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I’ve Been Thinking

Recently, in our office, we held a staff meeting which we entitled “Show and Tell”. We are often off on individual projects and we don’t necessarily get the opportunity to share all the knowledge gained or key new approaches or the innovations discovered, and sometimes the real sharing value is lost within the archives of our knowledge warehouse.

As someone who spends a lot of time in compensation and benefits system design, I live by the spreadsheet. My analysis methodology typically involves many tabs that have charts, diagrams, lookup tables, formulas and import features. I’ve learned how to do these types of spreadsheets through a combination of willpower and assistance from my IT husband guru who used to have to do complex modelling as part of his work. Frankly, he is a bit of a math genius. Through dialogue with him, I’ve learned how to create models and pose questions that help identify areas for further discussion. One of the advantages I have is that because I have done so many different designs, I can create models pretty quickly which makes our services very cost competitive for clients.

In my work, my real challenge is to be able to make numbers lift off the page and have meaning for others–whether that be decision-makers about a new program, or employees who are trying to understand what they have to do differently to achieve a bonus. For me, this is how the art of HR and the science of HR come together.
For the Show and Tell session, I decided to show my team a recently-learned feature in Excel called “concatenate”, which for a very large organization helped me to populate the titles of hundreds of positions by level with the addition of a simple “if” statement. This saved hours of time and made it easier for the client to view the information. It is probably something I should’ve known about but I never thought of it as a possible way of shortcutting some manual steps.

I didn’t figure out concatenate by myself. Actually, I saw an application of it in one of my client’s spreadsheets and their HR person told me that she learned it through one of their finance people. It’s a handy little feature.

When I began describing concatenate to my team, I could also see the light bulb going on for other applications in HR for them.

Reflecting on this, I began thinking about what this means for our profession. I have another client right now where I am working on training their HR Manager on compensation design approaches to link with performance management, and we’ve been going back and forth quite a bit with spreadsheets. She’s no slouch with a spreadsheet, but she once told me that the CFO told her that the way she works with a spreadsheet is a form of “ghetto excel”. I got a big laugh out of this because essentially excel compensation design is a bit of a learn-as-you-go adventure generally without the formal programs that you might see within say the accounting profession.

Within companies, HR departments are generally not very large, so there aren’t a lot of internal opportunities for HR professionals to share information and experiences within the confines of their operation. Also, there are not many advanced/expert courses, materials or venues out there to go beyond the principles and enrich skill sets, nor is there much of an environment in which practitioners and independents can share technical experiences and gain from others. I mention this in the context of an excel spreadsheet because my concern is as much about the lack of knowledge of readily available tools to solve workplace issues as it is the lack of knowledge about advanced areas within the profession.

What’s the solution? I don’t think I’m ready to answer that yet definitely. On some levels, the challenge has to do with the extent to which some approaches are branded or patented or turned into learning materials. People who have created real tools and solutions or who did the research or have a novel idea should be paid for their work. I’m not advocating turning the profession into freeware. I do believe however that we have to find more efficient ways to have a profession-wide “show and tell”.

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