Academy Award

And the award goes to…

Friends and long-time readers know I love the movies. I mean I love them. While television leaves me cold and stupid (watching tv makes you dumber) I love the cinema. And so I am aware of the Academy Awards, although, as a proper tv snob I don’t actually own a television.

But some years it seems there really shouldn’t be an award. I mean, Crash? Best picture? Seriously? The turgid Shakespeare in Love starring the turgid what’s-her-name?


No soup for you.

You see in Hollywood and Bollywood too there’s a difference between a good film and best picture of the year. One is absolute and the other is relative.

One stands the tests of time while the other fades away (thank heavens) like The Greatest Show on Earth.

The thing is, for the awards to have any meaning some years the Academy just has to say no soup for you – there just wasn’t a best picture this year.

Compensation is like that too.

Over the years I’ve heard every complaint imaginable about comp plans (my friends in the UK call them ‘schemes’ – how apropos), sales quota, pay-for-performance and the whole nine yards. Employees and managers too (who are after all, employees as well) are convinced comp plans in general are designed to screw them.

Would that your management were that clever.

No, comp planning is pretty straight-forward and if you want the details and the data you could do a lot worse than check in with my good friend Rory C Trotter Jr (@RoryCTrotterJr). But for the purpose of this missive consider this idea for a moment: some years you may not really deserve anything.

That’s right, I said it.

Some years you didn’t turn an award-winning performance. So, you, uh, win no award. You get to play again next year. That’s your award. Unless your performance was so bad (think any Mickey Rooney film) you are fired. Outright.

The point is working all year does not get you an award. In fact, maybe no one gets an award. Compensation shouldn’t be relative – I.e, you are the best of a bad lot – but absolute: you did phenomenal. So instead of spreading our 2.5% merit buckets like peanut butter on a wafer-thin cracker so everyone gets a little, we should reserve 8, 9 and 10% changes for the very few academy award winners.

And the rest of us? We get popcorn.

For variable economic factors we have cost of living increases. For long-term incentives we have 401s, 457s and stock options [at least in the US]. But for outright merit increases sans promotion we need to start re-calibrating our expectations. Showing up, keeping up and shutting up does not equal an award.

For a game changing salary adjustment we need to turn in a game charming performace.

And recognize each next year it starts all over.

Just like the awards.


2 thoughts on “Academy Award

  1. Great post Christopher – and I never knew you knew Rory! I completely agree that you should only get the award where the award is due, but then I’ve also seen an attempt to only pay more to the shining stars – decided by a normal distribution / forced ranking system.
    The forced ranking may have been the critical factor here but what we saw was an increase in individualism, people fighting for / defending their position, more cc’ing of bosses into emails to cover backs and a general lack of ‘let’s win together’.
    I have no clear answers, I just wonder…
    How do you decide who the stars are?
    How do you stop people becoming parochial?

    I have a feeling it comes down to those people who most things come down to – the managers, the leaders – and the way they deal with this stuff…. But I’m still not sure….

    • All very good questions Helen. I suppose in my simplistic way of thinking the stars are the ones who changed the boundaries. We need good workers – lots of them – but simply getting rewarded for doing what’s expected beyond the agreed salary + inflation makes little sense.

      Better to have spot bonuses I think, or one time lump sumps to reward the singular notable acts (projects, customers won, etc). Long-term merit increase IMHO should be reserved for those who change the business: new ventures, products, services, quality levels, processes, etc. People who make a change.

      Anyway – just my two cents! Thank you so much for writing and sharing your thoughts Helen!

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