This article accompanies Agents of Change.
In 2015, Hewlett-Packard Inc. was split into HPE, focused on large business clients, and HP Inc., which would continue making personal computers and printers. Despite a stagnant PC market, HP Inc. has maintained its status as the No. 1 PC maker and consistently posted sales gains for the last eight quarters. However, its strong market position has also given competitors reason to try to lure HP’s executives to their own ranks–that’s where Margarita Blanco comes in.
Blanco, HP’s director of executive compensation, joined HP as an HR management associate in 2010, completing an 18-month HR leadership rotational program to gain exposure to different areas of HR and the business in the U.S. and Asia Pacific. She later led HP’s global market competitiveness group, conducting benchmarking and analysis of executive-salary structures and executive leveling for jobs impacted by organizational-design changes.
Today, Blanco–a native of Colombia and a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations–leads efforts to attract and retain talented executives at HP by shaping its executive-compensation strategy to ensure it’s competitive with industry peers. She is HP’s executive-compensation expert, keeping a close eye on market trends and advising managers on how to keep employees productive and engaged.
Blanco enjoys “using strong analysis of internal and external data points to support some of the complex problems, such as retention or complex hires.”
By “complex hires,” Blanco means executive-level candidates whose current jobs have compensation structures that differ from HP’s. In such cases, Blanco must ensure that HP’s offer takes those differences into account and is financially attractive to the candidate, and that he or she understands the long-term incentives and bonuses available.
“It’s important to provide them a total view of all the different compensation components,” she says. “Sometimes, just a snapshot is not very helpful.”
HP’s enviable market position, along with the intensifying war for top talent, has put the onus on HR to help it hold on to top-performing employees.
In response, Blanco led “Project Upside,” focused on retaining and reenergizing HP’s top talent. The effort included structured retention and career conversations among employees and their managers and a special retention-compensation program focused on equity. She outlined the program parameters for the broader company and engaged with each HR leadership team member to identify the appropriate reward recipients based on a set of key criteria.
Prior to the conversations, each manager was provided talking points to guide the discussion, set the context and ensure employees understood their critical role in HP’s success. Managers were coached to listen carefully and identify employee concerns, such as a desire for greater career progression, mentoring opportunities or work/life balance. The managers completed a formal retention letter for each employee and implemented “retention actions” based on the conversations.
Blanco also developed a comprehensive tracking process to ensure all conversations were completed, risks identified and tailored retention actions implemented.
“The managers were very excited to have these conversations and were overwhelmed by some of the responses from employees,” says Blanco.
One of the important “lessons learned” from Project Upside, she says, is that providing guidance to managers for what could be difficult conversations made the process more productive.
“This underlined the importance of having some structure,” says Blanco.
The program was successfully delivered to 500-plus employees in a timely fashion, says Elaine Beddome, HP’s global head of total rewards and Blanco’s direct supervisor.
Developing an Executive Rewards-Planning Model
Like many companies, HP has shifted its performance-management process away from performance ratings in favor of ongoing feedback and career conversations among managers and employees throughout the year. However, managers can find the new process–called the Annual Review Cycle–daunting, particularly when it comes to allocating rewards and justifying decisions without the use of a ratings scale as a guide.
Enter Blanco. She developed a support model for executive-rewards planning to back the new approach. To work around limitations within HP’s existing HR systems and tools, she created a comprehensive offline process to ensure visibility for executives across total-target compensation. She also created tools to guide managers in their equity-awards planning. Blanco met with all HR leadership team members to ensure they understood the process.
The support model shows managers the sum of base salary, target bonus and equity awards for a given employee and how it compares to the market in order to help managers make better decisions on compensation.
In nominating Blanco, Beddome cites comments from Blanco’s colleagues and direct reports, such as “Margarita never hesitates to roll up her sleeves to get things done on time” and “She’s very responsive and action-oriented, and I appreciate her problem-solving and collaborative approach.”
“Margarita’s ability to engage, communicate and influence the senior leadership and board … is evidence of her expertise and how well-respected and valued her judgement is across the organization,” says Beddome.