Work & Organizations Assistant Professor Alan Benson shares answers to five questions that reveal the issues he's studying, following, teaching, and reading about today. Plus a peek into the life he imagines, were he not teaching at the Carlson School. 

Q: What is/are your current area(s) of research? What business challenges are you helping to solve?

A: My research is in empirical personnel economics—I use the tools of microeconomics to analyze companies' HR data, helping them make more informed decisions about who to transfer, who to promote, how to manage turnover, how to design incentive plans, and other topics germane to HR. Much of my work has been on salespeople, but I've also analyzed police, nurses, firefighters, factory workers, and others.

My most recent work is with a national big box retailer, where I'm trying to uncrack the DNA of their high-performing stores. I'm looking at who they hire, who they transfer, how they promote, and whether the highest performing stores are better at getting these patterns right. Right now, much of these decisions are done at the discretion of the individual store manager, and this is an opportunity to leverage the collective wisdom of all of their stores to make smarter HR decisions.

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My most recent work is with a national big box retailer, where I'm trying to uncrack the DNA of their high-performing stores

Q: What current business issues or stories in the news are you following and why?

A: Much of my teaching and research is in compensation, and so much in the news IS about compensation. Should we raise the minimum wage? Is CEO pay too high? Is Obamacare raising compensation costs? Are employees saving enough for retirement? Is immigration suppressing wages?

What makes compensation so interesting is that it's not just something we can analyze, but it's also a topic that's so politically, culturally, and emotionally charged.

 

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[Compensation is] a topic that's so politically, culturally, and emotionally charged

Q: What is your favorite class to teach?

A: Oh, I can't pick one! I enjoy all three of the classes I teach: compensation for our HR students, negotiations for our MBAs, and my PhD seminar. I hope they enjoy mine too.

Q: If you weren’t a business school professor, what would you be doing?*

A: If I weren't a business school professor, I might be doing what I do now on the corporate side. People analytics is a hot field with thin lines between academics and industry.

Q: What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

A: Mea culpa, it's not fair to say that I've read any book in the past year! Of those I've skimmed, I'd say Ed Glaeser's Triumph of the City.​