The Comp Strategist (Part 1) — Comp + Coffee: Ep. 31

On this latest episode of Comp + Coffee, we’re starting our first ever three-part series.

The topic?

What it means to become a Comp Strategist.

If you’re wondering things like, “what’s a Comp Strategist?” or “How do I become one?” — buckle up! We’re doing a deep dive into the three most important things that make Comp Strategists such compensation superheroes.

The first critical trait that we’ll focus on is organization.

We’ll dig into why it’s so crucial for a Comp Strategist to get organized and what tools they use to stay organized.

If you like what you hear, make sure to rate and review! And if you haven’t subscribed to Comp + Coffee yet, you can follow us on Apple PodcastsGoogle MusicSoundcloud, or wherever you get your podcasts.

And if you love spoilers and want to learn all about Comp Strategists NOW, go ahead and download our free ebook on the topic! It’s called Becoming a Comp Strategist: How to Start Your Compensation Transformation, and it’s going to teach you how to take your comp career to the next level.


For a full transcription of the episode, see below.


Bill: And we’re not live.

Shawn: And we’re not live. Bill.

Bill: Shawn.

Shawn: Got to do a little intro here.

Bill: Okay.

Shawn: So, we’re about to undertake a three-part series around the topic of being a comp strategist. And this is something that we fundamentally believe on “Comp + Coffee” and here at Payfactors, the generous, generous benefactor…

Kaite: Bill Coleman.

Shawn: …of us opening up these mics and doing what we do every other week. We believe that every comp analyst or every person in comp has the ability to become a comp strategist. And what we mean by that is three things, and we’re going to cover each of these three things in a separate podcast to add a little bit more context to it, dive a little deeper into the topic. But generally what it means is you have technology that is your analyst, so you’re organized with the most recent real-time data that can deliver the results that might have previously taken a lot of time, manual effort, participation in things, being responsive to the seasonality away. And so what does that do? That doesn’t replace your job. That actually frees you up to be more thoughtful and strategic. When you can do that, you can communicate the value and mechanics of compensation with others. So they are fully aligned hopefully then, or at least you start to align with them on what is compensation, why does it matter, how can we be smarter about this? And then finally, and this is where Bill comes in, you become a strategic business ally. By freeing up your time and having technology be your analyst and communicating it well across the board, you can start to better align with more strategic business initiatives and talking the language of executives. You can earn your seat at the table

Kaite: Bill, you are such a star.

Bill: Yeah. And for my fan base of one, I will be on all three podcasts, not just the last one.

Shawn: I did not mean to imply that. I meant that’s your wheelhouse.

Kaite: Area of expertise.

Shawn: It’s your wheelhouse, Bill.

Bill: All right.

Kaite: Also, shameless plug. Obviously, over the next three episodes we get into all of these topics very deep, but we also just recently released a great overview e-book on this topic. So, if it’s something that you would like, it’s free. So, send us note, and we’ll send it to you.

Shawn: And in doing all this, we view this as the start of a conversation. There are things that we feel are almost certain that are changing in compensation that if you don’t keep up, you’re not going to keep up, you’re not going to have the ability to do these things we talk about. But as we get further along in this, it’s definitely more of an open conversation because it’s going to be becoming a strategic business ally is going to mean different things to different people in different organizations. We want to help with that. We want to help guide that, but we need the input of the community. So, there’s going to be events, virtual and real that we are putting on and attending, that we want to hear your thoughts. We’re going to be doing surveys on this, we’re going to be diving into research on it. We will do more of this throughout the year and put our thoughts out there. We are very interested in yours though. We are very interested in you walking down the hallway, talking to employees, talking to managers, and bringing that back to the community so that we can all do better.

Bill: So, more than just a podcast, kind of a podcast-rooted conversation.

Shawn: It’s a podcast that gives you homework.

Bill: Homework, brainstorm.

Kaite: That’s a good way of putting it. Look at you, Bill.

Bill: Oh, thank you. It’s in my wheelhouse.

Shawn: So, without further ado, let’s launch into the first one.


Shawn: Namaste, Bill.

Bill: What?

Shawn: Yeah, we’re starting out different today.

Bill: You confused me.

Shawn: Namaste?

Bill: Namaste.

Shawn: Just taking a deep breath before we get going, let my relaxing spirit come through.

Kaite: It’s usually, you know how you close out the class.

Shawn: We’re starting it that way.

Kaite: All right. Okay.

Shawn: We’ll relax before we begin.

Kaite: Great. I’m here for it. I’m here for it.

Bill: I’ll try and tone it down, Shawn.

Shawn: Our topic today, our topic today, sorry, Bill’s here obviously, because I said, namaste to him. Kaite, already jumped in.

Kaite: I’m here.

Shawn: Kaite’s here.

Bill: Steph doesn’t know what namaste means.

Kaite: Shawn, you’re here. Oh, really? It’s the spirit within me honors the spirit within you and it’s usually like how you close out a yoga class

Bill: And why did you think I would know that?

Kaite: Shawn thinks you do a lot of yoga after the improv class probably.

Shawn: Do a little deep breath beforehand, felt relaxed, my spirit was honoring Bill.

Bill: We’ve bored these people enough. Let’s move on.

Shawn: Exactly. All right, so here today to talk about comp strategy. The topic today has been formulated for a bit now. And high level, when you look at comp, not much has changed in the industry and that probably actually applies over a broader period of time than we might expect, right? In the late ’90s, 2000s you see computer technology started to take off and help out, but I think a lot of that was just automating processes. So, you take some of that manual labor out, but there’s still a lot that we do that’s manual.

Bill: Yes, that’s true. It’s true with a lot of, you know, systems where people refer to technology, which is really just automating the paper process. You know, I always, you know, it’s not comp-specific, but, you know, performance review systems are notorious for that.

Shawn: You can click buttons now and edit in there, but you need just to check marks or writing down things that…

Kaite: S it’s not actually transforming or improving the way or like slightly improves it. Is it like maybe a little bit more efficient.

Shawn: Right. It doesn’t make, it certainly doesn’t make the line people go, “Oh, I love this process.” No.

Kaite: Yeah, yeah,

Shawn: Yeah. And so when we look at the next evolution of what could happen as a result of the way technology has continued to evolve beyond just that, beyond automating manual processes, I think that’s where the term comp analyst might get left behind. Where what we’re talking about is that in that world, you’re getting rid of those manual processes, legitimately getting rid of them and not just interacting with the computer to do them. And instead, the technology becomes your analyst. And so in this world, what that frees you up to do, and I don’t want to…I’m not going down a path of, “How is AI and machine learning gonna affect your job? Look at these highest rate of jobs that are gonna be affected by AI.” Because I have a thoroughly different view on that than what we’ve typically been hearing in the press. Not that anybody comes to me for quotes, but if you want to you can reach me. It’s

Bill: Let me write that down.

Shawn: But I think one of the trends that you would see with this one potentially is that, if the technology becomes your analyst, then you get to become a comp strategist. You get to use all this insights and data that you can produce with the machine to actually be more thoughtful and strategic in your work.

Bill: Yeah. I would say the data and the analysis is the foundation for the job. But historically, it’s been the job.

Shawn: That’s right.

Bill: You know, and so the analyst role was truly an analyst role. It was one about collecting and processing data and creating reports and, you know, with technology a lot of that stuff can be theoretically at the push of a button, and now that person who was an analyst has the opportunity to be much more strategic, focus on a higher level. Understanding the data, using the data, but using it for strategic business purposes, focusing on what’s important to the organization they work at.

Shawn: Yeah. I mean, it’s almost, to put like an exclamation point on what you’re saying. It’s almost a joke within the industry to say, we’re always busy, we’re always bogged down in the seasons, right? We have salary budget season, we have surveyed participation season, we have…

Bill: Open enrollment.

Shawn: …open enrollment, we have a performance and planning, we have merit season. We have all these seasons, so we’re always busy. But what that connotes is that, if I’m to draw a picture of that in my mind, what that looks like to me is there’s all these papers piled up on your desk, right? If you think about like in the old world where your inbox, your physical inbox is full with all these seasons that we know we have to go through and all the work that that entails. And in the meantime, you’re getting all these one-off requests, “We need to hire this, we need to make sure that this department is up to market, we need to,” right? All those are piling in. And by the way, those are urgent, right? “Whatever season you’re in, I don’t care. I need this back.” So, if you think about in a mental way, that’s how in my mind, at least, in my very, very rudimentary mind, that’s how that comes to life where this can help you break out of that. Because in theory, if this is set up well, and that’s the term that I like think of when I think about this first stage of being a comp strategist, you’re organized. You have all your data in one place, to the point that you were making, so that you can better leverage it.

Bill: Yes. And being organized is not strategic. It’s a key to being strategic, having all that information at your fingertips.

Kaite: Like the foundation.

Bill: Right. You know, and I think some people mistake, like they think that, you know, there’s a phrase, knowledge is power and they think like, you know, I have all the data, therefore I have all the power. But, it’s again, not the raw data it, so there’s your data and information and understanding. It’s like, you need to understand what that data means and what it tells you about the organization and being able to access it quickly and have it synthesized. You know, we can process way more data than, you know, when I started my career. It’s like, you know, the phone in my pocket right now has more memory than the first computer I used at work.

Shawn: What’s the famous line? I think that smartphones have more technology in them than the first… The NASA moon…

Bill: That moon… Yeah. We used to put the, you know, Apollo 7, 11 on the moon?

Shawn: Mine’s very rudimentary as well. That was used to launch a man to the moon. How about that?

Kaite: There you go.

Shawn: But yeah, I think about what you’re saying is right, and I think about this. There’s, I don’t think she it on the podcast, if we go back to the Patty McCord one. But one of the things she is notorious for saying is that in HR, if you want to earn a seat at the table, her comment historically has always been, “Well, learn how to read a balance sheet.” What that implies in my mind in this instance is use that information to understand what your company wants to do, like the company KPIs, the company goals, right? However it is, the information that you sit on top of, for most organizations, is responsible for the largest part of that organization, right? Your information knowledge workers, the amount that you’re spending to get out of that, right? We call it the human capital whatever, but it’s for the people that are there and what you’re paying them to be there. And so how do you map that to the company goals? Because if you don’t have the right people in the right spots, you revenue’s not going to grow. If you don’t have the right people in the right spots, you’re not going to maintain your customers, right? There’s a direct connection there. So, it’s understanding those KPIs and understanding how to leverage the data that you sit on to talk about those things.

Bill: Yes. And I’ll go even further and say it’s understanding what people are driving, what parts of the organization, what’s important to make that happen? And it’s sort of a, you know, we have probably mocked this too much already. The whole like salary budget concept of, “Oh, salaries are moving 3% a year.” That’s all well and good, but it’s not everybody, each person’s salary needs to move 3% a year. And there are some people you have to take better care of. And you need to, to be strategic, you need to know who those people are. And it’s not, you know, every person that threatens to quit, it’s not every manager’s…

Shawn: There goes my strategy.

Bill: It’s not every manager’s favorite employee. It’s, you know, it’s the people that are driving the differentiation for your organization. And just knowing, like, knowing how your boss, your boss’ boss,, the CEO, how they think about the business, and what they want from compensation, what they want from HR is, you know, thinking about it the way they think about it is probably the best way to get started in being strategic.

Shawn: Yeah. If I’m to go back to another Patty McCord story, because it’s Patty McCord day, apparently. Shout out to Patty. One of the things that she also said was when… So Netflix historically never garnered market data. The way that they would get it would be by having people go out and get offers. And that was how they determined somebody’s worth relatively. One of the things that happened as a result of that is there was a specific engineer that went out and somebody made him an offer for twice the amount that he made at Netflix. And Patty sat back and was like, “There’s no way we can pay that.” Talked to his manager, realized that this person was solely responsible, solely contributing to a really important part of the future of the business because he had this very distinct knowledge, and said, “Oh, then I guess we need to pay all the engineers like him also double because otherwise we’re going to get poached soon.”

Bill: Well, right. And she was like smart enough, aware enough and, you know, tying to the theme, strategic enough to realize it’s not that we couldn’t afford to pay him, it’s that we couldn’t afford to not pay him.

Shawn: Right. The future of the business is going to depend on this. And that’s where, if we go back to this organized premise, it’s not just that you have, you know what we were saying there, all data in one place which is have your employee data in there with real-time market data, in there was survey data, whatever else you’re using to make decisions about what the market is and how it’s moving. But more importantly, is going almost a step beyond job descriptions. Having a way to… What happened in Patty’s example is she had a conversation with that manager. If that doesn’t scale or if you don’t have that ability, how do you have, you need to have those skills, those, to your point, it’s almost like the performance review part of it. How do you know who’s critical to this business that honestly just doesn’t matter what we pay them because we need to for the future of the business or for even the maintenance of the business versus where can we be a little bit more traditional?

Bill: I think, I mean, it’s open dialogue with the people in the business. It’s not hiding from them and you’re not just a service provider. You know, the comp team is not just people that are spitting out market ranges and salary structures to the line managers. You should be interacting with the line managers. You should know what keeps them up at night. And some of those issues are going to be people related

Kaite: And you’re going to get the feedback on, yes, this person is critical by talking to the managers, right? The comp person isn’t gonna necessarily have that information if they’re not connecting with the line managers on a regular basis or as these things come up.

Bill: You know, and there aren’t a lot of systems that track those things and, you know, a system that understands all the strategic initiatives of a company and like all of the roles or all of the contributions of individual people and, you know, even the sort of untapped abilities of some of those people like that, you know, it’s a community effort.

Kaite: Like, I know you have the potential to do X, Y, and Z if we present you with the right project, yes.

Shawn: We educate you well, or if we tap into your passion or whatever.

Bill: Yeah.

Shawn: Yeah. So, what you’re saying is you need to be a comp strategist?

Bill: Yes. Right. So, you need to be a comp strategist.

Shawn: But that’s what it opens you up to do, right? If you are able to rely on your technology to be the analyst, have everything in one place where you can gather that data and be quick and responsive to handle those requests, it does open you up to have more of these conversations where you’re more of a strategic partner.

Bill: Right. And I would say it’s funny because you just said strategic partner, which to me is like two concepts, you know. There’s being strategic and being a partner. You know, and I think having all the data available and, you know, understanding it and knowing what it means is critical, but also like having it internally available, like knowing key metrics and key facts off the top of your head so that when you’re going to get coffee, you know, as I have right here, as you’re going to get coffee and you run into somebody and they, you know, they ask you questions about turnover rates, you should know that. You shouldn’t say, “Well, let me go back to my office,” and, you know, pull out a file or, you know, look up the turnover rates in the department.

Kaite: What’s the number and six weeks later I’ll get back to you.

Bill: Or, you know, and I’ll go even further. You know, you should know how you compare to your competitors, you know, and like are we losing more people to our direct competitors or are we gaining more people from them? Is it different by department? Like no, you should know that stuff because by knowing that stuff or having a good sense, you project sort of knowledge awareness and strategic value to the people that are looking to you for, you know, advice and input.

Shawn: Yeah. Even in that example, you’re taking it beyond one step of what traditionally is done. You’re getting data that’s very specific to you, which again, that should all be in one organized place, you should be able to have skill-specific stuff in there, right? Stuff that sets you apart in terms of your thinking. So, an engineer is not an engineer in Patty McCord’s example, right? This engineer really important because they have these critical skills that the future of the business is dependent upon. All right. So being more thoughtful, taking that next step. And look, what gets in the way of that today if, you know, to be fair, is responsiveness. There’s always a season, we’re always doing something manual. There’s always requests coming in, there’s always something else. So, it’s lining up and getting organized, and I’m using like a very basic term, but getting all that stuff in one place so that you can at least be fast in your responsiveness in order to elevate what you’re trying to do, right? That it’s not just… Your day, we should never measure our productivity, any individual in an organization by how many emails we respond to in a day. But that’s effectively what we’re doing when it’s like all these requests coming in. I’m distilling it down to its most basic element, right? Or it should be the value we’re contributing to the business and making sure that it makes sense to the stakeholders within whatever request it is.

Bill: Right. And, you know, some organizations that I’m aware of have either formal or informal bifurcation of their team into the, you know, tactical response team and then the forward-looking strategic team or, you know, so that, that not everybody gets sucked into that today’s emergency question.

Shawn: And that’s pretty smart way to do, I was calling on our team, like the flossing the teeth, the things that you know you have to do. I know, it’s weird. The things that you know you have to do.

Bill: Let the record show I just gave Shawn a dirty look.

Shawn: What’s new.. Someday we will have a video on here and you’ll be able to see the look that Bill gave me.

Kaite: Sidebar coming back to video later.

Shawn: But it’s the stuff that you have to do versus those things that you know you need to do, right? And having that division isn’t a bad thing. That way if you would only do the things that you know you need to do and not the things that you have to do, you’re going to be letting down some percentage of the organization at that point.

Bill: Well, and you never get to be strategic and you never get to be…

Shawn: Fair too.

Bill: You know, you never get to plan or execute because you’re on a plan. Sorry, you never get to plan or execute because you are just constantly reacting.

Kaite: You’re like in the hamster wheel.

Bill: Yep.

Shawn: It’s okay. So, you have all this data, you’re organized

Kaite: Because all that data is completely useless if you don’t actually understand it and you can’t, and/ or if I understand it, but I have no, I don’t know how to articulate it to you or you or to you.

Shawn: So, you have this data, you’re organized, the tech has become your analyst, right, which is no small feat in and of itself. But let’s assume that that’s the case then, yeah, it’s moving onto how do you interpret that? How do you communicate that? To whom are you communicating that with? Sounds like a fantastic topic for our next podcast.

Kaite: I will agree with that.

Shawn: But we have a long summer ahead of us here. We’ll have a lot more podcasts to come. We know you want to listen to our sweet, sweet voices with the top down heading out to the beach for the summer.

Kaite: I mean, yes, absolutely.

Shawn: Is this getting too weird and personal for you, Bill?

Bill: No.

Kaite: Bill loves driving with the top down, the wind blowing through his hair.

Bill: I haven’t had a convertible since like 1979.

Shawn: Windows down, windows down.

Kaite: Windows down, okay. Before we end this though, you just brought up video and it was something that I wanted to kind of tack onto the end of this podcast anyways. It would be, I mean it would be very simple for us to just start recording these. Do people actually have any interest in seeing these recordings? What happens in our fancy podcast studio? I don’t know. If you do email us, in coffee@…

Shawn: Do you want to see the looks Bill gives me 90% of the time while I’m talking?

Kaite: Correct. Correct. Yeah. So, if you want to see this, if this would be interesting or it would be another way that you would engage with the podcast, like would do you watch the video versus listening? Email us…

Shawn: Watch them on YouTube.

Kaite: Yeah, we put them on YouTube. Email us at

Shawn: All right. Well, thanks everybody for joining us today. Hopefully this was beneficial. This is the first in a series where we’ll start to talk about what it means to move from a comp analyst to a comp strategist. If you have your own thoughts on it, you’re curious to dive into it more, we’re always open to a conversation, Bill especially he likes to call people as he’s driving with his windows down heading to the beach listening to “Comp + Coffee” in the background. But if you want to talk about comp strategy and what the future might look like, please reach out to us at Happy to entertain your thoughts, ideas, maybe even have you as a guest. Otherwise, we’ll be back soon.

Bill: Namaste.