Return to Nightmare on Spreadsheets

It’s THAT time of year again. The temperature is dropping and the darkness sets in earlier. The dimly lit road stretches eerily in front of you. While ominously familiar, it is shrouded in dark mystery. And yet, you and your team have been down it many times before. Staring straight ahead of you… it is the Return to Nightmare on Spreadsheet!

Like zombie disciples, you follow “the one that must be obeyed.” For reasons unknown, the fearful followers fall in line to visit the overly complex creature we call the “Master Spreadsheet.” You break out in a cold sweat, your heart beats faster, and you feel the pit in your stomach grow deeper by the second. And yet, in true Frankenstein fashion, you and your team begin cutting, slicing and dicing your creation- working to bring life to spreadsheets that you will distribute to the waiting subjects. This is no easy task as you strive to maintain the integrity of the Master and avoid unnecessary, yet inevitable, butchering.

You follow the protocols you have set up, check and recheck formulas, verify data that has been pieced together from different sources, update multiple reference tables such as fx rates, and secure the “protected” cells as best you can. Will these spreadsheet creatures have a heartbeat when you are done?

Hours and hours pass, the minutes tick-tocking away while the vise closes in tighter around you. Your team rushes to get it all done, but these processes are delicate. They require time that you don’t have. Eyes burn from being fixated on pcs, hoping all the while that there are no errors. Did the managers get their right populations? Your brain feels like it is ready to burst into a million pieces- or is it, a million cells?

The plank is being pulled from underneath your feet, but you can’t stop now. No one can afford even the slightest errors, but years of experience have proven this is a near impossible expectations. What is that statistic that was drilled into your head? Oh yes, 90% of spreadsheets have been found to have some type of error. Will yours be the one that causes the company the falter? While this unnerves you, there is not much more you and your team can do. The prayers are repeated, even from those who are not religious. It is seemingly out of your control at this point, but you know that somehow, “we have just got to get it right.”

While this may seem like a real horror tale to you, it is what many corporations go through as they prepare for administering their Compensation programs. Just ask your Compensation teams. And yet, we still are tied to spreadsheets like they are the “be-all and end-all” of processes. There are far better ways to approach compensation programs that, in addition to providing data integrity and security, will free time for you and your team to conduct more value-added analyses. But like any beneficial change, it has to start with taking the first step. I recall a wise saying, “You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.

And yes, as daunting as new programs may seem in the beginning, there is nothing more frightful than returning to the nightmare on spreadsheet… year after year…after year.

If you want to learn more about how you can have more treats versus tricks by implementing a compensation system, contact CompTeam for help with system selection and implementation to meet your needs.

Happy Halloween!

About the Author

Howard Nizewitz – Howard’s extensive expertise in compensation management comes with a 25-year track record of implementing strategic and successful compensation programs in the financial services and technology industries with both a global and regional focus.

His tenure includes positions at Barclays, Citigroup and JPMorgan to name a few. Other areas of expertise include HR consulting, deferred compensation, incentive plan design and talent management. If you would like to learn more, please contact Howard at [email protected] or schedule a free consultation on

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