Tuesday, September 25, 2012

It's the incentives.

In today's special Dealbook section on BigLaw, there's a great article about the culture of firms like Cravath (here).  What I found especially interesting was the notion that taking out the eat-what-you-kill types of incentives, as well as the "if we don't pay them a lot of money, they'll leave" instincts, leads to a firm where people aren't necessarily cutthroat and still get to do very interesting work.

Not a big surprise.  After all, people work to fulfill the incentives given to them.  The people who focus on salary (see "anchoring effect"), at least after they reach the "comfortable living" threshold, seem to me to be among the most unhappy people.  I've had colleagues at every place I work whose mission in life seems to be to ferret out everyone else's salary and then sulk if they're not at the tippy-top of the list.  (They also tend to taunt the higher-paid among their colleagues.)

So when folks are paid in lockstep, they have to find their self-worth in other areas, such as the quality of the work they're getting, or the opportunities to do new and interesting work. 

Folks who head up organizations should take note.  It cannot be true that people need to be at the top of the pay scale to be happy.  And, because we don't live in Lake Wobegone, not everyone can be at the top of the pay scale.  Giving people opportunities and--when the money is there--raises is important.  Placing people into ordinal rank by salaries alone isn't.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

My value as a director of a public board.

Recently, I was asked by a wonderful executive search firm to consider, well, being considered for a director position on a corporate board.  Those positions are hard to come by for folks like me, who serve on several non-profit boards but haven't broken into the ranks of public boards. 

So why my hesitancy?  The company was looking to diversity (no problem there),* but it wanted someone who could serve on the audit committee.  That's not in my wheelhouse, as they say.  Clint Eastwood said it best:  Man's got to know his limitations.

I'm smart.  But I don't have the background or education to do justice to an audit committee's work.  I know my limitations.

What would I be good at doing?  Risk management?  Check.  Board dynamics?  Check.  Compensation?  Check, check, check.

So I'm waiting, and with a lot of luck and some great friends, maybe another public board will consider me for things for which I actually can add value.

* Re diversity:  That's a tricky issue for me.  I know that some of my experiences as a woman are different from those of my male colleagues.  But many (most?) of them aren't.  Being a woman, by itself, doesn't automatically add the type of diversity that boards need.  (The fact, though, that precious few boards have any women or minorities on them is a problem.  When everyone on a board has the same background, then there's no one there to look at things from a different perspective.)  My diversity may come in part from being a woman (and that's likely the diversity factor that put me under consideration in the first place), but it's also from being an academic who studies governance and the mistakes that smart people often make.  It comes from my having had to lead some businesses in the past (two law schools before, and one now as an interim dean).  I know what paying attention to budgets means, and I know how important it is to have a strong team and talented colleagues.  I know I can add value, but only to a company that understands what I bring to the table.

A very smart op-ed about executive pay.

By Gretchen Morgenson, whose columns I always like.  Here.