The pessimistic person’s pension problems Pandora’s package

Introduction

I had a letter recently from the Trustees of one of my defined contribution occupational schemes.  They told me they were going to change all of my carefully balanced investments in to funds of their choosing.  They said they were doing it in the best interests of all members; a reason that gives little room for argument.  It did set me thinking of the many pension risks we face; often not of our making.

Here is a list from the Pandora’s package of a pessimistic person’s pension problems.

Security risk

There is an assumption that our pensions are safe but what about:

  • The strength of the sponsor; as pensioners in Detroit have found – nothing is guaranteed
  • Investment manager – more on this later; but what happens if our investment manager fails?
  • Spouse risk; we assume that our spouse has made appropriate pension arrangements in the event of their death, but have they?  What about divorce?
  • State risk: some people rely on the state to provide a pension.  Research has shown that there are a lot of European countries who will not (and in some cases currently cannot) be able to afford the state pension burden.  If, it is going to be paid followed by when is it going to be paid followed by how much is going to be paid?

Political Risks

  • What tax regime are we going to face on our future savings and on pensions in payment?  In the US have we made use of the Roth rollover?  In Europe, what are marginal rates of tax going to look like in the future given the deficits are likely to last for another twenty years?
  • What limitations and regulations are going to be put in place now and in the future?  In the UK the limits on pension savings change every few months.  Are we going to face a savings limit; or like Australia a reduction in our state pension because we were prudent enough to save for our old age?  We know this is on the agenda of the UK and other European governments.
  • Are our pension’s savings going to be confiscated by the state at some stage, as we saw proposals to take savings from bank accounts in Greece recently? Do not think because it has not happened it will not happen in the future.
  • For those countries that allow income drawdown; will those rights be curtained or removed thus driving the proverbial coach and horses through our pension planning.
  • Regulatory risk; in order to protect pensions will regulators have to put such high hurdles in place that pension provision becomes impossibility expensive.

Economic risks

  • What happens to our savings when QE ends and the bond bubble bursts?
  • What happens if inflation takes off, as I consider very likely?  Are our savings and our pension payments protected against massive price rises?
  • Our country goes bankrupt!  Not at all impossible in these volatile times.
  • Annuity risks: are annuity risks going to crash even further (yes, probably).  Meaning we have to save vastly more for the same level of pension.

Sufficiency risk

  • Research by Fidelity and others have shown that very few people are saving enough to meet a basic standard of living let alone meet their retirement aspirations
  • Economic shocks for individuals such as unemployment, depression in the real level of wages, rising costs taking larger proportions of income are becoming the norm rather than the exception
  • Annuity rates are falling and there is little sign on the horizon of increases.  Forecasts based on old or historic annuity averages will underperform against the market reality
  • Life expectancy; this is the good news bad news story.  It is great that people are living longer.  But, that also pushes annuity rates down even further.  Someone (that is you) has to pay for all those extra years of pension

Investment risk

Where does one start?

  • Do we invest conservatively to reduce volatility; but with a greatly reduced investment return or do we invest more aggressively and risk losing it all?
  • Market timings – when do we buy and when do we sell; is our “lifestyle planning” going to mean our fund manager exists equities at exactly the wrong time?
  • Hidden costs eroding our pension savings.  De we actually know how much we are paying for all these advisors, fund managers, intermediaries, actuaries, professional trustees, pension lawyers, pension administrators and other assorted hangers on who seem to make a very good living out of our pension savings?
  • Investment advice; should we be in bonds or equities, infrastructure or emerging markets debt?  Even if we avoid the perils of active management do we know where we should be invested?
  • Diversification risk, everything seems to be correlated with everything else when we look at investments.  Are we over diversified or under diversified; should we be diversified?  Are our fund managers over or under diversified
  • Active vs. passive fund management?  Should we hope that “our” fund manager can do better than the market over the long term (statistically very unlikely) or should we invest in the market indexes and perhaps lose out on juicy “one-off” investment opportunities?
  • Vanilla or exotic investments.  Should we invest just in main index stocks, or should we use derivatives to help hedge our exposure?  Are Credit Default Swaps a good or a bad place to be; or both?

Operational risk

  • Have we got good fund administrators?
  • Are our pension records with our advisors correct and up to date?  Does someone still hold the record for the pension I took out in 1984?
  • Are our pension administrators undertaking the correct highly complex calculations correctly to ensure the correct final pension payment?  Some years are indexed against one figure (In the UK, for example, against RPI) and in other years against another index (again, for example in the UK, CPI).  Has inflation indexing, if we are that lucky, being calculated correctly.
  • Would we ever know if any of the above does contain errors?
  • Are the auditors of our pension scheme doing a good job for us?
  • Are the pension lawyers looking after our best interests
  • Have the pension trustees made the right investment and administrative decisions?
  • Have the regulators got sufficient resources and expertise to ensure that pension scheme members are being treated fairly?
  • Are the pension scheme communications easy enough to understand so we know the risks we are taking?

I could have gone on and on looking in my Pandora’s package but I have depressed myself enough already writing this.  I am going to have a little lay down and a cup of tea.

Wellness as a reward strategy

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Introduction

The UK Health and Safety Executive claim that 27 million days were lost to sickness or injury in 2011/12 at a cost of 13.4 billion in in previous year.  A lot of the illness is due to lifestyle choices such as diet, lack of exercise and stress.  There is a strong argument that including “Wellness” as part of a reward strategy is a powerful and cost effective way of increasing engagement, reducing sickness absence and increasing productivity.

Advantages of wellness initiatives

  • It is a cost effective way to improve engagement
  • Employees appreciate the interest shown by their employer
  •  Increase in productivity
  • Contributes to the “common good” – therefore good CSR management
  • Wellness initiatives can integrate with health and safety programs and occupational health activity giving a virtuous circle of employee wellbeing aligned with good business practice.

Development of a “wellness” culture

One of the most difficult things to do; but the most rewarding, is to develop a culture in your organisation of wellness.  By which I mean developing and encouraging behaviours that support wellness.  So it becomes the norm in an organisation for people to eat property, take exercise and take responsibility for their own and their family’s health.

This can be achieved by the same tools that we achieve any culture change.  Leadership is important. In one company I worked for there was an open competition between the CEO and the CFO on a number of sporting achievements.  Lots of staff took part with these leaders or at least supported their healthy activities.

The “nudge” approach so favoured by the UK government can also work.  By only serving healthy food in the canteen employees have little choice.  By having employees opt out instead of opting in to annual health checks will considerably increase the take-up.  Reducing the number of car parking spaces and replacing them with bike racks and showers nudge people in to considering using a bike rather than a car.   There are a number of small, inexpensive changes that can nudge people in to a healthier lifestyle.

Pricing actions can also help with the establishment of a wellness culture. Subsiding health options and making more expensive less health options is a good way to nudge people in the right direction.  Increasing the reimbursement rates for using public transport and decreasing milage rates make people consider the costs of motoring against public transport.  Subsidising gym membership is another good approach to encourage take up.  With some work and analysis these types of pricing approaches can lower the total benefits spend while leading to a more healthy group of employees.

Wellness culture can also be encourage by carrying out regular health audits of staff.  These can be carried out by occupational health or an outside advisor looking at patterns of staff activity and how wellness initiatives are working and perhaps suggesting new lines of attack.

Examples of wellness approaches

Wellness approaches can be split in to:

  • Risk Benefits
  • Environmental changes
  • Catering
  • Professional support services

Risk Benefits

The two most obvious benefits here are private health insurance and Health screening.  Many organisations offer private health insurance with, in the UK for example, BUPA or PPP.  But what is sometimes overlooked is that most health insurance organisations offer and in some cases encourage health screening.  A mixture of these two benefits can pay big dividends to organisation by both reducing time off sick by obtaining immediate treatment and health screening can pick up health issues at an early stage and deal with them before they turn in to long-term sickness issues.

Although not strictly speaking a risk benefit (although with some ingenuity it can look like one) is the provision of an on-site or near site private GP service.   I worked for a financial services organisation that provided a near site private GP service; which, while expensive, paid for itself by the reduction in staff having to take time off to see their local GP; often requiring a half day for a simple 10 minute appointment at their home location.  It was also very useful for visiting overseas staff and inward expatriate staff who often found it difficult to  get treatment with a local doctor.  (This tends to apply to the UK rather more than other countries).  The same type of approach can be used for the provision of private dental treatment on a “near site” basis.

Environmental changes

Making the workplace healthier is easily undertaken.  Replacing high fat snacks and drinks with healthy alternatives is but one suggestion.  Provision of showers for staff that bike ride in to work or like to exercise at lunchtime is another key initiative.  Opening up staircases as the preferred access and egress routes rather than elevators or lifts, perhaps by designating half of these as for visitor use only.  There are a number of simple environmental changes that will encourage a healthier lifestyle.

Catering

The provision of healthier snacks, drinks, tea trollies and canteen meals can make considerable changes to the diet of our employees.  Healthy eating does not have to mean uninteresting eating.  When I visited the Head Office of Commerzbank in Germany they had interesting Asian and African foods in the canteen; as well as it being open to the public…

Professional support services

This is another area that can create considerable leverage in employee wellness.  As an example, mental health is now recognised as a major issue for employers.  Time off for stress and depression is rising rapidly.  The provision of confidential counselling is an excellent way to provide support to employees.  Likewise drink and drug awareness and support initiatives can often catch problems at an early stage.

This type of support can extend to the provision of “at desk” massages’ to help relieve stress and long hour exhaustion.  There are many other creative and innovative solutions available in the market place to drive home the wellness message and provide support to staff.

Finally in this section, let us not forget trauma support.  Unfortunately, unexpected but dramatic incidents are an on-going fact of life in all countries.    These can vary greatly from terrorist attacks to train or airline crashes or sadly mass shootings in our locality.  It is essential to have appropriate professional, qualified trauma counselling available immediacy after an incident. Services can support staff, managers and families in the event of tragedy; minimising the possibility of long term mental issues arising from the trauma.  Do not forget, in the event of an incident many organisations will be looking for this type of support so simply get in first and have contingency arrangements in place with approved suppliers.  This is all part of the wellness agenda; be it often over looked.

 Conclusion

Wellness is an important, but often overlooked part of reward strategy.  Yet it is a cost effective way to improve both productivity and engagement to our valued staff.  It turns the phase “our staff are our biggest asset” from meaningless marketing to a working reality appreciated by staff and other stakeholders as part of a cohesive CSR policy.

On the subject of cohesiveness a well manufactured wellness approach can be closely integrated with business continuity, health and safety and occupational health.  The impact on the employee brand and proposition will be enormous – without a large cost.

I do not know why this approach is not more widely used.  Do you? And, have you any suggestions for innovative approaches on wellness in the workplace that I can share as part of an on-going dialogue on “Wellness in the Workplace” which will focus on some of the individual initiatives and providers who can help build this simple but highly effective reward intervention.

Rewarding Reward Podcast http://www.idavidson.podbean.com/

Ian Davidson Reward podcast

I have produced the fourth podcast in the series “Views over the City”  http://www.idavidson.podbean.com This podcast covers pay and reward issues on a global basis.  This podcast includes:

For more on Banking remuneration see: https://iandavidson.me/2013/06/12/rebuilding-trust-in-the-city-of-london/

“I was at a recent meeting in the City of London to launch the document “Focus on rebuilding trust in the City” a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) survey of staff in financial services in the City of London on trust and their employment relationship”

For more on Executive pay https://iandavidson.me/2013/06/18/balance-of-power-executive-pay-and-shareholders/

“There is considerable controversy over levels of executive pay.  There are a multitude of stakeholders or would be stakeholders pugnaciously striving for influence.  Remuneration committees are supposed to control executive remuneration.  However, as the MM&K recent survey shows, FTSE CEO Remuneration increased, on average, by 10% in 2012.  Why are shareholders allowing this to happen?”

For more on strong analytics:

https://iandavidson.me/2013/05/30/strong-analytics-3/

“As a reward specialist I am asked questions like, what is our pay inflation going to be next year?  I used to go away, do research and say 2.4% – having used the historic average.  Of course it was never exactly 2.4% so my boss would turn round and say – “but Ian, you said it was going to be 2.4%, you’re fired”.  If asked the same question now, I respond with an answer; “there is a 50% probability that it will be 2.4%; but there is as 10% probability it could be 4%, so we should factor that in to our budget.”

My new reward podcast give a wide view over the reward landscape as well as a fascinating conversation with innovation guru and author Peter Cook.

http://www.idavidson.podbean.com

If you would like a guest blog post or to guest blog post on this influential reward blog please get in touch.

blog@mauritius.demon.co.uk

Why thinking in averages is below average thinking – Strong analytics II

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Introduction

As a reward specialist I am asked questions like, what is our pay inflation going to be next year?  I used to go away, do research and say 2.4% – having used the historic average.  Of course it was never exactly 2.4% so my boss would turn round and say – “but Ian, you said it was going to be 2.4%, you’re fired”.  If asked the same question now, I respond with an answer; “there is a 50% probability that it will be 2.4%; but there is as 10% probability it could be 4%, so we should factor that in to our budget.”

The problem is that point data estimates, like, pay inflation is going to be 2.4%, have a high possibility of being wrong.  Using a probability approach gives more information about outcomes and new ways of thinking about those low probability, high impact events in our lives – our “Black Swans”.    Dr Sam Savage, a pioneer in work on probability, tells the story of the mathematician who drowned in a river that had an average depth of three inches – that average hid a deep trench right across the centre.

Average forecasts are wrong on average

Taking point averages and using them to forecast is a common fallacy.  House prices have gone up, on average, $20,000 per year, the forecast is that they will go up $20,000 next year – oops, they fell $50,000.  Using a probability approach tells us that there was a less than 40% chance of a $20,000 increase and, a 10% chance of a $50,000 fall.  

Playing with Monte Carlo

So how do we get to the “50% probability that inflation will be 2.4%”?  My favourite method (but not the only one) is to use a Monte Carlo Simulation.   This is a statistical technique that allows me to account for volatility in numeric analysis.  It does this by producing a probability distribution for any factor that has variable outcomes and by producing a large number of random samples.  What does this mean?  Well, I took some UK National Health Service (NHS) quarterly sickness data over five years.  The average percentage absence was 4.2%.  I ran one million random trials (it took about twelve minutes) against the data distribution.  It showed that while there was a 50% chance of absence being 4.2% there was a 10% chance of it being 5%.  That may not seem like a big difference but when you are dealing with the biggest workforce in the UK, 0.8% is a large number of doctors and healthcare workers off ill.    I used a different set of NHS data on the number of sick days lost per employee.  The 50% probability of days lost was 6.1 – but there was a 10% chance of 9 days, a large difference. 

As an HR professional it is better to say that we have a 50% probability of wage inflation at 4.2%, which clearly gives a large range of other probabilities than saying it will be 4.2% with a very high probability of being wrong.

Probable advantages

There are a lot of advantages to using the probability approach.  We can show what might happen and also the probability of each outcome.  One example of this that I have used is to look at the probability of different performance measure outcomes in an organisation if they were normally distributed.  I then compared this with actual outputs and was able to show the CEO which departments were “outliers”; had produced markings that were higher or lower than forecast.  That allowed us to talk to the line mangers to find out why the department was marking higher or lower than was predicted if the performance was normally distributed – which is what you would expect.

Using probability analysis is invaluable for “what if” exercises.  How many times have we been asked to model what would happen if you cut the budget by 3%? Using one number you get one output.  Using the probability approach you can give a range of possibilities.  I have looked at death rates in an organisation against the probability forecast.  On one occasion, using a probability approach, I suggested increasing insurance cover just in time for a sad increase in the number of employees dying. (The increase was, of course, entirely random, but I had forecast that probability). 

Another important use of probability is that of project planning. One statistical quirk in project planning is that if all the tasks are completed, on average, on time, then the project will be delivered late!  (Think about that for a minute….) 

Fooled by Black swans while thinking fast and slow

You may have read “Fooled by randomness” by Taleb or “Thinking fast and slow” by Khaneman.  Both make the same point. As humans we are programed to apply heuristics and biases to problem solving: dismissing or ignoring the unlikely in favour of what we think we know or what happened recently.  Yet unlikely outcomes are more common than most people would guess; also the outlier outcomes tend to be extreme by definition.  Of course, in HR we work with people, who act in quite random ways sometimes……

Bombs and gas masks

When in investment banking I worked with an outstandingly good business continuity manager called Stuart Dunsmore.  He talked about the possibility of a bomb in central London being extremely small; but the effects would be highly disruptive. Sadly, he was proved right, but the upside was we came through the London bombings with our UK business unharmed due to his preparations.

When in the City of London I carry an emergency gas mask.  Why, well, the chances of needing to use one are small, but I only need to use it once to save my life!  The probability of a biological or chemical attack in London is tiny; but the chance of death is high.  Low probability events with high impact; do not let them take you by surprise. 

The dark side

Now for a public health warning.  First, those of you who have a statistical background (unlike me) will spot holes in my argument.  There are issues with Monte Carlo simulations or even using probability approaches.  But, they are better than point averages for forecasts.  It is a continuum, yes, there is better mathematical or statistical approaches available but even starting to think on the basis of probability is a game changer.  Second, probability often depends on the future being similar to the past – but it will not be!  However, using the probability approach makes us more aware of both that factor and that highly unlikely events do occur with surprising frequency.

Conclusion

Most of us in HR are not statisticians  Using the probability approach does involve some understanding of statistics and how to use the programs that are available, be they Microsoft Excel add-ins or programs designed specifically for this work. However, taking the time to understand probability both as a mind-set and as a set of techniques is a major game changer for HR. 

I would urge you to give it a try; you have little to lose.  The gains are large; greater chance of producing “better” forecasts, certainty of being wrong, on average, less often.  Increased credibility and perhaps a more open mind set to when those outlier events do occur.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Balance of power – Executive pay and shareholders

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Introduction

There is considerable controversy over levels of executive pay.  There are a multitude of stakeholders or would be stakeholders pugnaciously striving for influence.  Remuneration committees are supposed to control executive remuneration.  However, as the MM&K recent survey shows, FTSE CEO Remuneration increased, on average, by 10% in 2012.  Why are shareholders allowing this to happen?

Balance of power argument

I had a fascinating discussion with the executive pay guru Cliff Weight on the subject of the balance of power argument (although the discussion below is entirely mine) when looking at executive pay. 

The Executive’s power

Most of the time the executives hold the balance of power because:

  • Changes in executive board members, unless well managed, tends to lead to a fall in share price
  • Changes in senior management generally signals a failure of strategy or strategic uncertainties – which lead to a fall in share price
  • A lack of good succession planning by the Board so there is no immediate, obvious internal or external replacement.
  • A shortage of good candidates with the relevant experience and willingness to take high profile roles.  This tends to mean organisations can be without a CEO or Finance Director for six to nine months; which leads to a fall in share price.

No Board or Remuneration Committee wants to be seen to be acting in a way that damages shareholder returns. 

The Stephen Hester debacle

A good example of how NOT to carry out changes in senior management is shown by the apparent decision of the UK Treasury to replace Stephen Hester, the CEO of RBS.  The announcement seemed to take the markets by surprise – leading at one point to a 7% drop in RBS share price.  Further, the lack of any successor or allegedly any succession planning by HM Treasury means there is something of a leadership vacuum in RBS (even with their excellent senior management team) that causes great uncertainty to both investors and employees.  This, just at the point when RBS had turned around and had a clear and compelling vision of its mission and future.

The Shareholder’s power

Shareholders have limited power over executives; they have the upper hand mainly when:

  • There are downside earnings surprises
  • Takeover or mergers are under discussion
  • There is a strategy dislocation – a disruptive technology or social trend; look at Smartphones impact on the traditional phone manufactures
  • The market loses confidence in the management of an organisation

These tend to be seminal points in an organisation’s existence that hopefully do not occur too often.

Important issues for Remuneration Committees and Executive management

Both parties to pay discussions need to think about the balance of power issues and how they influence the reward dynamic.  Strategy needs to be owned and driven by the entire executive team; hopefully mitigating the effect of the departure of any executive.

Good management of shareholder relations and open communication will help reduce any share price “shocks” when changes do take place.  Good financial PR will again mitigate both the shock and share price impact.

The paradox of succession planning

One of the potential failings of Boards when considering the balance of power argument is succession planning.  In an ideal world a replacement for the CEO would have been identified and prepared for the new role well in advance of the change.  Unfortunately there is a paradox here.  A CEO could perceive that work by the Board to identify her successor was a signal of their imminent departure.  As invariably such issues leak, so the market would view it in much the same way.  Dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t.  There is also the issue that the heir apparent may become impatient with the wait and either go elsewhere or worse actively seek to undermine the existing CEO with the Board.

There is no easy or obvious answer to the succession paradox; but clearly it is an issue that must be taken on board in the balance of power debates.

Conclusion

The balance of power approach is a useful framework to view trends in executive pay.  I can see no immediate answer to how or even if, the balance of power should be more equally distributed.  Like any good explanatory framework, the balance of power debate asks more questions than it answers.

 

 

 

Rebuilding trust in the City of London

 

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Introduction

I was at a recent meeting in the City of London to launch the document “Focus on rebuilding trust in the City” a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) survey of staff in financial services in the City of London on trust and their employment relationship.  (I tweeted from the meeting #rebuildtrust )  The keynote speakers to an invited audience of senior City HR people and journalists were:

 

It was an informative meeting presenting both the survey results and material on initiatives taking place to build trust after the calamities, errors, poor judgement and near criminal activity in the City over the last few years, which has badly eroded trust in what was once a gold standard for honesty and integrity.

Both Peter Cheese and Andrea Eccles gave particularly good presentations from different ends of the initiative spectrum.  Peter spoke on the big picture and in particular the role that HR has to play in leading the changes.  Andrea spoke of the very important key initiatives at grass roots level that City HR are taking, working with the Lord Mayor’s City Values forum.

The key themes during the meeting were:

Each of these themes is explored below.

Culture

Culture has been identified by the CIPD in earlier work as being fundamental to the required changes in the City.  The survey indicated clearly that the existing culture is a long way from being what is needed.  45% of the participants said their employer put profit before values.  Only 47% of staff saw customers as their key stakeholder.  As one of the speakers said, “What is required is a return to the core values of caring for customers and caring for employees”. 

One interesting take on the subject was the suggestion that financial services organisations need to focus more on recruiting “ethical” people.  My own experience, backed up by the survey results, is that a lot of people join financial services to make money.  In order to be seen as successful and to make the big bucks you need to be aggressive and egotistical; otherwise how would you make deals worth millions of pounds?  Unfortunately, aggression and egotism are not good indicators of ethical behaviour.  This goes to the heart of the matter; it is very difficult to make lots of money in an ethical and customer focused way.  The demands on one hand, by shareholders and analyst to make shed loads of money on one hand, and on the other, regulators, politicians (especially the European Union) and media on the other trying to stop profitable activity.

The role of HR in leading the changes was highlighted several times.  Again the paradox between this approach and the role of HR in supporting the business to carry out its activities was evident.  A good example was a comment about the morality of HR being involved in compromise agreements in financial services.  It was alleged that these compromise agreements can (as in the case of the NHS) be used to gag whistle blowers.  The reality is that compromise agreements are an essential part of the HR toolkit.  It allows for the amicable separation between employer and employee, normally on a “no fault” basis.  In the fast paced and rapidly changing environment like financial services, there will be differences of opinion, strategy and personality clashes.  Compromise agreements lead to a civilised and low cost way of managing these situations.  The suggestion that HR should stop using them is really throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  HR has far more important tasks in providing the frameworks for culture change than worrying about compromise agreements.  It is getting tied up in the detail rather than working on the big strategic picture that often leads to HR being perceived as a barrier rather than an enabler.

There was some good news.  RBS, the largely state owned bank in the UK, was singled out for praise for its work in introducing a much more ethical and customer centred approach – something of which I have some personal experience. (And would like to have more if Rory Tapner is reading this).  Sadly examples of good practice are few and far between. 

Values

Part of the discussion on culture must include values.  City HR is leading a lot of work on the development of toolkits to help.  The presentation by Simon Thompson went in to detail on the work of the Institute of Bankers on professional standards and many big employers in the City have signed up to these standards and the educational and training frameworks that support these approaches. 

Professionalism

This was a key theme in the presentations.  Raising the level of professionalism is very important in defeating the current broken culture.  What do I mean by broken culture?  It is the behaviours that allowed the manipulation of LIBOR rates for profit; that mis-sold products including PPI and, perhaps, some derivative products for gain rather than the good of the customer.

The survey showed that only 30% of staff are in professional bodies with standards.

To work in HR in the City you need to be CIPD qualified, yet to work as a banker you need no qualifications at all

That quote summed up for me the entire issue around professionalism.  One can argue about professionalism and its meaning.  It does normally provide a framework of acceptable (and unacceptable) behaviour that can form the basis of reward on one hand and disciplinary action on the other.

There was a comment that there are a vast number of codes of practice, regulations, laws, (domestic and foreign) and guidance – some of which is in direct contradiction.  True, but no one said it was going to be easy.

I must again praise the work of City HR in providing structure and good practice for professionals in the City.  This slow drip drip drip of information, tools and frameworks are, over the long term, likely to prove to be a bigger boost to professionalism than grand culture change initiatives by those embedded in the current City ideology. 

Leadership

One of the more disappointing results from the survey was that 41% of the participants said that there was one rule for senior management and another of other staff.   Given that nearly all the speakers emphasized the key role of senior management and CEO’s in leading the culture change; there is still a big mountain to be climbed.  The fact that only 36% of “other ranks” are aware of their organisations values indicate that organisational leadership has a large communications issue on their hands; and what is leadership if it is not communication of the vision.

Risk Management

A key theme during the presentation and during the Q&A session that followed was risk management.  It is clear that the framework to support culture changes needs good human capital measures and strong analytics.  Why?  Two major reasons were discussed.  First, it is difficult to discuss change if it cannot be properly measured.  Second, in the world of financial services number crunching and risk analysis are part of the bread and butter of daily activity.  To have credibility, the change activity, particularly if led by HR, needs to adopt this approach.  When I worked in investment banking I sat on the Operational Risk committee and that experience led directly to my design and implementation of a reward risk framework.     Exactly the same type of approach can be used when thinking about risk and culture in the financial services environment.  It is this sort of fundamental change in thinking that is going to provide the scaffold for the success of the work in culture change.  HR does, on occasion, shy away from people metrics; yet they are an essential framework for designing interventions and supporting our businesses. 

Role of HR

There was a lot of discussion on the role of HR.  Here I must depart from the gospel according to the panel speakers.  There are two places the pressure for change will come; the first is from senior management.  There is a bit of an issue with this one.  Senior management got where they are by supporting and encouraging the status quo.  Much of this has been made in management literature; the ideology of management has support for the status quo deeply imbedded within it.  Asking senior management to support massive cultural change may be like expecting turkeys to vote for Christmas….  The second place is from the employees within the organisation.    It is possible, as history has shown, for small but articulate groups of people to push for change from within the organisation.  Given the above mentioned ideology that is a possibility but not a strong probability. 

If culture change becomes another HR intervention it has the possibility to be marginalised and not become part of mainstream business thinking.  The survey showed that a number of culture change initiatives have not worked so far.  Only 17% of participants saw the culture change in their organisation as being very effective.

Clearly HR does have a role in providing the toolkits, interventions, training and development necessary to carry out the culture change; but leading it is not, in my view, going to happen and if it does it is more likely to lead to a marginalisation of the change on the business agenda as so often happens with HR led initiatives.

HR does have a key role in modelling and supporting behavioural change as well as ensuring that the new generation of bankers coming through at least start with an ethical mind-set. 

Reward issues

Reward is at the heart both of what is “bad” in the City and what will help drive change.  But,

  • 73% of staff think that some people in financial services are overpaid
  • 67% say there is secrecy around pay for senior mangers
  • Only 36% see reward as being “fair”.

As reward professionals we have to stand up and be counted.  Discussion needs to take place on what is “fair” pay.  Pay systems have to be somewhat more open so there is a greater understanding of what people are being paid for,

Key tasks include:

  • Better advocacy of pay levels and differentials in organisations
  • Development of incentives to encourage professionalism
  • Development of reward and performance management that encourage thinking about how an objective is reached as well as the measure of the objective.
  • Being as open as is appropriate to stakeholders on our reward approaches and outcomes
  • Being an advocate both internally and externally for the reward systems and outcomes.
  • To bring measured, data led, rational debate to politicians, the media and other commentators to prevent or at least moderate the near hysteria around financial services and senior executive pay

Conclusion

The CIPD report is a timely looking glass in to the views of those who work in financial services as to issues of trust and reward.  It is well written and influential; I would recommend it to you. (Disclosure note; I undertook some analysis of the raw data in the report for the CIPD).  Both the CIPD and CityHR are clearly thought leaders in this field and their activities are to be applauded.  The report is an important part and input to the on-going discussion on this subject.

The report is also timely.  The results from the Banking Standards Inquiry by the UK’s House of Commons are due to be produced very soon.  Unfortunately it may be argued by some that it has been badly tainted even before release because:

  • The standards of politicians in the UK are at an all-time low and lecturing other people on ethics and standards is at best the pot calling the kettle black and at worst rank hypocrisy.
  • A lack of understanding of the world and work of financial services by MP’s who have seldom operated in the real world and those who have did so via the playing fields of Eaton (an elite fee paying school in England  attended by many of the UK cabinet and their advisors).
  • A large part of the problems with the collapse of trust in financial services is due to inaction by politicians and regulators who believed that light touch and not actually understanding what was going on was a good way to regulate a very complex, risky, global business.
  • A potential perception that there is a lot of band-standing and jealousy going on at Westminster village that does not aid credibility

I hope I am wrong and wait to read the report with interest.  However, the weight of history is against them; since when have politicians made anything better?

Failure is not an option unless we do want the politicians to bring their incredibly costly sledge hammers to smash some nuts that, it turns out on closer inspection, actually have nothing to do with the problem.

It is only by hard work based on sound data such as the CIPD report; and not taking some moral high ground and seeking to apportion blame; that will make the very necessary changes.  HR and reward in particular do have key roles to play.  At the end of the day there must be the drive and will in the Board room to make the required culture change a reality. 

#reward #rebuildtrust #CityHR #RBS #trust #financialservices #cipd #cityoflondon #stronganalytics #rewardmanagement #risk #riskinhr #hrblogs

 

 

 

Strong analytics

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Introduction

The UK’s CIPD has published its annual reward survey. The CIPD reward survey; http://www.cipd.co.uk/hr-resources/survey-reports/reward-management-2013.aspx  

Our findings show organisations responding to multiple contextual factors in their reward management choices.  Economic conditions continue to drive pay decisions for many. In the private sector, market competition and employee value are also key drivers, while in the public sector
more traditional forms of reward management prevail.”

The drivers of reward continue to be to attract talent and reward productive behavior.  I would argue that retention is less important that it used to be due to the lose labour market. The survey also looks at employee benefits; these can both support the social culture of a business and provide valuable, cost effective non cash engagement tools.

One key aspect that Charles Cotton, the CIPD Reward and Performance advisor, notes is that the reward profession is not particularly advanced in analyzing information in a way that is useful for the business.  Cotton goes on to note that

 

“Few employers are able to calculate the cost of their compensation and benefit programs, let alone be able to express this as a proportion of revenue, profit or economic value added.”

   

 

 

 

 

Strong Analytics

Reward and HR professionals have a number of tools to add value to the business case:

  • Strong analytics
  • Employee segmentation
  • Data visualisation

Our colleagues in Finance use KPI’s and key ratios to illustrate financial outcomes and we must do the same in reward. We must understand:

  • Key business segments and drivers
  • The timeframe – immediate, medium or long term, for the business strategies in those key segments
  • Key performers in those segments and responsible for those drivers

This information can drive our reward strategy.  By presenting appropriate strong analytics through data visualisation on the basis of appropriate segmentation gives a very powerful tool kit for us to work with and make recommendations to line management.

Asking the right questions

Any good analytical work and modelling starts with asking the right questions.  There is no point providing large amounts of statistical data and analysis without have a clear view of the questions we are using the data to answer.  This is a big issue with big data.  We have the data; but what do we use it to prove or disprove? 

Reward interventions must “do” something; be it reduce turnover, encourage managers to align with the interests of shareholders, or produce specific results.  Reward professionals must be able to show the outcomes of their products and programs.   For example, we must be able to show the relationship between our variable pay spend and the revenue generation, the return on capital employer (RoCE) and other key financial indicators.

Disclosure requirements

The “Say on Pay” requirements in the US and the regulations in the UK require the production of charts showing, for example, growth in relative total shareholder return against executive compensation.  We must extent this type of analysis through the organisation to show the stakeholders in the business; be they employees, executives, shareholders and regulators, that our reward program is progressive, does not reward failure and, as far as is possible, is “fair”.

I have argued in other blog posts that we are seeing the erosion of privacy around pay.  Within five years we will be reporting, as a minimum, on employees by bands of pay and more likely very detailed pay statistics on every employee in our organisation in the interests of “fairness” and transparency.

Strong Analytics II

There is little excuse for not providing strong analytics with appropriate data visualisation. Microsoft Excel provides some very good analytical and graphing tools and using the PowerPivot addin allows for the analysis of very large data sets and even the development of simple data cubes.  That is before we get in to many of the off-the-shelf compensation management tools and packages.

Here is an example of strong analytics presented through visualisation I produced from some sample data:

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The use of Microsoft Excel’s conditional formatting provides some intuitive “at a glance” analysis of bonus levels by department.  I thought about the type of questions the CEO might want to ask about the data and provided the answers in graphical and colour formats.

This second example shows a very simple graph of correlation between TSR and total remuneration for a FTSE 100 Executive.  It immediately shows the linkage between pay and performance; although TSR needs to be measured over a much longer time period, or alternatively normalised to remove the effects of the economic cycle, to provide a better analytic.

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Conclusion

As the CIPD survey noted, reward is, as always, becoming more complicated.  At the same time we are seeing far more scrutiny of pay by the largely uninformed politicians, regulators, shareholder advocacy groups and the media.  We must arm ourselves for this intrusion by preparing our toolkit of strong analytics to defend our positions and explain our philosophy.

 

CIPD Hackathon – Hacking HR to Build an Adaptability Advantage; A reward perspective

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Introduction

The UK’s HR professional body, the CIPD has recently set up a “Hackathon” to look at how HR can build an adaptability advantage.  A good idea with an interesting approach.  There appears to be limited consideration of how reward will support and enhance the approaches.  Reward has powerful implements in its tool kit to support change.   So I set my mind to an analytical structure to think about building adaptability advantage.

Wisdom of crowds – a challenge

I am a great believer in the wisdom of crowds.  Therefore I throw a challenge out to all those interested in reward, change, innovation and HR to generate ideas as to how the reward toolkit can be used to support adaptability advantage.

The reward blockers

Reward is largely designed to support existing behaviour.  So, in some organisations, it is used to support the status quo.  Rewarding behaviour that supports the organisation’s ideology and putting reward power in the hands of managers who have an understandable vested interested in supporting the status quo.  The challenge is to design an analytical reward framework that supports creative destruction, moving on from the status quo to a new organisational state and ideology.

A suggested framework – resource based strategy

I have used the resource based strategy framework as a starting place.  I know this may be consider a little old fashioned, but it works for me and if you have a better structure I would be very pleased to hear about it!  Using the resource based strategy approach we look at:

  • Resources
  • Capabilities
  • Competencies
  • Value Chain

that support adaptability and how we can use reward to support these factors.

Resources

What are the resources that support adaptability – how do we identify and cluster them?  Clearly people are the key.  But, what sort of people?  One could argue that it is the mavericks and free thinkers that lead the charge on adaptability.  Yet these types of people do not always fit or engage well with the corporate environment.  How do we reward the disrupters in our organisation without descending in to some Faustian pit of chaos?

Capabilities

How do we build organisational and personal capability to support adaptability?  What would the reward structure supporting such capability building look like?  Would we know it if we saw it, how would me measure it?  Organisational learning and routines would be key in building these capabilities – but it has always been an interesting question in the management of knowledge as to how we measure and reward organisational learning?  (Even ignoring the concept that organisations do not “learn” people do the learning).

To sustain competitive advantage our capabilities in adaptability must be hard to imitate – otherwise everyone will copy us and probability at a lower cost.    So we have to reward not only specific capabilities but those that are hard to imitate.  They may be hard to imitate because they are specific to our corporate environment – but to gain competitive advantage they must be so much more than just organisationally or sector specific.

Competencies

The competencies we need should flow out of the capabilities – or perhaps not?  What specific, observable, rewardable competencies are required and with what and how are we rewarding them?

Value chain

What are the internal and external value chains using our unique resources and capabilities that lead to adaptability advantage?  We must look to our clusters of resources and capabilities and how these are combined to give our competitive advantage.  What reward tools do we use to strengthen our value chains and the activities that support them; perhaps across enterprises and organisations, turning rigid barriers porous?

Conclusion

There are far too many questions and too few answers in this blog.  If the reward perspective; which is incredibility powerful in encouraging behaviour change can be harnessed, using the wisdom of crowds, to the task of “Hacking HR to Build an Adaptability Advantage” we will not only add enormous value to the process; but we will be key in ensuring its enduring success.  Over to you O wise crowds.