Top 100 v1.62: Ryan Johnson

The process of trying to identify patterns of influence in the HR-Recruiting Industry has been revealing. The domain is composed of a number of subordinate silos and the totality is only loosely tied together. If you ask a Recruiter who Jay Cross or Ann Bares are, you’ll draw blank stares. (Hint: They are rock stars in learning and compensation) Few people outside of the the Outsourcing business recognize Mary Sue Rogers’ name. almost everyone in traditional HR roles recognizes Dave Ullrich. It’s fair to say that he’s not well known in Recruiting circles.

When you try to identify hyper influential VPs of HR, they are few and far between. Clout, at that level, seems to have as much to do with position as it does personality. Even then, the influence remains after the achievement is gone.

Influence is a kind of credentialing system. For most of human history, people have wondered and studied the art of developing influence. One of the oldest pieces of literature, the I Ching, is devoted, in part, to the study of influence.

The tree on the mountain is visible from afar, and its development influences the landscape of the entire region. It does not shoot up like a swamp plant; its growth proceeds gradually. Thus, the work of influencing people can be only gradual.No sudden influence or awakening is of lasting effect .Progress must be quite gradual and, in order to obtain such progress in public opinion and the mores of the people, it is necessary for the personality to acquire influence and weight. This comes about though careful and constant work on one’s own moral development.The I Ching
, 53. Development (Gradual Progress)

One of the important questions of the era is whether or not social media creates a fast track. Does the ability to communicate broadly and quickly create a pattern of consequences that you could identify as influence. You’d have to say that it does among the people who are actively using social media. How much that group of insiders matters is an entirely separate subject.

In each media revolution (the inventions of language, poetry, song, narrative, printing press, popular fiction, telephone, telegraph, radio, movies, email, web, social media), the early adopters received value that was different from the mass of people who ultimately became users. In fact, one of the driving forces of technology adoption seems to be the wild claims of the early adopters. There is a definite kind of influence that early users of new technologies gain.

At the end of the day, however, media sophistication is no substitute for substance. For a short time in the evolution of any social phenomenon (fad), people who ‘get it’ gain visibility whether or not their output really merits attention. As time goes on, the balance returns to a more normal editorial flow in which important stuff rises to the surface.

The most powerfully influential people covered in this series have patiently built reputations and networks that exploded in effectiveness when they introduced social media. The next most powerful group doesn’t use social media at all. They are the current owners of the institutional seat of power in the Fortune 50. Then comes the flock of early adopters in social media who found a home there.

World at Work, the compensation professionals trade association (it’s more or less like SHRM for Comp professionals) is a 50 year old organization. It is a global association focused on compensation, benefits, work-life and integrated total rewards to attract, motivate and retain a talented workforce. Founded in 1955, WorldatWork provides a network of nearly 30,000 members in more than 100 countries with training, certification, research, conferences and community. It is getting adept at weathering the storms of media revolutions and manages to continue to grow as the game changes.

Ryan Johnson is their Vice President of Publishing and Community.

“Ryan M. Johnson, Certified Compensation Professional (CCP), is responsible for member community, issues management, research and publishing.

Prior to joining WorldatWork, Johnson spent more than 10 years in public policy, public affairs and consulting/strategy work, having worked for Gerbig, Snell/Weisheimer of Columbus, Ohio, and the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University. He started his career in Washington, D.C. on the staff of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Small Business.

He later worked as a research analyst for the Institute for Strategy Development, a private, financial institutions-oriented think tank. Johnson has authored numerous articles on topics such as current legislative and regulatory developments, stock option expensing, executive compensation proxy disclosure, employee bonus programs, professional ethics, employee recognition, paid time off (PTO), outside director pay, consumerism in benefits, work-life, sales compensation, flexible work schedules, telework and disaster recovery/continuity of operations, salary surveys, salary budget surveys, and total rewards.

Johnson has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Investor’s Business Daily, Houston Chronicle, Miami Herald, The Arizona Republic, as well as numerous trade publications such as Government Computer News. He has been interviewed on NPR’s Marketplace program and several metro radio stations. He is a frequent keynote speaker on topics related to trends in compensation and benefits. He founded the WorldatWork Blog.”

Beyond the normal career blah, blah blah, Ryan is an articulate guy with an intense degree of personal curiosity. He moved, with a good deal of grace, from the turbulent rapids of Capitol Hill and Public Policy to the relative backwaters of the Compensation industry. With a high energy player like Johnson

When you talk to him, it feels like growth and improvement are the natural extensions of any professional’s involvement in Compensation analysis and policy. Standing just slightly outside of that small world, this seems like a pretty impressive accomplishment. It was reasonably natural for Johnson to be the founder of the World at Work Blog.

Even if Ryan weren’t such an upbeat and networking oriented player, the nature of his role would make him influential. WorldatWork’s research is used to benchmark compensation in a variety of settings. The organization’s members generally encounter Ryan or his work as the face of the organization. Yet, he’s more laid back than most.

It’s probably the Scottsdale atmosphere. While most professional associations have headquarters in DC, WorldatWork is located just outside Phoenix. It’s partly the result of Ryan’s participation that the entity has a DC office.

While the discipline is arcane and often overlooked, the compensation department has a great deal of organizational power. It’s ultimately their execution of policy that determines who gets which share of the resources. Even more importantly, the sub unit charged with executive comp is often the interface between the board and the CEO on issues of CEO pay. That simple bit of real estate is enough to make or break a VP of HR’s career. There are certainly much worse places than ‘head of executive compensation’ from which to move into the C Suite.

Our conversation ranged over a number of future oriented topics. Perhaps the most interesting involved a discussion about HR’s role in determining the pay of subcontractors. In an increasingly outsourced world, compensation experts have an important contribution to make in the evaluation of subcontracts. It’s one of those places where the interests of HR and purchasing seriously align.

My guess is that the influence of the compensation professional (and therefore Ryan Johnson) is going to grow over then next five years.

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