A Change Too Far?

If you are an investor (in anything), you will be conversant with the possibility that your investments can go up as well as down. That is an accepted risk. However, you will hope for the best as no one ever goes into an investment expecting it to go down.

Such is the same when it comes to the investments we make for our careers- we rightfully expect that these investments will pay off and our salaries and remuneration will go up and up until we retire. No one in permanent employment really anticipates the possibility of the usual investment rules to occur here- i.e. that our salaries can go up as well as down depending on the complexity of our assignments. This aligns with professional success as we know it, and indeed is the whole premise on which job promotions and career progressions are based. Most people leave their jobs and seek others so as to learn more and advance their salary prospects. Others are perfectly happy to remain in the same job they like as long as they are paid perceptively well and even then, the expectation always is that annual incremental salary increases will compensate and/or align with the rising costs of living.

Imagine then if, at your next annual performance review, your boss tells you that in recognition of the great work that you have done in turning around your failing business/function/department (substitute anything you wish here), you will henceforth receive a 40% pay-cut “because thanks to you, your failing business/department is now back in ‘calmer waters’ and the reduction reflects the revised demands of the current job!”.

Imagine, more importantly, if this suggestion actually came from you- an admission that you think that you are now overpaid for your job?

And yet this is effectively what Mr Richard Pennycook, the Chief Executive of Co-op, did after he successfully turned around the fortunes of his organisation!

As a Change facilitator who advocates flexibility and adaptability, I have to confess to being very surprised at this. Yes, people take pay cuts in times of hardships, yes, some folk donate a sizeable chunk of their earnings to charities, and yes, inspirational colleagues happily perform themselves out of their jobs and then move on to seek new challenges but, I have never come across anyone asking for a pay-cut. And 40% no less! In particular, I can’t seem to wrap my head around some questions:

  1. Given that we live in a world of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity & ambiguity), where anything can happen at any time (and indeed often does), can anyone ever confidently declare a state of ‘calmer waters’ without tempting fate and running the risk of talking too soon?
  2. If, said ‘calmer waters’ turn and become ‘stormy waters’, will Mr Pennycook’s organisation reciprocate and proactively and graciously offer (nay insist!) that his previous reduction be reinstated?
  3. In a culture where media and public outcry of large salaries is loud and deafening, I cannot help but notice the relatively deathly silence surrounding this inspirational announcement. Could it be that we are either (a) too stunned or (b) too scared to applaud and celebrate this change leader in case this behaviour catches on?

In a world where we are constantly being urged to ‘be the change that we want to see in others’, is this possibly a change too far?

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Posted in Change Management, Motivate for Change, Too Much Chage and tagged , , , , .