Sometimes great advice comes from our peers and respected colleagues. This is why networking, panel discussions and webinars are such powerful business education tools.

With that in mind, this issue of Compensation Alert shares expert insights from a diverse group of human resource (HR), management consulting, compensation and employee retention leaders. We asked them for feedback on three key questions impacting hiring and compensation management decisions in 2020. Our experts include:

  • David Gilmartin, managing director at Patina Solutions, a management consulting firm that partners with organizations to fill a key expertise or resource gap.
  • Jeff Kortes, an employee retention consultant, author and speaker. Jeff is founder of Human Asset Management.
  • Aaron Schneider, managing director of the Petenwell Group, an executive search and employee retention firm.
  • Rena Somersan, president of the Milwaukee Area Compensation Association (MACA). Rena also is the Newport Group’s managing principal, compensation consulting services.

Of course, HR compensation consultant Neil Lappley, founder of Lappley & Associates and publisher of this newsletter, also weighs in.

Here are Your Three Questions and Answers From our Top Experts:

1) What do you think will happen with wages, salaries and benefits this year?

Salaries will continue to increase; part of that is driven by what everyone is calling the “labor shortage.” Benefits will remain the same. Aaron Schneider

Wages and benefits will (increase) at a higher rate; lowest-worker wages will finally start to push the next tier of worker wages up. Middle-level managers will see wages go up at a rate lower than the lowest tier because (they) tend not to leave and (so) are subject to the “salary pool budget.” Jeff Kortes

Photo courtesy Pixabay

Wages will remain flat this year. With the state (of Wisconsin) not making changes to minimum wage, that alleviates the short-term risk.

Still, (there is) concern changes (will be) made for 2021 and beyond or at the federal level. David Gilmartin

Our market intelligence suggests that 2020 wage growth for production, professional (non-management), management, and executive job classifications will remain largely unchanged from the prior year, hovering between 2.8% and 2.9%. While we do not anticipate sweeping changes in benefit plan offerings for 2020, employers are modifying their benefit plans to entice younger workers. (Offerings include) tuition forgiveness, flexible schedules, and richer parental leaves of absence. Rena Somersan

Median salary increases will be flat at median 3.0% and average at 3.2%. Assuming the Consumer Price Index increases by 2.3% as projected by the International Monetary Fund, real salary increases will be .7%, the lowest level in 40 years. Neil Lappley

2) What are the biggest HR challenges facing your clients? What have you been hearing from them?

Recruiting and retention (are) the biggest challenge(s) and will be for the next decade at least. My manufacturing clients are still afraid to raise prices, but when they have gotten past that they have been making (prices) stick by telling clients they (can’t) keep talent if they are not competitive with compensation. When the argument is presented in this way, customers accept the increases. Jeff Kortes

No question the two biggest challenges facing management are retention and recruiting. Companies are expanding their sources for new workers and are paying more attention to taking care of current employees. For HR and compensation professionals, emphasis is being placed on pay equity and pay transparency. Neil Lappley

Photo courtesy Pixabay

Employee retention and hiring are my clients’ biggest challenges. The availability of skilled laborers is a significant risk in Wisconsin and beyond, especially with our strong manufacturing base. There is also concern for finding leadership and technology skilled resources. One example: Milwaukee Tool needs to find almost 800 (new) employees as they continue to expand in SE Wisconsin. David Gilmartin

Our clients and members of MACA are concerned about executive talent flight. The job market is hot for skilled executives who possess the managerial fortitude to lead organizations through major transformations in today’s increasingly competitive global economy. Rena Somersan

The pressure is on to review systems and processes. Many HR managers are under increased pressure to increase benefits, find candidates for job openings, and (improve) employee engagement. These managers are noticing that some of the same systems that worked for the last several years are changing. Aaron Schneider

3) What would you advise your clients – especially small and mid-sized businesses – who are having trouble hiring and retaining top talent in the current business climate?

As companies struggle to differentiate rewards and recognize excellent employee performance, they are increasingly turning to incentive compensation, both in number of programs and numbers of eligible participants. At the same time, employers are relying on gig workers to fill employment gaps in the tight labor market.

In addition, to capture and retain talent, employers are personalizing employee benefits – not necessarily high-cost perks – that align with their culture, offer greater flexibility and work-life balance. Neil Lappley

My advice it to take advantage of firms like (ours) who (can provide) experienced professionals who are willing to work in interim and project-based roles with clients. Businesses need to look beyond the Wisconsin state border; (Patina Solutions) has access to those resources and the ability to expedite the hiring process for our clients. David Gilmartin

Increasingly, executives at SMBs are being hired by larger companies. These larger companies likely have long-term incentive (LTI) programs in place to attract, retain, and reward executives for their contributions to the business. LTI programs provide actual or pseudo “ownership” in the firm and typically comprise a large portion of the executive’s total direct compensation package.

Photo courtesy Pixabay

To maintain a competitive edge, SMBs should determine whether their executive compensation programs provide a long-term incentive opportunity for key executives. The LTI opportunity should be aligned with the company’s strategic plan and future growth goals, and it should provide monetary rewards commensurate with performance and appropriate levels of risk taking. Even if SMBs cannot provide “ownership” in the traditional sense (i.e., equity), several cash-based program types might be considered. Rena Somersan

Hire where you are at. Meaning, in small and mid-sized organizations, it is important to hire people that fit your current organization, but maybe can take you where you’re going. (This also means not hiring) someone outside of your current capabilities. If you are focused on the ideal candidate and not getting jobs filled, shift to hiring candidates that fit the culture and be ready to train them up on the needed skills. Aaron Schneider

Focus on retention. In my case, I tell them to pay competitively and “Give their Employees C.R.A.P.”  (Caring, Respect, Appreciation, and Praise). Develop a strategy to retain people (versus) trying to recruit people. Jeff Kortes

Do you have more questions about where wages, compensation and benefits are heading in the current economic climate? Or would you like to connect with any of our Q&A contributors? If so, please contact Neil Lappley at (847) 921-2812 or nlappley@lappley.com.

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