When we look back, 2020 will long be remembered as a year of massive change for business and industry on a scale not seen before.

The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged our economy into a global recession and put health and wellness at the center of workplace conversations. Worldwide protests supporting the #BlackLivesMatter movement have joined #MeToo voices urging meaningful community action on discrimination, pay equity, and inclusion.

In response, organizations are making significant changes to their business models and accelerating the adoption of Environmental, Social and Governess (ESG) criteria to guide business investment and decision-making. They recognize that their organizations’ stakeholders are motivated by more than a goal for increased revenues and profits; other success metrics include environmental, social responsibility, gender, and racial diversity measures to track progress on social and economic purpose. Some are calling this new integrated approach to corporate governance stakeholder capitalism.

In tandem with these changes, proactive CEOs and HR professionals are taking a step back to reassess their compensation programs, so they align with a more purpose-driven business model. This is an opportunity to transform massive challenges into meaningful change, but it will require a thoughtful and strategic compensation approach that looks at the following:

1) Assess critical job skills. Quite likely, as the result of an updated business model, critical skill jobs have changed. They should be identified and monitored for pay competitiveness. These employees are most susceptible to being recruited away.

For instance, purchasing professionals are dealing with disruptions in their supply chains, especially in manufacturing. Sourcing from India and China has become problematic during the pandemic. Employees that can fill supply chain gaps are highly valued and in great demand. Employers may need to prioritize their investments in these job skills even when resources are scarce.

2) Revisit your compensation strategy. This flows from the company’s purpose and business strategy and is part of the organization’s overall HR strategy. To the extent that your business model has changed, compensation strategy must also follow the organization’s purpose or why it exists. A recent Compensation Alert here takes you through the elements of establishing your strategy. A critical part of your updated strategy will be to reestablish your benchmark of competitive and comparable organizations, update your current competitiveness levels and determine your targeted level of competitiveness.

3) Take a fresh look at pay equity. Many employers have implemented pay equity analyses to identify whether they have gender or race-based compensation gaps. They have done this to promote fairness, retain talent, and mitigate risk. If you have not done a pay equity analysis already, you should begin the effort soon. If you have, dig deep into the data to determine what is driving pay disparity: the actions of certain managers or decision-makers; out-of-date policies or business practices; or unconscious biases within a division or department. You can learn more about Pay Equity and The Rules of Engagement here.

4) Review base salary and incentive plans. Many companies have taken salary actions in the wake of the COVID-19 health crisis. These include pay cuts, cancelled salary increases or freezes, delayed or deferred annual salary increases, and adjusted planned average salary increases. In addition, organizations have suspended promotional increases or added additional pay for essential work (often called hazard or hero pay), while others have reduced or suspended benefit programs. As the economy improves, business leaders must determine when and under what conditions salary actions taken during the health crisis will be lifted or withdrawn.

It is too early to forecast levels of average merit increases for 2021. It is more likely, however, that more companies will not be giving salary increases next year. Even more, this will vary by industry and region, so it is prudent to develop a good idea of what your competitors will be targeting.

Incentive plans have also taken a hit from the pandemic, as organizations have modified their short-term and annual incentive programs by reducing opportunity, deferring or delaying payments, and adjusting performance targets. Changes to long-term plans have been less prevalent. Consider the following actions:

  • Short-term plans: As you plan for the second half of the year and revenue and profit expectations crystalize, consider: increasing the use of management discretion in determining 2020 incentive/bonuses; changing performance measures consistent with repurposing of the company; and lowering performance targets, maximums and thresholds. Additionally, revisit base payouts on second half performance against second half goals.
  • Long-term plans: Take no actions for the next several months. Consider adjusting performance targets if goals become unattainable.

5) Do not overlook your sales force. The COVID-19 pandemic had a great effect on sales organizations. Orders for commercial and industrial goods were curtailed. Falling orders meant less revenue for sellers for sales compensation credit. Our work with clients indicates that most companies have implemented pay protection methods to replace some or all lost sales incentives for sellers. The most popular methods include pay guarantees, quota reductions and formula changes.

It is time to reset for the balance of the year. Sellers need to be reengaged to reactivate suspended opportunities and find new revenue. A good time to start fresh is July 1st, the start of the last half of the fiscal year for many organizations. But at the same time, discontinue pay protection programs. The sooner you are beyond pay protection programs the better. Consider the following actions to fast-track sales revenue:

  1. Redo quotas: Continued uncertainty will make it difficult to project expected revenue for the second half of the year. However, take into account new avenues for revenue based on your adapted business model as well as revenue purchasing customer patterns. Develop stretch goals.
  2. Review payout formulas: Thresholds, incentive rates, accelerators and caps should be reviewed.
  3. Jump start incentives: As an add on, use a combination of contests and spiffs to add excitement, and motivation. Provide both cash and non-cash awards. Keep the jump start short – a maximum of three months.

In Conclusion

Uncertainty and change will be the hallmarks for organizations during the remainder of 2020 and into 2021. Short of a crystal ball, prudent planning to address the workplace issues of our time is your best bet to make your culture stronger and better equipped for future growth.

Despite current economic hardships, visionary business leaders who understand where and how to prioritize investments in talent will seize the opportunity to recruit the best and the brightest for the road ahead.

Contact Us

To discuss how to adjust your organization’s compensation strategy and develop more meaningful benchmarks and metrics to make your workplace stronger, please contact Neil Lappley at (847) 921-2812 or nlappley@lappleiy.com.

In today’s whiplash economic climate, short- and long-term strategic plans for many businesses have been disrupted as executives shift priorities. No doubt, the inconstancy we are seeing in market dynamics will challenge executive decision-making in the months ahead. Despite these risks — or perhaps because of them — now is the time to reassess your organization’s future HR investment optimization approach.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

To address important health and financial interests, organizations have rightly taken short-term steps to ensure their employees’ well-being, adjust spending to keep the business intact, respond to community concerns, and take care of their customers. These approaches should have a positive short-term impact as businesses seek to find the right balance in the current health crisis.

Over the long-term, forward-thinking organizations will focus on more than just getting back to business. They must also adapt to changing customer needs and consumer behaviors that will remain even after a recovery is well underway. And so, in manufacturing, for example, we may see an acceleration to AI and robotics for safety and economic reasons.

Under these circumstances, it may be tempting for CHROs to use traditional justifications for their HR investments: improving program costs, productivity gains and revenue increases. But such an approach is short-sighted. There is another way.

Systematic HR Investment Optimization

Gartner, Inc. has developed a Systematic Decision Framework designed to evaluate a full range of criteria to influence HR investment optimization strategies. For each option considered, Gartner uses eight criteria so that managers can weigh potential outcomes and prioritize each one. This tool provides a richer approach to decision-making.

In the example following we look at how the framework can be applied to a family owned consumer goods company based in the Midwest.

Background: As part of the company’s four-year strategic plan, the management team intends to launch several new products and shift its focus from restaurant services to the ecommerce consumer marketplace. This shift is based on a market research study finding that 70% of consumers in their product category prefer shopping online, while demand for their restaurant services is falling off. The company’s goal is to increase revenues 60% and EBITA 80% in the four-year span.

In addition, to jump-start its new business plan, the company will acquire a battery manufacturer and invest significantly in product engineering, new manufacturing capabilities and equipment, and a new consumer-oriented salesforce. Investments will also be made in new warehouse and shipping space. Manufacturing will also build on its prior robotics experience, a three-year investment.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

This will be a major transformation requiring strong leadership and new hires in product development, manufacturing, marketing, and sales. HR will be the pivot point for maintaining harmonious relations with labor, salaried and hourly employees.

An advisory board has approved the four-year strategic plan including business targets and financial requirements. Management now wants to gain board approval for implementing the executive long-term incentive plan.

Key Activities: The company has identified three objectives for its long-term incentive program:

  • Align long-term incentives with long-term company objectives.
  • Share financial success of the company with key employees.
  • Reward employees for their contributions to achieving the company’s strategic goals.

Analysis: To align with its new direction, we are using the Gartner Systematic Decision Framework to arrive at a sound strategy. The strategic analysis looks not only at cost savings and productivity gains, but also at the required investment, implementation time, associated risks, and the impact your choices may have on employee experience.

For our case study, an evaluation of one alternative HR investing optimization approach might look like this:

Benefit & Impact
Strategic RelevanceHigh. Initiative is critical for achieving strategic organizational objectives.
Cost Savings & Productivity GainsMedium. Strategic goals can be achieved without the long-term plan. However, incentives and communicating measures reinforce goal achievement.
Business ImpactPositive: Supports achieving long-term strategic initiatives.
Impact on Employee ExperiencePositive. For executives; likely none for other employees.
Investment, Time, & Risk
Investment RequirementLow/None. The program pays for itself when strategic goals are reached.
Time RequirementLong-term. Objectives will be realized upon full implementation.
HR Service Delivery RiskModerate. HR will be expected to communicate the plan and provide periodic updates. HR will be instrumental in supporting four-year plan achievement.
Stakeholder Buy-InLow/None. The initiative is initiated by HR with strong senior management buy-in. Board approval is encouraged and expected.

Takeaways: Much like a classic risk analysis, managers using this systematic approach for each alternative considered can carefully evaluate and prioritize each investment opportunity. This applies big-picture, three-dimensional thinking to a traditional analysis and sets the stage for a sustainable optimization roadmap that delivers on expectations. In fact, this approach is applicable to any HR initiative and a useful tool throughout.

Summary

During times of economic uncertainty, a top priority is to get your financial house in order. Still, it is important to assess cost optimization initiatives and their long-term ramifications in a smart, strategic way. Different cost measures carry different risks.

Taking a systematic approach that factors in both the positive and negative consequences of potential initiatives will help CHROs develop HR programs that maximize business outcomes while minimizing risks.

Gartner

To help business leaders and managers with advice, insights and tools, Gartner developed the Systematic Decision Framework to balance value creation with cost-cutting measures. You can learn more about the topic here.

Let’s Connect

If you have questions about this or another HR compensation topic, please contact Neil Lappley at (847) 921-2812 or nlappley@lappley.com. In addition, please share or pass this article along to anyone you think may find it of interest.

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.

Identifying the right talent for your organization’s long-term success is a business imperative. To tap into this talent pool, many companies invest in High Potential Employee (HIPO) compensation programs to develop and retain their most promising future leaders. Researchers from MIT and Harvard have found that companies can consistently identify 3-5% of their workforce as HIPOs.

High potential employee compensation programs typically share these priorities:

  • Building a pipeline of talent to fill future company leadership positions,
  • Expanding HIPO skills with new growth opportunities and experiences, and
  • Rewarding high potentials for their development and accomplishments.

As these priorities make clear, high-potential employees require much more than higher compensation to succeed in the workplace. Training and development are equally valued by high potentials. Likewise, employers who cultivate high potentials by creating structured learning environments that also support their business strategies build competitive advantage.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Still, at the same time organizations are mentoring and coaching their high potentials, recruiters have your top performers squarely in their sights for their own critical positions. If they choose to leave, these ambitious and motivated employees are difficult and costly to replace. Not only do companies lose their investment in training and development for HIPOs to another employer, they also incur costs to recruit, hire, onboard and train a new employee at many times more than base compensation.

Turnover Takes a Toll

According to the 2019 Mercer Turnover Survey, U.S. companies had an average turnover rate of 22%. This turnover stat reflects s 15% voluntary, 6% involuntary, and 1% retirement rate. Although employers have little input when their employees leave for personal reasons or to pursue an entirely new career, they do have control over what they pay them and how they support growth opportunities.

Employees surveyed by Mercer gave the following reasons for their decision to leave:

To combat turnover and prevent employees from leaving, Mercer reports the two most prevalent employer practices are continuous compensation reviews and regularly looking at engagement.

Rethinking Retention Strategies

Many companies have programs in place to reduce turnover, especially for their top performers. But too often these programs rely exclusively on traditional compensation models designed to Attract, Retain and Motivate (ARM) employees. This plain vanilla approach may not be enough for future leaders and high potentials.

Instead, more businesses are rethinking their HIPO compensation programs to favor engagement and alignment with key strategic goals. These programs reward and promote employees who exhibit the desired behaviors and serve as role models for others. In addition, they include robust measures that address current performance, future potential and talent fit for the organization’s strategic direction and cultural values.

Many of the elements of a HIPO compensation strategy are like your company’s overall compensation approach. However, reciprocating your HIPO employees’ ambitions with greater opportunities for training and advancement helps build value for your firm.

Here are the key planning considerations:

1. Conduct a Competitive Compensation Analysis

For each participant in the high-potential program, conduct a compensation competitiveness review. First compare current compensation to the market for the participant’s current role. Then compare current pay to potential next positions for the participant.

Analysis should include base salary, recent salary increases, bonus/incentive opportunity and history of earnings, total cash compensation and, if currently or potentially eligible, long-term incentive and total compensation. The result of the analysis will highlight the gaps between current compensation, market and likely next positions.

2. Determine Compensation Program Elements

Not surprisingly, pay often determines whether high potentials either leave or stay at your organization. Here are four key areas to consider when putting together your compensation program:

  • Promotions – Promotions typically target an average of 8.5% for most organizations. The more appropriate target for HIPOs should average 12% to 16%, a 50% to 100% increase over current practice.
  • Base salary increases – Salary increases for 2020 for most companies are predicted to average 3.2%. According to PayScale, retention raises are the second highest reason for granting a salary increase. Therefore, for high potentials increase your 2020 salary increase budget from 6.5% to 13.0%, an increase between 100% and 200%. Consider developing a separate salary increase budget for high potentials.
  • Incentive/bonus opportunity – The incentive/bonus opportunity should be increased from 50% to 100%. If the high-potential employee is not currently eligible for participation in an incentive/bonus program, consider establishing a separate plan.
  • Long-term incentives – If the high potential is not currently eligible and a potential new position does include participation, consider including at an appropriate level during the current role.

3. Prepare Your High-Potential Compensation Strategy

Develop a compensation strategy that is unique for each high-potential employee. For most employers this means platforming from their current organization-wide compensation strategy. Most likely this will mean that competitiveness targets will be greater.

For instance, if the corporate targets for base salary and total cash (base plus incentive/bonus) are, respectively, median and 60th percentile, targets for high potentials might be 75th percentile for base and 85th percentile for total cash.

Next, for each high-potential program participant, select one or several options from a combination of promotions, salary increases, incentive/bonus opportunity and, if appropriate long-term incentive participation.

4. Help High Potentials Learn to Lead

From rapidly changing technology developments to managing multi-generational workers, the challenges facing high potentials require specialized problem solving, communication and people skills to bridge the gap between top executives and the front line. You may want to customize your training opportunities to include different elements for emerging and senior leaders. Development programs should build on current skills while strengthening areas for improvement.

High potentials being groomed for senior positions may move quickly between managerial and operational roles to learn other parts of the organization. Their performance feedback should be frequent and consider time in position and ability to make an immediate impact. If assigned to special projects, performance evaluation should include both leadership of the group and individual contributions. Group project quality, timeliness and results all need to be measured.

A variety of training methods ranging from individual coaching to seminars and workshops will help your high potentials make the transition from being an individual contributor to team manager and ultimately senior executive. On-demand resources through online learning and email communications will reinforce the new skills they have acquired as they put their new knowledge into practice.

5. Don’t Forget Performance Management

All too often, managers focused on their day-to-day responsibilities will lean on high performers to carry out their primary responsibilities while neglecting their role as mentor and coach. After all, high potentials are talented, energetic and highly productive contributors. Include a component in your compensation strategy that ensures managers of high potentials offer the guiding experiences so essential to their development.

Summary

High-performance employees are catalysts in the workplace, inspiring others to work harder and more effectively. Your investment in these top performers will have a ripple effect, setting a great example for their teams and raising the bar on performance for colleagues.

Contact Us

If you have questions about how to develop and reward your high potential employees or on other compensation topics, please contact Neil Lappley at (847) 921-2812 or nlappley@lappley.com. In addition, please share or pass this article along to anyone you think may find it of interest.

As we begin a new decade, the challenges facing businesses, executive leadership and HR professionals are growing. From societal changes to digital transformation, the trends shaping organizations have HR responsibilities evolving. These issues require fresh ideas and perspectives.

With that in mind, Compensation Alert will periodically feature guest articles from thought leaders in their fields. Our first is from national speaker and trainer Jeff Kortes, founder of Human Asset Management LLC. Jeff helps organizations recruit, engage, develop and retain talent.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Employee retention is the biggest challenge organizations will face in the next decade. The reality is that Baby boomers are retiring at a rate of 10,000 per day. There are simply not enough people to take the spots of the people that are retiring.

Trying to find replacements is difficult and costly, so when you do find them you need to be able to retain them. As an employee retention speaker and trainer, I have worked with organizations to address their employee retention issues. They cite various reasons, including:

The first and most frequent reason is money.

The bottom line is that having a revolving door of people costs an organization a lot. Those costs drop right to the bottom line.

One of my clients, a metal casting company, determined that it was costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire new employees, train them and ramp them up to the point where they were producing quality parts. The owners were turning down sales because they didn’t have a fully staffed plant due to their employee turnover. To address the situation, they took the approach of:

  • Educating managers on what drives employee turnover,
  • Getting managers input on how to address those drivers in their organization, and
  • Taking certain key actions to improve job satisfaction.

These actions helped them reduce turnover by approximately 30% in the six-month period after our employee retention workshop.

Another compelling reason is the stress that employee turnover puts on the people who lead their teams and their departments.

In this case, the supervisors and managers who were leading the people in the organization were so stressed because of the constant turnover that they were experiencing that it was starting to take a toll on them emotionally.

The HR Director and the VP of Operations saw the toll it was taking on these leaders and realized it was not sustainable in the long run. They also realized that the reason that much of the turnover existed was because of the way their supervisors were leading.

As a result, they embarked on a six-month leadership training program to educate leaders on how to lead Millennials and Gen Z employees so that they wanted to stay with the organization.

Beyond starting to reduce the stress of excessive turnover on the supervisors and managers, they are also experiencing operational gains because of the change in leadership style.

Lastly, and most importantly, another reason for addressing the issue of employee retention is organizational survival.

When you can’t keep the people you need to run your organization and your competitors can, you are out of business. That’s reality. In the next decade, we will find that organizations that don’t get a handle on their employee turnover will find themselves unable to compete. When this happens, an owner’s years of working to build a business will be flushed down the toilet or stockholders will suffer massive declines in the value of the business.

One manufacturing client in a rural area with a 1.8% unemployment rate was simply running out of people. They had to stop the employee turnover, or the business would be in jeopardy.

Using a combination of an employee retention workshop to get buy in from supervisors and managers and a focused kaizen event on employee retention, the organization saw a significant drop in employee turnover in the next year so that they now have a stable workforce. In fact, they were not only able to survive but are now able to grow.

In Conclusion

Regardless of the reason for embarking on an employee retention initiative, delaying the inevitable impact of employee retention is sheer insanity. The key to attacking employee turnover is to recognize that if you don’t take focused action, the issue is not going to go away.

The days of thinking that you can simply replace people are gone — long gone. And, the reasons for taking action are compelling ones. Clearly, it’s in the best interest of any organization and the leaders who must bear the brunt of turnover to act on this compelling business issue.

About the Author:

Jeff Kortes is a recognized speaker and trainer who helps organizations recruit, engage, develop and retain talent. Founder of Human Asset Management LLC, he has more than 25 years of experience in human resources working with companies including ConAgra Foods, SPX, Midas International and American Crystal Sugar. He is a member of the National Speakers Association (NSA) and the author of several books including: Give Your Employees C.R.A.P., 7 Other Secrets to Employee Retention, and HR Horror Stories…True Tales from the Trenches. For more information, contact me at jeff@humanassetmgt.com, 414-305-9626 or visit http://www.jeffkortes.com.

From Wall Street to Main Street, the issue of pay equity and demands for a fair living wage are making headlines across the country. Despite the growing furor, the idea that employees performing substantially equal work should be paid equally is not new. The Pay Equity Act was passed in 1963, followed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.

However, laws alone have not closed the gap in pay disparity in many industries, a trend that also impacts small and mid-sized businesses. One reason may be that most companies are reluctant to share in-depth salary information about their employees based on race and gender data.

Recently, chip maker Intel made the unprecedented move to publicly release this data for 51,000 U.S. workers. The report was sent to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This is the first year that the EEOC is requiring the same kind of pay data from all companies with more than 100 employees, though companies aren’t required to publicly disclose that data. Previously, the EEOC asked for race and gender data, but not pay information. Intel released its data after settling a pay discrimination lawsuit for $5 million in October.

As this example illustrates, organizations can face significant financial and legal ramifications if they are viewed as paying employees unfairly. And while most employers are motivated to do the right thing, what may be well intended with good workplace policies sometimes falls apart in actual practice.

Pay Equity Trends

Increased scrutiny of employer pay equity has made this a hot topic for companies of all sizes. For this reason, total rewards association WorldatWork conducted a Pay Equity Practices and Priorities Survey to assess the current state of pay equity related work. Key findings include:

Gender pay gap and broad pay equity analysis is becoming standard practice for organizations (79% and 71% respectively).

  • Additionally, 55% reported remediation strategy execution and remedial option evaluation (52%) are not far behind.
  • Interestingly, 32% of respondents are not looking at performance management practices. This is surprising since performance management programs tend to be subjective.
  • While employers are looking for potential biases that may influence pay disparities, benefits programs are not receiving the same attention.
  • Only 9% of organizations said gender pay gap analysis is not on their radar.

In another survey conducted by WorldatWork earlier this year in partnership with pay consultancy Korn Ferry, larger companies reportedly were more likely to take action on pay equity than smaller businesses. In fact, regulatory compliance and culture initiatives are key drivers behind pay equity management programs. So is the desire to improve employee engagement and build trust in organizations.

Still, the ultimate test of faith depends largely upon how pay equity is managed within the organization and how well pay equity initiatives are communicated to employees.

Changing Laws and Uncertain Politics

Employers navigating complex pay equity issues are just as likely to encounter a changing morass of state and municipal laws, some which assign rewards for liability and damages. According to some legislation, potential new hires are entitled to know what the pay range is during recruitment.

In addition, with national elections looming in 2020, public policies to address pay inequities could further expand. As a result, how organizations justify differences in employee pay based upon merit, seniority, or other factors may also need adjustment.

To land safely on pay equity issues in an uncertain political climate, companies are advised to:

Conduct comprehensive pay equity and pay gap analyses;

  • Identify diversity and inclusion priorities, then follow through;
  • Look into biases that may be discouraging promotions within the company; and
  • Define clear metrics for good performance, then ensure that unconscious biases don’t have an unwanted influence on performance evaluations.

Pay Transparency Pays Back

In today’s digital world, savvy employees have easy access to compensation information from online sources like Indeed, LinkedIn and GlassDoor. Therefore, they know what to expect to earn at a job. And The result is that companies can no longer avoid transparency when it comes to pay.

Being transparent about pay, at the same time, allows employees to understand their pay, how it relates to company values and how it compares to public information. The result is to strengthen the employee/employer relationship.

There are three reasons why compensation transparency matters:

  1. It’s important to employees. According to a recent survey by Mercer, reportedly only 19% of employees gave their employer an “A” for equity and promotion. In addition, data shows that in the past five years employee perception of pay has declined.
  2. Lack of transparency hinders organizations from achieving diversity in the workforce. It has been shown diversity in the workforce leads to higher performing organizations. Transparency supports holding companies accountable for compensation decisions made.
  3. Democratization of pay has made it easy for employees to have access to competitiveness information, taking compensation information out of employers’ control.

In Conclusion

Pay equity and equal pay for equal work seem like no brainers. But it’s not easy to change perceptions that are heavily entrenched in our society. Pay equity, however, is having an outsized impact on employer’s ability to hire and retain top talent in today’s highly competitive labor markets.

To discuss how pay equity and transparency can be addressed to attract and keep top talent at your organization, please contact Neil Lappley at (847) 921-2812 or nlappley@lappleiy.com.

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Despite uncertainty about where the U.S. economy is heading, recent salary surveys from compensation consulting firms reveal that salaries are expected to either increase slightly or hold steady versus 2019 salaries. In this issue of Compensation Alert, we look at how companies are planning to deal with 2020 salary budgets to remain competitive and retain top talent.

Survey information was gathered from human resource professionals facing an extremely tight labor market, increased investment in pay equity adjustments and climbing minimum wage rates. What’s more, many economists are predicting slower economic growth and greater risk for a possible recession within the next two years.

Under these conditions, participating organizations in this year’s salary surveys provide crucial insights into how companies are budgeting for salary increases in 2020.

WorldatWork

WorldatWork survey participants report that in 2019 salary budgets grew slightly to 3.2% average (median 3.0%) meeting last year’s projections. They expect salary budgets overall to increase to 3.3% in 2020. Specific pay increases are expected to be:

  • 3.2% for exempt salaried workers,
  • 3.3% for officers and executives,
  • 3.1% for nonexempt employees, and
  • 3.2% for nonexempt hourly.

In addition, pay equity continues to be a significant issue to organizations. The WorldatWork survey finds that 42% of participants plan to budget for pay equity increases in 2020, up from 37% in 2019. When pay equity adjustments are not budgeted, 46% of respondents report that company savings will be used for adjustments in 2020.

Promotional increases in 2020 are projected to average 8.9%, up slightly from 2019. The portion of salary increase budgets attributed to merit are projected at 3.0%. Not surprisingly, the largest increases in salary budgets are from the East Coast (Washington DC and Boston) and the West Coast (Denver, Portland, San Diego and San Jose). In 2019, the reported average salary structure increase was 2.2%.

Willis Towers Watson

According to the 2019 Willis Towers Watson General Industry Salary Budget Survey, salary increases are expected to hold steady in 2020. The survey reveals increases of:

  • 3.1% for exempt and non-management employees,
  • 3.1% for management employees,
  • 3.0% for nonexempt hourly workers,
  • 2.9% for nonexempt salaried employees, and
  • 3.1% for executives.

The survey finds that employers will continue to reward star performers larger increases than average performing employees. According to the survey, the highest performing employees were granted an average increase of 4.6% in 2019, about 70% higher than the 2.7% increase given to those receiving an average increase.

To retain your best workers, as compensation consultants we have long advanced a minimum increase for star performers should be at least two times the increase to average performers. Although the differential has crept up over the past few years, it still has not reached a minimum ideal level.

Mercer

Mercer’s findings are consistent with WorldatWork’s 2019-2020 Salary Budget Survey. While overall salary increases were 3.5% in 2019, they are projected to be 3.6% in 2020. Survey results show that merit increases for 2019 were at 2.9%, while mean and median merit increases are expected to be 3.0% for 2020.

Additionally, the Mercer survey found that there was no change in the number of employees receiving promotional increases in 2019. The average promotional increase was 9.3%, slightly more than the 8.9% increase recorded by WorldatWork.

Further findings reveal organizations continue to use performance ratings to differentiate salary increases, although a small portion do not use performance ratings (14%). Among this small group, the majority distribute merit pay based on manager discretion with oversight by business leader or HR/compensation.

The survey also finds that high performers received 1.6 times the salary increase of average performers.

Payfactors

The Payfactors salary survey provides detailed responses for U.S. and Canadian employers, with data broken out by industry, revenue, organization size, region and state.

According to the Payfactors survey, average salary increases in 2020 are expected to be:

  • 3.2% for exempt employees,
  • 3.2% for exempt (non-management) employees,
  • 3.2% for managers, and
  • 3.1% for officers and executives.

Industries reporting higher expected increases include professional services, pharmaceuticals, software, technology, metals, and oil and gas. Industries expecting lower increases include retail, not-for-profit, hotels and restaurants, banks and aerospace. The survey shows little difference in average increases by region.

Salary.com

According to its annual Salary.com Salary Budget Survey, median annual salary increases are expected to remain flat at 3.0% for 2020. The salary.com survey average salary increase is significantly lower than the salary increases predicted in prior cited surveys. Although different survey methodology may be present, also likely at play are different survey populations.

Variable Pay Programs Becoming More Important

After reviewing the results of these top-rated surveys, it is apparent that many organizations are struggling to remain competitive on salaries to attract and retain top talent. That’s why many are moving towards variable pay programs. Rather than investing in long-term, fixed salary programs, companies are focused on rewarding and retaining top talent via pay-for-performance incentive programs. Along with improving employee engagement and reducing turnover, another benefit to these programs is stronger market competitiveness.

How Do You Determine Your Salary Increase Budget?

Clearly, predicted market increase budgets are only one input to weigh when deciding on your salary increase budget for 2020. To begin with, it is important to distinguish between your competitiveness goal and your overall compensation strategy. Next, examine how far above or below that goal your current salaries are. Finally, evaluate how close your company can come to meeting your 2020 salary goal based on available funding.

One final point to consider: recessions are inevitable. Organizations that take strategic compensation and human resources actions in advance of these downturns will be better positioned when the economy turns around.

In Summary

Please contact me at (847) 921-2812 or nlappley@lappley.com if you would like to discuss this topic further. In addition, you can read more on this topic at lappley.com. Please share this article with anyone who think may be interested.

How well do your employees know your company’s compensation strategy? Chances are that without a clear understanding of your organization’s pay program, your employees will not appreciate their value to the company.

In a 2018 Conference Board survey, it was reported that only 43% of employees were satisfied with their wages. Worse still, a low 27% were satisfied with their bonus plan. Clearly, better communication about compensation creates an opportunity to improve employee satisfaction, which drives employee retention, productivity and performance.

Because managers are responsible for communicating compensation details to the workers they supervise, much of employees’ understanding of an organization’s pay program rests with them. Not only do your frontline managers play an important role in leading pay discussions, they give context to compensation decisions and are key to promoting employee engagement.

According to Gallup’s 2015 State of the American Manager study, managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units. Therefore, how well they communicate your company’s compensation program can mean the difference between better performance or a demoralized workforce.

Communicating Compensation: No Small Matter

Facilitating pay conversations between managers and employees is no easy task. First, they are busy. After all, they are the focal point of performance of their group.

Second, they are likely to shy away from tough conversations. This is doubly true for employees who are difficult to manage. Anxiety can lead managers to provide insufficient explanations, shift the blame to others, or avoid the conversations entirely.

In fact, a 2015 Harris poll found 69% of managers are uncomfortable communicating with employees at all. As a result, communications regarding compensation are often the last item on their agenda.

To boost managers’ confidence for effective compensation discussions with their employees, here are five things to consider:

Prepare a Compensation Strategy and Communication Plan

Arguably the most important aspect of communicating pay is the organization’s compensation philosophy and strategy. It explains why and how employees are compensated. Prepare a written compensation philosophy and comprehensive strategy, then give your communication strategy the same, thoughtful preparation.

Your communications strategy defines the approach your company will use to communicate with all communities. It should include clear objectives, well defined timeframes for achieving them, an implementation plan and a monitoring process to assess results and pinpoint improvement areas.

Define Your Core Messaging

Consistent, top-down communication about the compensation strategy is critical to promote affinity and avoid confusion. Make sure your messaging reflects the values and philosophy guiding your company vision and how your pay program rewards performance. Determine what information should be shared with your respective employee groups and when. Invest time and resources to get it right, starting by gaining buy-in from the executive team before rolling communications out to managers and finally employees.

Identify Channels for Communication

Who is your audience and what are their preferred methods of engagement? Identifying who your stakeholders are can help you determine which communities may have similar information needs and the best channels to reach them.

Face-to-face meetings provide opportunities for real-time interaction and feedback, while the company intranet or newsletter lets employees read at their own pace. Use a combination of channels to communication often. Consider the timing of key events and company milestones to demonstrate progress and showcase achievements.

Develop Communication Materials

Start with a statement detailing the elements of compensation and highlight how each element works, why it was chosen and how it links to the company’s overall business strategy. Describe how survey data was used to arrive at salary ranges and incentive plans. In addition, explain how merit increases were designed and add detailed descriptions of incentive programs, including measures used to calculate incentive payments.

Tables and bulleted lists present information in an easy-to-read format, as do charts and graphs illustrating the value of employee rewards and compensation. Concepts such as range penetration (the level of an individual salary compared to the total pay range) or compa-ratio (the relationship of base pay to market expressed as a percentage of the midpoint of the salary range) should be defined.

Some measures are more useful than others when calculating salary ranges within your organization’s job grade ranges. Typically, which measures to utilize depends on your organization’s pay philosophy and how competitive your industry’s pay structure may be.

Finally, a frequently asked questions document serves as a primary resource to address anticipated issues, matters of concern and items for clarification.

Develop a Feedback Loop

The evaluation of your communications program impact is a continuous process. Use confidential surveys, focus groups and interviews to gauge the impact of your communications and provide employees with meaningful opportunities to contribute ideas for improvement.

Training Managers on Effective Communication

If your managers feel ill prepared to have discussions with their employees about your compensation strategy, you can expect the uncertainty and negative consequences of poor communication to have a cascading effect.

Misunderstandings can occur when an employee is feeling they are not getting the information that they need. And when conversations get heated, managers must know how to recognize when the discussion has become counterproductive or frustrating to the employee.

Different people learn in different ways, so consider developing multiple options for managers to learn. For example, you may want to incorporate:

  • In-person, instructor-led training;
  • Interactive e-learning courses;
  • Video, particularly having senior management describe how the organization’s compensation programs support achieving corporate objectives; and
  • Webinars.

Having challenging conversations is part of being a good manager. When handled in the right way, managers can avoid the difficult situations that come with the territory. Remember to:

A. Practice, Practice, Practice – Prepare what you plan to say and consider what the employee is likely to currently understand. For instance, does he believe he is a high performer and that a salary increase or bonus is on the way? Is the employee likely to have an up-to-date understanding of the organization’s compensation philosophy and strategy?

B. Establish a Sense of Trust – Conversations regarding pay are easier if the manager is already comfortable talking to the employee in general.

C. Have Straightforward Conversations – Communicators are most effective when they avoid jargon and get right to the point.

D. Anticipate Reactions – Effective conversations do not end with managers communicating decisions and then walking away. Allow time for employee questions and choose a private place without interruptions. When an employee has a negative reaction to pay decisions, a follow-up meeting may be necessary to address the employee’s expressed concerns.

To be sure, your managers are one of your most important links to a successful compensation strategy. By educating your managers about your compensation strategy and training them to communicate it clearly, your employees will have a better understanding of their real value to your company. That effort will translate into a better return-on-investment in your strategic compensation program.

If you enjoyed this or other articles I have written, please share it with anyone you think may also find it of interest. For help or information on this topic, you can email me nlappley@lappley.com or call (847) 921-2812.

Pay equity is a topic that isn’t going away. Rather, the spotlight is only getting brighter.

This makes understanding possible pay gaps between the men and women in your workplace and adopting proactive approaches to remedy pay inequities more important than ever. For instance, according to the American Association of University Women, 42 states as well as Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. proposed new pay equity legislation last year. Not all the measures passed, but enough did making it challenging for organizations operating in multiple markets to address the issue of pay equity in a comprehensive way.

A growing number of states and local governments have made it illegal for employers to ask candidates for their salary history. The rationale for the law is this: since females have historically been paid less than males, platforming a new salary over a low salary only perpetuates the difference. In response to this trend, a recent WorldatWork survey finds that 37% of companies have a nationwide ban on asking potential candidates about their past pay.

Additional legislative approaches to tackling pay equity include new laws promoting more pay transparency; others give employers protections for making “reasonable progress” toward pay equity. Clearly, the shifting landscape and impact of gender wage gap laws raise compliance and performance concerns for companies and their compensation policies.

What is Gender Pay Equity?

When we talk about gender pay equity, this often is confused with equal pay or these terms are treated interchangeably. However, there is a difference.

The gender pay gap is a broad measure between the aggregate pay for women and men across the organization. It is expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings.

Equal pay requires women and men doing the same or a substantially similar job to receive the same compensation and benefits. In other words, equal pay for equal work.

It is important for businesses to understand the distinction. Why? Both areas should be examined to better understand pay differentials within your organization and the factors at play impacting your talent management programs.

Understanding Gender Pay Equity

Several studies in recent years have looked at pay gaps to better understand the causes and impacts.

In a new article, “More Than a Pay Gap,” management consulting firm Korn Ferry examined its compensation data base for organization-wide pay differences within 110 countries. What they found is that the gap in the United States narrows considerably the more specific the comparison becomes. While women on average earn almost 18% less than men, the gap between a man and woman working in the same job level for the same organization in the same function is typically only .9%.

Korn Ferry researchers have concluded the reason women are paid less than men is not necessarily the result of unfair pay practices. Indeed, this may be the case in some organizations (after all, averages mask actual comparisons). Rather, the gap in pay is deduced to be the result of fewer women working in higher paying industries or leadership functions.

As the Korn Ferry study reveals, the solution to the organization-wide gender pay gap represents a complex and systematic challenge. We will focus on how to meet the challenge in a future issue of Compensation Alert. Meanwhile, companies have immediate opportunities to evaluate whether your organization is complying with equal pay statutes.

Conducting a Pay Equity Analysis

Inequitable pay practices can pose immediate risks to your business – including reputational risk. To help uncover possible issues driving any pay differentials within your organization, conducting a pay equity analysis is recommended. Following is a step-by-step process overview:

It may be prudent to consult with a lawyer, as audits of this type are often protected by lawyer-client privilege.

  • Identify the equal pay practices you want to investigate.
  • Gather data on employees grouped by comparable worth. Jobs should be examined regardless of job title, with the focus on work performed, the manner in which the work is performed, and the skills required for the job.
  • Determine what drives pay most, whether desirable factors such as performance and/or level or undesirable factors such as race, gender or age are involved.
  • Beyond the job-based analysis, the study should look function-by-function, manager-by-manager, and location-by-location to see if any equity trends emerge. Any pay gaps can then be closed.
  • Following the job-based analysis, it is important to dig into the causes of those gaps. For instance, salary structure and other compensation tools need examining.
  • Finally, leaders must be committed to change if undesirable factors influencing pay have been discovered. Change can only happen if commitment exists at all levels to ensure fairness, consistent communications, and organization-wide management practices.

Conclusion

The type of pay analysis described above will need to use comprehensive compensation market data, review and likely overhaul compensation administration guidelines, and update job grading systems. But smart organizations can turn it into an advantage. How? By looking beyond current law to build proactive policies and practices promoting gender equality (and diversity of employees) and embedding these values into the company culture.

Further, experts say that organizations that manage pay equity well and have diverse, inclusive cultures post higher returns and have more trust in leadership, greater employee engagement, and less turnover. Organizations that fail to manage pay equity well are subject to the inverse consequences, plus increased risk of litigation.

Let’s Connect

If you enjoyed this or other articles I have written, please share it with anyone you think may also find it of interest. For help or information on this topic, you can email me or call.

Contact me at (847) 921-2812 or nlappley@lappley.com.

March 2019

In our November Compensation Alert, we argued that compensation transparency leads to greater employee engagement. When done correctly—with a well-defined plan and communications approach—compensation transparency becomes a powerful tool for attracting and retaining top talent.

Although there is widespread agreement on the benefits of pay transparency in the workplace, what is not always understood is the best way to implement it or just how transparent companies should be. This newsletter looks at the pros and cons for pay transparency and offers recommendations to find the approach that’s right for your company.

Opinions on Pay Vary

In the 4th Quarter 2018 WorldatWork Journal, compensation researchers Dow Scott and Devin Jordan reported on a new Pay Transparency Survey using participants’ data collected by Amazon. The study examined how employees perceive their employer’s pay communications and levels of pay transparency and sought to answer whether increased understanding of an employer’s pay structure and policies is related to retention, trust in management, and pay satisfaction.

Although the survey shared differing views on some salary issues based on age, gender and other factors, it revealed the amount of pay information is positively related to perceptions of satisfaction and trust in management and negatively related to employee intentions to quit.

Overall, respondents believe their companies communicate on most aspects of pay. Over 75% of respondents say their employers communicate pay policies and procedures and agree that questions to their employers about how their pay is determined are answered. A lesser number of survey participants (less than 50%) say they are communicated to about merit increases and changes in salary ranges.

Additional survey findings give us a better picture:

  • Culture: Interestingly, 38% of employees believe their organizations pride themselves on being transparent about pay while an equal number disagree. Half of respondents believe there are strong organizational customs about not discussing pay. But only 18% think they will be disciplined or fired for sharing pay information.
  • Privacy: 46% of employees believe that information about base pay or salary rate should be kept secret. Just over half believe that other employees should not know how an employee is paid. Younger employees, as expected, are less concerned about sharing pay information than older employees.
  • Info Sources: The HR department (57%) and managers (60%) are the primary sources of pay information, respondents said. Just 34% get their pay information from other employees, 32% from web sites. It’s worth noting that employees still rely on management as their primary compensation information source despite so much salary information now widely available on the internet.

It’s no secret that compensation can be a challenging topic in the workplace. For this reason, determining the amount and type of information to be shared has always been problematic to employers.

More pay transparency often contributes to employees’ sense of fairness, especially when they believe how they are treated is the same as others in similar roles. Knowing pay ranges upfront can also align employee expectations about what they can do to achieve strategic goals. For ambitious employees, having a clear career path in the organization encourages them to pursue growth opportunities that also contribute to company growth.

However, explaining the justification between salary levels requires thoughtful communication and an open dialogue about pay. If handled poorly misunderstandings can arise. It’s also important to remember that if too much individualized salary information is shared, star employees may be more vulnerable to being hired away by competitors.

Walking the Pay Transparency Line

With these pros and cons in mind, we advise employers to land on the side of increased compensation transparency, but with the caveat strategic communication must also become a top priority. Consider the following:

  • Start by surveying your organization to learn what employees’ communication preferences are. Although communication style or frequency may not be the same for all employees, pay transparency is important to all.
  • Keep individual pay information private. Communicate pay philosophy, compensation strategy, and pay structure, including salary ranges, merit increases, and incentives for every position in each job family. That way employees who may want to learn new skills or try for a new position at a higher pay level know where their aspirations will take them. Explain how, when, and why the organization makes rewards decisions and plan to communicate these points regularly. Show how compensation supports the goals and strategies of your organization.
  • Train managers in the details of your organization’s compensation program and give them the tools to communicate benefits and opportunities to employees.
  • Because women in the Pay Transparency Survey said they are not receiving as much information about pay as men, take additional steps to close this gap.
  • Provide a total rewards statement annually. This gives employees a full sense of all benefits they enjoy on behalf of your company.

We recognize that how your company approaches pay transparency needs to be as individual as you are. The key is to commit to more pay transparency and to evolve your plan as organizational needs change. In the end, your employees and company will be better off.

Contact Us

Please contact me if you would like to discuss compensation transparency, why it is important and how to go about it. Also, feel free to pass this newsletter on to any interested parties. I can be reached at nlappley@lappley.com or (847) 921-2812.