I will never forget the first time I discovered that a spreadsheet error had gone undetected. Physically, the realization produced a sinking feeling in my gut. The moment I discovered the error was actually the same moment my Vice President of Human Resources was presenting the information to the entire executive team. I was mortified.

My hand-built Excel compensation summary report was obviously not the only spreadsheet to ever have an undetected error.

“Research on spreadsheet errors is substantial, compelling, and unanimous. As we will see later, all empirical studies, without exception, have found errors at frequencies that few would call acceptable.”
EuSpRIG 2015 Conference “Spreadsheet Risk Management” ISBN: 978-1-905404-52-0 Copyright © 2015

I was relieved that the VP of HR understood the Excel error was a symptom of our organization relying too heavily on manually created and inspected Excel files.  But despite my VP’s graciousness, the spreadsheet error created a domino effect that cascaded into ongoing insecurity, fear, and stress which caused me to be less effective in my role.

How could a simple formula error cause such stress and create a downward spiral of fear and anxiety?

One contributing factor is that Excel is so widely used for compensation planning. Many companies are forced to use Excel because the compensation planning module that comes bundled with their HR or payroll software lacks the flexibility they need to support all of their merit and incentive planning requirements.

Another contributing factor is that compensation planning tends to be compressed into tight deadlines resulting in a rush to create and inspect dozens or hundreds of Excel workbooks.

Lastly, research indicates that many people simply are not capable of sustaining high levels of attention to detail for long periods of time.

“Kahneman [2011] has noted that we appear to have two different thinking “systems”—System 1 (S1) and System 2 (S2) …constructed reality gives us a vision of the world that is probably approximately correct, while our thinking is enormously fast, it also adds to our limitations. It seems like we should always use S2 thinking. There are, however, several reasons why we do not and cannot. First, if we actually applied S2 thinking all the time to question everything, it would drive us crazy [Gilovich 1991]. It would be an extreme form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Second, we cannot sustain S2 thinking for more than a brief period. It is literally exhausting.“

What We Don’t Know About Spreadsheet Errors Today: The Facts, Why We Don’t Believe Them, and What We Need to Do (Excerpts from Page 8) Raymond R. Panko, Shidler College of Business

It has been said, “Don’t fear difficult moments. The best comes from them.” – Rita Levi-Montalcini

Happily, I have found this to be true. My moment of gut-wrenching fear, followed by weeks of anxiety and insecurity, led me to search for a software solution that would automate and secure our process.

After a lot of research, I finally discovered a solution that could support my team’s complex business requirements. One that eliminated the risk of copying and pasting and that also eliminated the need to inspect returned planning spreadsheets. The compensation software I found took away all the pressure and stress that a spreadsheet dependent process creates and allowed me to love my work again. That solution was CompXL.

We implemented CompXL in eight weeks. I administered the software for three years, growing to appreciate it more as time went on and I discovered its depth of flexibility and functionality.  We shrank our cycle time from seven months to three weeks. We were able to gather data, calculate results and produce reports down to the lowest level. My team loved the easy to use interface, and I loved not living in fear.

Can you relate to my story? Are your compensation spreadsheets driving you crazy too?  If so, you may want to take a look at CompXL and see if together we can put the happy back in your Monday.

Compensation planning video

Suffering through spreadsheets?







About Shannon
After discovering CompXL during her tenure as a human resources associate for a prestigious non-profit, Shannon fell in love with both the CompXL software and the team at HCR Software. So when Shannon’s family relocated to North Carolina in 2018, she joined the HCR Software team and now enjoys helping compensation professionals automate and improve their process by implementing CompXL.


Proceedings of the EuSpRIG 2015 Conference “Spreadsheet Risk Management” ISBN: 978-1-905404-52-0 Copyright © 2015, European Spreadsheet Risks Interest Group (www.eusprig.org) & the Author(s)