several industry conferences, countless webinars and I’ve earned my Certified Equity Professional designation from Santa Clara University. These focused and specialized trainings keep my skills current and allow me to build new concepts with my colleagues. I also do 15-25 presentations and webinars each year. After almost 20 years this has ensured that I continue to stay sharp and prepared for the future.
1B. What (if any) additional knowledge or skills that you don’t currently have would make you even better at your job?
It would be extremely helpful if I was a true spreadsheet guru, or even better, a programmer. That type of structured thought process can help shed light on potential holes in any idea. Being able to obtain a comprehensive compensation data set for companies of all types, sizes and industries is something I would love. Reliable and accurate data is often the biggest challenge for the unique projects I do.
2. 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?
I often consider myself a translator as much as anything else. Given the growing complexity of compensation programs and the scrutiny put on this discipline, all of the skills in your question are critical in the process of bringing compensation to life. The one missing component would be negotiation skills. No one ever believes compensation is perfect. There are at least two sides and often several sides to every compensation discussion. Any solution must take into account every perspective and balance disparate factors. This requires acceptance on the part of everyone involved. Understanding each party’s position from their side of the argument is critical to success.
3. 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?
It is important to note that Lou correctly points out that every person and job contain a little of all four jobs types. Most jobs have a heavier weighting on one or two components. My role is far less as a producer than the other three. One of the things I love about consulting is that any project can require a nearly infinite blend of the improver, builder and thinker. This is one of the aspects that make being a consultant so rewarding, but it also has the risk of inhibiting a consultant’s growth. You must be nimble and able to fill in the blanks your clients’ needs require. Each client and project is a unique event with its own requirements for a successful approach and execution.
4. Does your job involve either directly or indirectly supervising or managing people? If so, how many direct (or indirect) reports do you have?
On an every day basis, I indirectly supervise two other professionals. On any project, I may also be directly or indirectly managing several additional people or teams.
5. 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?
As I mentioned earlier, compensation touches nearly every piece of a business. When done correctly compensation aligns with and supports a company’s strategy and culture. It allows managers to more effectively motivate and lead their staffs. It communicates key priorities and can help demonstrate how a company feels about its employees. The impact of compensation done poorly cannot be overstated. When basic compensation levels are too low companies have a hard time hiring and keeping valued talent. When basic pay is too high, employees can become entitled and the company ends up spending money on staff that may be better invested elsewhere. Pay for performance can fail in numerous ways. Measuring the metrics, improperly setting goals and poor communication can all contribute to the failure of a project or even a company.
One of my specialties is equity compensation. Seemingly simple when viewed from the surface, the complexity and variability require experience and long-term execution for ongoing success. For many companies stock options, restricted stock units, performance units and stock purchase plans can be a key competitive differentiator in tight job markets. Minor features and improper grant amounts can be geometrically magnified as a company grows (or doesn’t). Helping a company craft compensation programs that are custom fit to their current and future needs and goals is a huge responsibility that I take very seriously.
6. 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?
Most people would rate my job as VERY safe. I sit at a desk or work with my clients at their office locations. What people don’t really know about me is my propensity for clumsiness. At any moment, I am at risk of falling out of my chair, smashing my fingers in a drawer or spilling very hot coffee on myself! I try to compensate by moving as little and as slowly as possible (imagine a three-toed sloth sitting at a desk).
7. Is there anything I missed that people should know about your job? Is there anything else you want to say about what you do?
I started my own firm, Performensation, in 2006. Our focus is delivering compensation programs that better align pay to corporate strategy and culture. One of the things that makes my job truly rewarding is that I often work with companies in the early stages of development or as they attempt to move from an extended plateau of success. Compensation at these companies is often less dependent on what the survey data says is right and more focused on what is truly right for the company itself. I love that I get to learn something new every day and that I get to teach something new at the same time. Compensation can be one of the most predictable and boring professions or one of the most varied and exciting professions. It all depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Lastly, we have more than 100 free compensation articles available at www.performensation.com.
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