4 Compensation Topics You Can't Afford to Overlook

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4 Compensation Topics You Can't Afford to Overlook

When the word "compensation" is brought up in conversation, most people assume it just refers to what a person is paid. However, to the Human Resource community, the word compensation is a much more complex topic.

We spoke with Sue Bailey, ERC’s Senior Consultant, Compensation & Benefits, about what HR professionals should look at when it comes to the top compensation topics.
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The Best Solution to Managing Salary Costs

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Like most employers, you’ve probably been faced with the challenge of how to manage rising salary increase budgets, reward high performers, and sustain your organization’s financial health by meeting and exceeding margins achieved in past years. How do you manage these critically important yet competing demands? The best solution is to develop a variable pay program.

Variable pay: A solution to base pay management

Variable pay is one of the best solutions to confronting the problem of base salary increases. It is much less expensive to manage than annual base pay merit increases, doesn’t compound salaries over time, and can deliver meaningful rewards and additional compensation to employees without long-term hits to your margins.

Generally, it takes approximately $5 of variable pay to deliver the same financial effect of a one dollar salary increase. Additionally, base compensation costs account for about 20-25% of your revenue, whereas variable pay costs account for about 3-4% of your revenue (on average). As a result, variable pay can be a huge savings for any employer.

Executing variable pay: Paying for performance

Fundamental to variable pay is the issue of pay for performance. Variable pay requires differentiating pay by some factor, usually individual and/or company performance.

This means differentiating pay by performance and allocating all (or most) of your organization’s pay rewards to your highest performers and reducing rewards for your average or bottom performers. It also means that additional pay is entirely dependent on how your organization performs, which can ensure that your organization’s financials remain healthy and that financial performance targets are met year over year.

The trouble with pay for performance is in the execution. For it to work, you need a culture that rewards high performance; standard performance management systems which give employees the insights, tools, support, and clarity they need to reach their goals and managers the tools to evaluate and objectively compare performance; as well as meaningful payouts.

Here are proven best-practices for executing variable pay when it comes to managing these issues related to culture, performance, and payouts:

Culture

  • Types of variable pay offered match the culture. For example, strong emphasis on teamwork = team-oriented variable pay.
  • Leaders support a performance-oriented workplace and encourage rewarding “A-players.”
  • Tenure, attendance, and other non-performance related factors are not considered when making decisions about pay, rewards, or promotions.
  • Pay for performance is widespread. Everyone has the opportunity to earn more pay based on their performance – not just execs, managers, and sales staff.

Performance management

  • Goals are clear and achievable. Employees understand how to accomplish their targets.
  • A manageable number of targets are given – ideally 1 to 3 important goals.
  • Accurate measures of performance are intact and not subject to extraneous factors.
  • Performance is regularly tracked, monitored, and well-documented.
  • Performance is well-managed. Employees are coaching, re-directed, and assisted in reaching targets.

Payout

  • Payouts are substantial enough to be perceived as beneficial, motivating rewards.
  • Differentiation of pay and/or rewards is enough to be meaningful for high performers. Strive for 2 times the average payout to reward your highest performers.
  • Tiers for payouts are set to reward employees for meeting minimum goals as well as stretch goals.
  • Minimum and maximum thresholds for targets and payouts are provided.

Variable pay programs are promising and highly effective. If your organization is challenged in sustaining its annual merit increase program and controlling base pay costs, variable pay can be an advantageous solution. Just keep these best practices in mind before designing a variable pay program to ensure that the program is successful and delivers results.

Additional Resources

Performance Management Services ERC can support performance management initiatives through performance management system development, performance review form development, competency development, consulting on performance management issues, performance management/goal-setting training for employees and supervisors, and more. 

10 Ways to Manage Pay & Performance

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10 Ways to Manage Pay & Performance

Most employees want the opportunity to earn more pay based on performance, but such initiatives can be difficult for employers to create and administer. Here are 10 things to consider when managing pay and performance.

1. Does your culture align with a pay for performance program?

To be effective, your organization’s culture should align with a pay for performance program. This means that your organization should be committed to rewarding, recognizing, and promoting top performance, and employees should be aware of this commitment. It’s also important that your culture conveys an atmosphere of fairness and objectivity. Otherwise, pay for performance programs will fall prey to perceptions of subjectivity and bias, limiting their effectiveness.

2. What are the goals of the pay for performance program?

A pay for performance program can have many types of goals such as to improve productivity; increase customer satisfaction; enhance product quality; generate more innovation; boost revenues and profits; or reward top performers. Most goals for a pay for performance program focus on improving individual, team, and/or organizational performance. Be sure that the goals of this program are relevant to the business’s goals and needs.

3. What types of performance criteria will be rewarded?

The goals you define for the pay for performance program help determine what types of performance criteria will be rewarded. For example, if your goal is to increase customer satisfaction, the performance criteria may be customer satisfaction scores, number of customer complaints, or general customer feedback. If your goal is to improve productivity, the performance criteria might be quantity of products created, number of processes streamlined, or behaviors that enhance efficiencies. You may also consider making the performance criteria number of goals achieved or the impact of goals reached.

4. How will performance criteria be measured?

Often employers rely solely on performance reviews to measure criteria for a pay for performance program (i.e. a rating of “5” gets the highest incentive). While performance reviews can be a helpful measure, more objective measures of performance that aren’t as susceptible to rating error, supervisory perceptions and biases, or an ineffective form, should also be considered and used to measure performance criteria. Examples of such measures include goal setting, observable behaviors, and actual results (financial, quantity, or quality measurements).

5. Who will measure the performance and make pay decisions?

Sometimes performance can be measured without an individual, but other times, especially in the case of goal setting, observation, and performance reviews, an individual will need to measure performance , typically a supervisor, manager, or leader. Because these measurements are subject to human error, it’s critical that individuals are trained appropriately. Additionally, your organization will need to determine who will make pay decisions. Will you leave this discretion to your managers, providing them a fund to distribute these rewards?  Will HR or senior leaders be involved in the process, and to what degree? Most organizations involve all three groups at some level.

6. What type of pay for performance will you offer for meeting this performance criteria?

Not surprisingly, the most common types of pay for performance are merit pay, individual incentives, and bonuses. These programs tend to be easiest to administer and focus on individual performance. Increasingly, however, we are seeing some employers offer profit sharing, gain sharing, and employee stock ownership programs. While more complicated to administer, these programs have tremendous value, providing greater transparency and line of sight into organizational performance, reinforcing teamwork and collaboration, and offering employees a greater stake in the organization – giving them a true sense of autonomy and ownership. We find that organizations are offering multiple types of pay for performance for different segments of their workforce. This is ideal when different behaviors or results are desired that don’t necessarily fit one reward approach.

7. How much pay will be based on performance?

The trick to determining how much pay will be based on performance is determining what percent or portion of pay will have an impact on employee motivation or specific results you are seeking. Generally, studies find that when only 2-3% of pay is tied to performance, this is not enough to motivate desired behaviors or results. We have seen organizations reserve 2-4% for salary increases (i.e. cost of living, across-the-board, or merit) and 5-15% for incentive/bonus payout (with 15% typically targeted for executives). For example, NorthCoast 99 winners, provide an average of 10.3% incentive/bonus payout to top performers, 5.6% to average performers, and 7.3% overall.

8. What is the timing of payout for the rewards?

Most employers pay out rewards annually, but depending on the type of program a monthly, quarterly, or biannual payout may be more beneficial. Annual payouts may help your organization better manage costs and ensure that you have the funds to pay incentives to employees; however, there are advantages to paying out more frequently. When rewards are distributed closer to the time they were achieved, employees are more likely to view them as objective and relevant to their performance. In addition, paying out more often reinforces an on-going performance culture in which performance matters all year – not just at year-end – and makes supervisors manage performance on an on-going basis.

9. How will the program be funded and what are you willing to pay (the budget)?

Most pay for performance programs are funded using organizational profits or revenues. In this way, organizations frequently make pay for performance dependent on at least two factors: individual or team performance and organizational performance. Each year, you may budget for a percentage of revenues or profits that will be used to pay for performance. Organizational performance would dictate whether payout can occur.

10. How will the program reinforce other HR programs?

Pay for performance, at its best, reinforces and complements other HR programs and total rewards initiatives. What you reward in a pay for performance program should be similar to what you reward in a recognition program and how you promote people. Be sure to send your employees consistent messages about the results and behaviors you’re looking for, otherwise, your message will be lost.

Variable Pay Plans and Incentive Programs

Variable Pay Plans and Incentive Programs

Variable pay plans can be used as a motivation and retention tool for top performing employees.

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