Enterprise Software

An IT manager struggles with commission pay

An IT manager wants to change the way he earns his commission. And another IT manager needs help with interviewing potential job candidates. Find out the advice our HR expert gives to both of these professionals.

Editor’s note: The best insight into HR dilemmas is provided by solving real-life situations that IT pros face every day, and that's what our HR Handbook column is all about. Our TechRepublic HR experts welcome your e-mail questions concerning human resources issues. Although all of the messages are read, we will respond to those that will likely benefit the most members. This week, HR columnist Wade Mitchell answers questions from readers.

How can I change my commission plan?
Q: My employer has changed our commission plan four times in the past seven months. Furthermore, my company has recently introduced a team concept, whereby I am supposed to split my commissions with a coworker who is not motivated, and this reduces my commission even further. What do I do?—AM

A:  If senior management has made so many frequent changes to the commission plan, why don’t you ask if it’s possible to change it again! Point out the problems with the current plan—especially since you are tied to an underperformer. Then, develop a commission plan that works well for you and for management. Present your plan to management and see if you can initiate change.

If this proactive approach is not an option, you may want to consider looking for another job. Many IT managers wind up with jobs that involve splitting time between management and sales. The potential paycheck numbers look dazzling, but often, the harsh truth is that you find you cannot do your best in either role. Your check may reflect this problem. I understand that many IT companies are young and volatile, but changing the commission plan four times in seven months is a sign of poor planning by senior management.

I must assume there is something about this job that keeps you around. You must consider the entire picture. Take all the things you can truly count on from your employer. Write them down on one sheet of paper.

Now, on another sheet of paper, write down the things that you have now but cannot count on (stock prices, commissions, etc.). That is page two. Once you have done that, start crossing items off page two one at a time. As you scratch off each item, consider that perk gone forever. Do you still want the job without it? If so, keep crossing off items. If all the page two items are crossed off and you still want the job, you should stay. The rest is gravy. If you lose interest in the job before all the items are gone, at least now you know when to make your move if bad things keep happening.

Unless a written contract is signed, outlining the specifics of your compensation and timelines for changes, there is very little you can do in the face of your company’s changes. The only real recourse you have is to threaten to leave if things get bad enough, and then do it if you have to.

If you do find yourself considering another IT manager job, get the specifics of your complete compensation package in writing. Any reputable company will be happy to provide that. Any company that does not should be avoided.

A poll conducted November 7, 2001, shows that IT managers who earn commissions are rare but not unheard of.

An IT manager asks for help screening job candidates
Q: What makes a great set of interview questions?—JP

A: As an IT manager, there are "core" questions you want answered with each interview you conduct. Core questions are not the questions you ask the candidate directly. They are the questions you need answered to make your hiring decision. Without regard to job-specific technical questions, I will provide the core questions you want answered. I’ll provide some examples of how to phrase these questions to the job candidate so that the candidate reveals this needed information to you.

Core question: Can you do the technical tasks required by the job?
Example of how to phrase this question: What steps would you take if an AS400 system crashes?
Advice: Depending on the position you need to fill, you should spend most of your time during the interview asking open-ended questions like this to determine whether the person is technically qualified for the job. I suggest you ask your staff to submit specific questions as well. If you have a staff member who is particularly knowledgeable in a certain area, perhaps that staff member should conduct part of the interview.

Core question: Can you be counted on?
Example of how to phrase this question:
If I were to contact your superior from your last job, what would he have to say about your dependability? Give me an example of why you are dependable.
Advice: Here, you want to listen for realistic examples and be aware of any negative answers such as, "He was always on my back about attendance, even though I was there more than anyone else!" That type of answer suggests a negative attitude.

Core question: Are you going to like having me as your IT manager?
Examples of how to phrase this question: Tell me about your favorite boss. What made this one your favorite? Tell me about one that you hated. Why?
Advice: Listen to the answers and compare what the candidate likes and hates to how you manage. For instance, some people like more structure than others. Assess your own style honestly and probe for answers to see if you and this candidate are a good match.

Core question: Will you get along with the team? (Or, conversely, are you going to hate working alone?)
Examples of how to phrase this question: Tell me about a team you worked on that was successful. What made it so? What was your role in that success? (Or tell me about a job where you primarily worked alone. What did you like about it? Dislike? What did you do when you had a problem?)
Advice: Listen for things like initiative and leadership or a willingness to do the "dirty work." Think about what your team is like and consider any potential personality conflicts.

Core question: Are you going to stick around?
Examples of how to phrase this question: Where do you see yourself in five years? Tell me about your favorite job. Least favorite. Why?
Advice: Now you know why everyone always asks that one. Is your job an entry-level fast track to the top? Is it a dead-end job? Find out what is important to the candidate in the long run and make sure it matches what you can offer. Simply put, probe for why the candidate thinks this job is a match for him or her.

Those are the basics. Another tip is to avoid any question that can be answered with a simple yes or no. It won’t reveal much. Here are two free resources from TechRepublic that will help you develop solid questions and interviewing skills:

Do you have an HR problem?
How do you motivate a star performer when you can’t give him or her a big pay raise next year? Do you need to have a difficult discussion with a team member who is always late? Send us your HR questions, and our experts may answer your question in an upcoming column. Or post a comment about the advice in this article.

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