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Why I Do What I Do

2 September, 2017

Wanted to share why I have been doing the same thing for 32 years, and still love it.

First, what I do. I am a specialist in compensation and benefits, which is about who gets what and how much, in an organization. I have been figuring out who makes what since March 1985. I have participated in hundreds of pay surveys, analyzed the numbers, considered internal salary relationships, linked salary increases to performance and calculated tens of millions of dollars of bonuses. I’ve managed employee benefits which address needs cash cannot address. Beyond comp & benefits, I’ve introduced recognition systems, work at home practices and crafted career ladders to facilitate fair and transparent career growth with hotels, legal departments and giant soft drink companies. I’ve consulted about 150 companies. I have had a direct influence on the incomes (and lives) of more than a million people, easily.

So why have I devoted most of my waking hours since my 20’s to this field we now call total rewards?

Because I have worked. You see, I believe attitudes about pay and work are inseparable. How you work should determine how you are paid. I do not believe in simply paying everyone equally, unless the work done is actually equal. But I have always loved doing good honest work, from delivering newspapers on bicycle at age 10, to “skiddin’ bricks” at 15 (digging bricks out of the dried mud with a trowel and stacking them on a pallet), or driving a lift truck at age 18 at a factory.

By the time I was 20, I had been a member of the Teamsters Union, supervised 10 people, fired someone (for doing drugs at work), washed dishes, operated machinery, lifted 15 tons of frozen strawberries by hand in a day, baked bread, operated the cash register, plowed a field and milked the goats, programmed stage lights, won a sales contest signing up newspaper customers, won top salesperson among 20 stores selling athletic wear and bought my first car. I had worked in more industries by age 20 than most people do their whole lives.

Work teaches you a lot of things, which I don’t want to go into in this blog. But one thing you learn from work experience is that pay matters. So, now, at age 56, when I see an organization paying people 50% more than others who are doing the same job, with no clear difference in productivity or quality of work, well, it really pisses me off. Whether the higher paid people are highly paid because they are men, because they have been in the job for 17 years, because their dad is on the board.. all I see is “inequity” and my brain is programmed now to fix it, and fix what led to it. What I care about is for every hard worker to get what’s fair.

Let me be clear, I am not pursuing a political agenda here. I have worked with the very best: men, women, white, black, Asian, Latino, straight, gay, disabled… you name it. I have also worked with several pretty useless (in terms of their work) people in these categories.

I accept and support the fact that some make more—even way more—than others and that some people are enormously rich and others earn very little. There is little I can do about this. I believe in the “market”. I do not fully agree with a minimum wage, or pay caps… But if there is nothing I can do about the pay, I can still help an organization determine what to expect from the person earning it. This work can be very satisfying.

Equally satisfying is helping grow others in my profession. Facilitating learning is becoming my best way to impact the world toward better pay practices. I love doing this in Singapore because the whole world is here. ASEAN and more broadly Asia and Middle East is showing a real hunger to learn the principles and practices that attract and retain and reward talent more effectively.

That about sums up why I do what I do.

Take a moment and consider why you do what you do. I hope it inspires you to do your best work ever, today.

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2 Comments
  1. Roberto Galvez permalink

    You have raised a lot of very good insights here, Tom!

  2. Lucy Dean permalink

    Thanks for sharing Tom – good to hear why you do what you do!

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