That partner? Your pay program itself.
That's because compensation itself is a powerful communication tool. In fact, everything we do in compensation is communication, so it's critical that we consider the messages we are sending at each step of the way. My experience would suggest that the early steps we take and the work we do to review/renew our programs on the back end are particularly powerful communication opportunities that we often overlook.
Communication starts even before plan design does, with the way we describe and approach the problem we're trying to solve. That's why it's important to do our homework, dig underneath the surface and get to the roots of the issue -- whether it be performance, retention or something else. Our failure to do this, our decision to tweak pay when the problem may be only partly (or not at all) about rewards can speak volumes. When we throw money at what isn't a compensation problem, people notice -- and we can send unintended messages to employees about their capabilities, their motivation, and the organization's trust in and regard for them.
We also let opportunities slip through our hands when we renew and update pay programs -- or when we fail to do so. If we've learned nothing else in the past several years, it's that the world our organizations operate in can change enormously in the space of twelve months. We can't afford to leave our programs on autopilot, sending messages and promoting efforts that may now be out of sync with what business priorities demand now. A pay program that simply rolls forward into the new year, unchanged or even unconsidered, will speak pretty loudly, too. It says "same old, same old." Is that what you intend?
Make no mistake about it. Your compensation programs speak for themselves. Are you going to let them speak for you?
Creative Commons Image: "Loud Mouth Lover" by Thomas Hawk