Editor's Note: This week's Thought Leader is Laura Schroeder, Compensation Strategist at Workday, headquartered in Pleasanton, CA (although Laura lives in and works from Munich, Germany). Laura has nearly 15 years experience designing, developing, implementing and evangelizing global Human Capital Management (HCM) solutions in the U.S., Asia and Europe. Her articles and interviews on HCM topics have been published in the U.S., Europe and Asia. She was named one of 2010’s Top Ten HR Digital Influencers, authors the talent management blog Working Girl and is a regular contributor at the Compensation Café.
Compensation Force: What led you to choose (or land in) a career featuring the field of rewards?
Laura Schroeder: Just lucky, I guess! I started out as a supply chain consultant but my international experience led to an opportunity to manage the HR Japan product team for a global software company. I wasn’t the most obvious person for the job but you’d be surprised how few software developers in the US speak Japanese. In the course of defining requirements it became clear that the product didn’t meet the compensation needs of global companies, so I divided my time between managing techie system requirements like Unicode support and researching global compensation. I later moved to Munich with the same company and worked for several years in HCM consulting and product strategy, which provided additional opportunities to work with compensation.
I joined my current company Workday as a Human Capital Management generalist but my compensation background soon landed me in a product manager role for global compensation solutions. In this role I had a unique opportunity to design a compensation management solution from the ground up, which meant thinking about compensation from yet another perspective.
Over the last decade I’ve had a chance to work closely with some amazingly strategic companies that really get rewards. Over time, as you talk to enough really smart people on the same topic you start seeing patterns – what works, what doesn’t, what needs to change and how everything fits into a broader pattern of people and incentives. It is from these reflections that my Compensation Café posts are born.
I should also mention that although my opportunities to work in compensation have occurred somewhat organically rather than according to plan, I love compensation. On the purely mechanical side, I enjoy designing total compensation packages for diverse employee populations and calculating the results. And philosophically, I am fascinated by human motivation, i.e., if I adjust this incentive, how are people likely to respond?
Compensation Force: What person and their ideas/teaching/writing has had a significant influence on your thinking and your work?
Laura Schroeder: My favorite undergraduate professor conducted his class along unique lines. Although he assigned hundreds of pages of reading every night we were not allowed to cite any facts in his class. He wanted us to look for patterns, not memorize names and dates, which he predicted we’d someday be able to look up in seconds on handheld devices. During class he would write up a complex question on the board involving a theoretical political situation, or public policy, or economic crisis and we would talk about how different groups of people would most likely respond and whether we could change their response. It made me see the world very differently, in terms of levers that people react to in certain ways.
Thinking about human motivation adds a critical dimension to incentive design that I believe is needed in order to design effective rewards strategies.
Compensation Force: Is there a book you’d recommend to others in the reward field that has impacted your thinking and your work?
Laura Schroeder: The primary purpose of rewards design is to attract, retain and engage employees. However, although rewards alone may attract and even retain employees, to engage employees we need to go beyond traditional rewards. Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder tells a compelling story about employee engagement in a flawed organization that strongly influenced how I think about human motivation.
Soul of a New Machine is the true story of a skunk works project at Data General tasked with building a new computer to compete with the mighty VAX from Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). The project manager Tom West is an amazingly resourceful and inspiring character, as are the designers and engineers who give every waking moment to the project for love of the challenge and a chance to be part of something great.
The story begins with Tom West laughing in the face of the storm that may capsize his boat and drown him because it isn’t as scary as the project he just completed…
Compensation Force: Looking to the future, what trend or development do you think will significantly impact the reward profession and those of us working in it?
Laura Schroeder: I think there are several factors that will influence rewards design:
Targeted Rewards: Companies are still looking for ways to spend less on fixed salaries and I don’t see that trend changing any time soon. Rewards professionals need to not only make do with less but also think creatively about alternative and targeted rewards strategies. Rewards design can no longer happen in isolation based on the latest market survey data, a more holistic and people-centric approach is needed.
Changing Workforce: In-house, full-time employees are starting to get a run for their money from remote, part-time contractors. Add that fact to four generations in the workplace and you have a pretty diverse mix of people you need to design compelling yet cost effective rewards for. It’s a whole new game and a really exciting one.
Improved Analytics: Given recent trends in workforce diversity and fiscal uncertainty business leaders will start demanding better insight into workforce rewards. The successful rewards professional in this climate will talk less about competitive data and ‘best practices’ and more about operational data and business results.
Compensation Force: What are you currently working on?
Laura Schroeder: At Workday I’ve been involved with some exciting stuff in the areas of workforce visibility and costing. To give you an example, most companies lack operational insight into what they actually spend on work, which is critical as the workforce expands to include more global and contingent workers. With Workday you can drill into this information using different dimensions such as project, location, worker type, etc. You can analyze who you have working on critical initiatives, where you have skills gaps and whether it would be more cost effective to contract the skills you need, develop them in house or hire someone new. It’s pretty amazing to see in action!
On a more personal note, I’m expecting my third child any day now and will be taking some personal time to focus on that. I’ll still be blogging and enjoying my daily coffee break at Compensation Café, however.
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Our special thanks to Laura for participating in the Compensation Force Thought Leader series and taking the time to share some of her history, thoughts and ideas with us today! And, of course, our very best wishes to her on the imminent arrival!
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