Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Are Public Employers Ready for a "New Pay" Program?

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Are Public Employers Ready for a "New Pay" Program?

Article excerpt

Wage and salary management is at a cross-road. After following the same path for almost half a century, a growing number of corporations are moving in a new direction. They have largely abandoned the traditional program concepts and are building new programs around ideas that are still being refined. There is a high level of interest among public employers in moving in the same direction. But at least in the public sector those new concepts are not wholly compatible with the values and beliefs that have served as the foundation for public pay programs. That makes program planners hesitant to take the new path.

The hesitancy is not surprising. Public employers feel the pressure to change but, thus far, very few have implemented and lived with the new program model. Charlotte, NC seems to be the only example of a comprehensive "new pay" program in government. There may be few defenders of the traditional program model, but managers and employees alike are comfortable with that model. The transition from that model to the new one is not going to be easy.

As the leader of the IPMA/ACA workshop on broad banding, I have now had the opportunity to discuss the new pay model with human resource managers from all levels of government. The discussions evidence considerable interest in new ideas in the abstract, but there is also a realization that their organizations may not be ready for the new pay model. This article looks at some of the issues that go into that decision.

What's changed?

The traditional program model has lost much of its credibility. It was introduced roughly a half century ago and has gotten old. Managers and employees alike know that it can be "gamed" to achieve desired answers. Classification and compensation specialists are expected to defend traditional policies and practices with diminished resources and against mounting pressure to accommodate other organizational changes.

The origins of the traditional model go back to the principles of scientific management and the thinking of industrial engineering that served as the foundation for the management of work and workers in industrial America through most of the 20th century. Workers were an extension of a machine, and the goal was to make them as efficient and reliable as their machines. They were expected to do exactly what management told them to do. Their activities were documented in lengthy job descriptions.

In that early era supervisors had considerable latitude to hire, discipline, and fire workers for reasons that would be totally unacceptable today. Their dictatorial powers carried over to every aspect of the employer/employee relationship. The reactions of workers were predictable; they fought back and organized for self-protection. The early personnel functions were intended to bring labor peace and more harmonious working relations. Personnel specialists gained centralized control of the decisions affecting workers and developed rules that limited the decision making power of supervisors.

Wage and salary management thinking evolved in factory settings with union involvement or with a goal of avoiding unionization. The early pay systems were as structured and rigid as the work environment. Since workers rarely moved from one employer to another, it was natural to focus on internal considerations. The model for job evaluation was developed by industrial engineers. In that environment a worker's performance was dictated by the machine that he tended; as long as he obeyed the rules and performed adequately, he could expect the standard pay increase.

That era is effectively over. The manufacturing industries where that thinking dominated are now fighting to survive in this country. We have become a knowledge economy where success depends on creativity and responsiveness to customer needs. Workers who are able to think outside of the box and to solve problems are now valued more highly than those who resist change. …

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