The Bonus I Never Got Was the Sweetest One of All

Ever come on board as the first HR Director of a company? Little did I know expectations would be like a mother of the groom: "show up, shut up and wear beige"

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I know that sounds crazy, because, after all, cash is king.  When I tell you what happened after I became the HR Director of an energy company, then maybe you’ll understand.

Our corporate office (or head office as my Canadian boss called it) was in a suburb but the real action took place at a plant.  This natural gas liquid processing plant was deep in the throes of commissioning, so it was all hands on deck to get online by year end.  Imagine the wild, wild west, with the entire staff “circling the wagons” 24/7 to meet the deadline and you’ll get some sense of the stress all were under.  Adding to the chaos was an unexpected deep freeze in the Midwest that wreaked havoc on all the systems and equipment, further placing the go live date in peril.


My first week I arrived from the corporate office to meet the plant leadership team.  The marching orders were to build an HR foundation and I was super excited to get started.  My spirits were soon dampened when , arriving at the plant, was informed to park in the visitor area, because anyone from the corporate office was “considered a visitor”.  My welcome mat apparently was going to be temporary and greetings quickly dissolved into a feeling of “enjoy your stay and ……we’ll see you next year.” 

I chalked it all up to an inexperienced administrative staff member who made arrangements for the Plant Manager and clearly didn’t understand the reason for my visit.  Until I met the Plant Manager.  He politely  (he is, after all, CANADIAN) and with a considerably broad smile on his face told me he didn’t need an HR person, already had an Office Manager, and didn’t actually know why I was there except that for the CEO informing him of my arrival.  Following a brief introductory meeting, his parting words were:  “just stay out of my way.”

I had the good fortune of being #3 employee at a software start-up company that grew to several hundreds. I understood the drill of getting a business off the ground and decided that a head down, tail up approach would probably work again.


Make no mistake, I would have preferred the company goodie bag, lunch with the Managers and all the warm fuzzies that any new employee gets at least on their first day.  There was, however, this crazy voice inside of me that said, YOU DO NEED ME.  So, I set out to show the Plant Manager and wasted no time defending my role.   

In reality, I figured my challenges were similar to his with lots to put in place in a relatively short period of time.  I  moved all staff from an employee leasing arrangement, set up payroll, health benefits, 401k plan, established a budget, recruited for the US and Canadian offices and then reported all to the Board of Directors.  Harrowing year, yet it provided a great opportunity to flex my creative and organizational muscles and ultimately proved an incredibly rewarding experience.


My company had a discretionary bonus called a Presidential Award that was granted for value creation intended as a spot bonus for an immediate recognition of a job well done.  Fellow employees could nominate each other and the President/CEO then made the final judgment to grant an award of up to $5,000. Low and behold, that same Plant Manager who made it clear months earlier that he would have been much happier if I had just disappeared, recommended me for the award.  

You are probably thinking that I got the $5,000 but I didn’t.  My boss (the CEO) opined that what I had accomplished was actually just me “doing my job.”  I’m not that magnanimous to agree and would have gladly accepted the cash.  But, honestly, what happened next was worth way more than money could buy.

The Plant Manager revealed that he had nominated me, acknowledging that I worked side by side his staff, earned their trust and caused no disruption to the important work they were focused on. He went on to acknowledge the payroll processes, along with competitive compensation and benefits plans now in place would really make a difference in his ability to attract and retain plant employees. That one moment paved the way for his support in pushing through all sorts of HR initiatives over the next several years-invaluable!  Even better, we developed a great friendship and mutual respect.  

As HR practitioners, you may find yourself alone in the eye of the storm. Maybe this was my Lady Gaga moment and you can have one too.  Don’t give up; you just never know the rewards that lie ahead.

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