Heads and tails of the fire-breathing Compensation and Benefits dragon (part 1)


My appearance at Mercer’s Conference earlier this fall made me think a lot. It made me think about Spotify’s differentiation when it comes to Comp & Ben. It made me think about dragons! Here’s why…

Anyone who has successfully trained a fire-breathing dragon can tell you: the firey breath will burn, but in the end it’s the tail that will get the job done. Your opponent will focus on the flames, they won’t see the tail coming, and that’s how you win.

Compensation and Benefits is a lot like a dragon. And in order to be successful, you need a dragon with a strong head and tail.

The dragon’s tail

The tail is the bread and butter – the stuff we do working with benchmark and percentiles, promotion guidelines, mobility, pension, benefits – you know the drill. All of this, you must have down if you want to compete and win.

But pretty much every company has the same goals. We are all looking to attract and retain (the same) top talent, reward business results and acknowledge individual performance. And we all have the same benchmark data and use the same consultants. So in the end one dragon’s tail looks pretty much like the next one, and you’ll never catch a lot of attention with it.

The dragon’s head – make it impressive!

If you want your dragon to stand out, look attractive, and be special, you also need to show off a fantastic fire-breathing head. I’m talking about the attention grabbing C&B schemes that will define you to the rest of the world. You can decide to have the biggest head around. Or the coolest one. Or one that is radically different and special. You can even decide to have a headless dragon, but make sure that’s a conscious decision and not something that just happens because you are busy crunching benchmarks for the tail.

In 2016, Spotify released a global parental leave policy offering 6 months fully paid leave for all employees who became a parent. That was quite a dragon’s head. We got a lot of attention. We were even invited to the White House to talk about it. And we like to talk about it because it’s a great benefit that goes well with our company culture and drives a change we welcome.

In our Swedish motherland, however, the parental leave policy didn’t even get a raised eyebrow. Because in Sweden, state paid parental leave is over a year long and a supplementary company parental leave pay is pretty mainstream.

That’s one tricky thing about being a global company with a very diverse workforce. A great benefit in one place will be something expected in another.  

Be prepared to grow new heads

The solution is to make yourself a hydra dragon with many heads. One will give you attention in US and the other will give you attention in Sweden. One for Generation X and another for the Millennials. Or one for the introverts and another for the extroverts.  

Also, remember that sooner or later most dragons lose their heads – either the content becomes part of the standard benchmark, then you just move it to the tail – or it doesn’t add value anymore and you need to grow a new head. So if you want to stay differentiated, you have to both keep the dragon heads coming.

Happy dragon training!


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