Taking on Comp
This article accompanies The Fixers.
Timothy Tanis certainly isn’t shy about his career aspirations.
“I want to be the head of people operations somewhere,” he says, “and one day, hopefully, president of an organization.”
As director of compensation for auto-glass brand Safelite Group, Tanis may not yet occupy the corner office, but he’s certainly on a trajectory toward bigger things. Evidence of this includes the pivotal role he played in moving the company away from a legacy compensation system toward a new and much more relevant pay model for its technicians.
It was during his time as an M.B.A. student at Willamette (Ore.) University that Tanis first took a liking to HR.
“I took a compensation course with the other M.B.A. students, and I was pretty much the only one who liked the course,” he recalls with a laugh. “That’s when a light when off.”
Following college, Tanis broke into the comp field in 2007 as an analyst at gift retailer Harry & David. He joined outdoor retailer Cabela’s Inc. a year later as its compensation manager, moved into the role of “compbearsation” manager at Build-a-Bear Workshop in 2010, and then joined Ascena Retail Group as its comp manager in 2011.
It was during his first week at Safelite in 2014 that Tanis attended a meeting centered on the idea of “fixing technician pay” at the company.
For more than two decades, the company had been using its Performance Pay Plan to compensate its field technicians — the company’s largest employee base, with about 6,000 workers.
The plan, which was once considered revolutionary and inspired the Harvard Business Review to publish a case study about its advantages, had not evolved to keep up with the times, unlike the models that Safelite’s competitors were now using to pay their technicians.
Further complicating matters, says Natalie Crede, Tanis’ supervisor and senior vice president of people and leadership development, was that “over time, [PPP] became so entrenched in the culture of the organization that not even Mercer Consulting could convince the organization to change after a yearlong study.”
So, during the next two years, the company invested $20 million as he and his partners tested six different pilot programs in an attempt to find the right one to replace PPP.
Collaboration and Competencies
Crede notes that Tim worked with the IT, operations and finance teams to align on the best method that would provide great earning potential for the company’s techs while balancing the behaviors needed to help grow the business: a focus on quality, customer service and units complete.
Tanis jokes that his math and stats teachers would be proud of his efforts because a lot of statistical analysis went into determining the new pay program. (Every technician ended up receiving an increase in pay, some up to five dollars more an hour.)
While the new comp model, called TechVantage, is being rolled out this year, it has already begun paying other dividends for workers. Technicians can now view — via a smartphone app — how they can capitalize on opportunities to earn extra money through meeting new quality and service goals. The previous approach had more of a focus on productivity.
“They can see all their metrics, including customer comments, stuff that had been stuck in mainframe computers but is now available on their phones,” he says, adding that one of the positive psychological aspects of the new system is its transparency.
“It’s one thing for your manager to occasionally bring you information, like customer comments,” he says, “and another thing entirely for you to get all of them, in real time, on your phone.”
Tanis’ work in creating a new compensation model is in keeping with the company’s desire to get leaders to view HR in a different light.
“Over the last two years,” Crede says, “Tim has played a major role in leading the transformation of the compensation team from an administrative function to a strategic business partner to organization leaders.”
The compensation team showed off this new approach by tackling the fundamentals, she says, because “you cannot be a strategic partner without having a leader’s trust that [HR] would execute basic items like bonus programs and retro pay without an issue. This partnership set the bar high by showing leaders that the compensation team was committed not only to high quality work, but future focused strategies as well.”
Tanis says this shift in mind-set has brought more complexity with it.
“It’s easy to quote laws and regulations when you tell someone why they can’t do something,” Tanis says, “but saying yes is more difficult. A lot of it comes back to trying to solve the people side of an operation[al] challenge.
”Our leaders wanted change and wanted more from people and leadership development,” he continues. “So now, if it’s a people problem, they come to the group that knows the most about people.”
In further praising Tanis, Crede says he “epitomizes a ‘can-do’ attitude.”
“I can’t recall Tim ever having a bad day,” she says. “He leads his meetings with a smile and a spirit of teamwork.
“This isn’t to say he’s a pushover,” Crede adds. “We have had moments in which we did not understand each other or even agreed. But in those moments, he never stopped listening to my point of view, and we always worked to reach an approach that everyone could live with.”
And as for one day leading a company? For now, Tanis says he’s more focused on what’s immediately in front of him. “It’s all about what the next great challenge is,” he explains. “What am I working on now? Being a better leader.”