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Pay transparency is a hot topic for employers navigating how best to meet growing demands to close gender and race-related pay gaps, as well as satisfy loyal employees. It can be a difficult needle to thread. How much pay transparency is too much? Should an organization adopt a pay transparency standard?

A new study by compensation software provider Beqom reveals employee perceptions about pay equality have eroded further in 2020-21 as many businesses adapted to the pandemic with work-from-home strategies, reduced work hours, and even temporary furloughs. In its survey just one year earlier, Beqom reported one-third of employees believed their companies had a pay gap, a view that negatively impacts employee retention.

During the latest economic downturn, many pay equity programs had to be put on hold as companies faced growing financial constraints.

Businesses that embrace pay transparency benefit in a variety of ways, not the least of which is by establishing a higher level of trust with employers and co-workers. Trust promotes respect and improves employee retention and loyalty. Top performers know their accomplishments are being recognized.

Pay transparency also helps employers make meaningful progress toward achieving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) goals. And when employers are more open about pay ranges for roles and job levels within their companies, employees can shift their focus to career growth and how to support organizational success.

Arguments against pay transparency include concerns that employees may have resentments if co-workers make more than they do or that failings in the company’s compensation, hiring and development systems may be exposed. Furthermore, pay communications can make employees vulnerable to being hired away. As a result, many organizations have rules against discussing pay. It is the author’s experience, however, that even with company restrictions, many employees continue to discuss pay among themselves.

Pay Transparency in Focus

When your company decides to proceed with a pay transparency program, organizations have three key decisions to make. The first decision is Why or determining the results to be achieved when communicating compensation. The second decision is What information will be communicated. Finally, the organization must determine the How, which focuses on the ways that pay information will be disseminated to employees.

Why options that define goals of your transparency program range from describing compensation strategy to linking company purpose with employee purpose. Other goals include improving understanding of compensation programs, increasing compensation ROI, enhancing employee engagement, and reducing turnover.

Initially, establish only one or two why goals to make your transparency approach straightforward. Be sure to put specific measures in place to determine if goals are met.

Next, determine What will be communicated, which depends on the degree of pay transparency planned. Some organizations only communicate the salary range and position in range for specific roles. Others seeking complete pay transparency reveal all salaries for every employee in the organization.

Additional choices include pay opportunity relative to market, sources of competitiveness information, how pay is determined, your overall compensation budget, specific groups’ pay relative to company average pay, and employee pay communication restrictions.

Finally, the How depends on the way the organization typically communicates. Options include one-on-one meetings, group presentations, manager training to enhance ability to explain programs, leadership videos, intranet, email, employee handbooks, and the annual total rewards report.

Summary

Although there can be challenges to successfully implementing pay transparency programs, the dangers of standing pat are even greater. Organizations need to have their compensation programs in order and pay transparency is a growing priority. In fact, the Beqom survey finds 51% of employees would consider switching companies with more pay transparency than their current employer.

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If you found value in this article, 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.

What factors will your organization look at when determining 2021 salary budget increases and compensation plans? No doubt pay data will be part of your decision tree. But the volatile economy makes salary predictions challenging. To prove that point, forecasts from compensation surveys provided earlier in 2020 have shifted in recent months. That is why we advise companies to consider many more factors – both internal and external – when making their compensation plans.

We provided a roadmap outlining key actions to take in our September Compensation Alert. Since then and resulting from an extended pandemic, flexibility above all other factors has become priority one for employees, many of whom are working remotely and juggling care for children and parents. Health and financial wellness programs, telemedicine, education incentives and more personalized perks, such as a company library or Lifestyle Spending Account, are also growing in popularity.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

So, where do we go from here?

Creativity and purpose will be essential elements to compensation planning in 2021. In addition to studying salary and compensation trends, benchmarking competitors’ total rewards strategies will be perhaps more important.

Here is our take on recent survey data and how employers can navigate the future to overcome financial pressures and motivate a world-class workforce for shared success:

Companies Reducing 2021 Salary Increase Budgets

According to the North American Compensation Planning Pulse Survey of 705 U.S. employers completed the week of September 21 by Willis Towers Watson, 35% have reduced their projected 2021 salary increase budgets from earlier estimates; 50% kept them intact. All non-executive employee groups are projected to receive salary increases averaging 2.6%, with executives getting slightly smaller increases averaging 2.5%. Willis Towers Watson’s prior survey conducted from May to July had salary increases of 2.8%. And while 84% of employers will deliver pay increases, almost one in six employees will not receive any.

A second study fielded Oct. 4-31, the WorldatWork 2020-21 Salary Update Survey, reveals almost 40% of 694 respondents either have made or are considering making changes to their 2021 salary increase budgets. The survey showed a projected average salary increase for all employee groups of 2.8%, down slightly from June’s forecast of 2.9%.

According to their press release, WorldatWork reports the projected 2021 salary increase budgets showed a slight 0.1 percentage-point drop since June, from 2.9% to 2.8%. Contributing to those declines was an increase in the number of organizations reporting zero or no salary budget increase.

Finally, Korn Ferry now reports about a third of companies are planning 2021 salary budget increases to 50% or fewer of their general employee population, three times the number of organizations reporting this finding last year. The projected increase in North America is expected to be 0.3% percentage points lower than 2020 or about 2.7% in 2021. Korn Ferry used survey data from its annual and periodic pulse surveys to provide these updated insights.

Our analysis: Organizations will plan salary increases that align with business conditions. Industries that are hurting will provide zero salary increases or allocate these selectively. Others doing well will be more generous. But all companies should set money aside to recognize top performers, those in critical roles, and high potential employees. After all, these employees are your most valuable assets and are most vulnerable to being lured away.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Non-Salary Rewards

Though many employees may not be receiving raises, they are increasingly being rewarded in other ways. For instance, WorldatWork reports significant increases in wellness and other employer-sponsored programs designed to promote a positive culture, recruit and develop talent, and retain valued workers. These perks range from telemedicine and counseling programs to tuition discounts, paying off college debt and caregiver leave.

Annual Incentive Programs

Many companies have adopted new business models based on how markets and their supply chain have been altered. Often, product mix, margins, investments, and growth expectations have changed. This requires them to change key performance measures used to determine incentive-based pay.

Setting 2021 performance targets, thresholds and performance ranges will not be easy. There will be questions about setting targets that may be lower than actual performance. Instead of setting specific targets, it may be appropriate for companies to use relative targets based on competitor or industry norms. Uncertainty may also lead to flatter payout curves. Or companies may bet on a rapid recovery and adopt steeper, more aggressive payout rules.

Summary

With more uncertainty ahead, now is the time to consider changes to your compensation strategies. We continue to believe that executives will not follow national market trends, but instead focus on doing what is economically feasible for future growth and sustainability based on local and regional developments. They will decide on what they want to invest in people rather than blindly following the market.

Contact Us

If you would like to discuss 2021 salary increases or other compensation-related topics, please contact Neil Lappley at (847) 921-2812 or nlappley@lappley.com. A discussion carries no charges and perhaps after you get to know me and my capabilities, when an assignment arises you will call me.

The year 2020 has brought many changes to the workplace, not the least of which is a rise in remote work arrangements. According to a survey conducted in October by WorldatWork and Salary.com, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic just 13% of employees worked remotely. By April, as lockdowns became the norm, 67% of employees were working remotely. Even now, with more businesses open than not, 62% continue to work from home. About 9 out of 10 of these are working remotely full time.

As employees and companies adapted to remote working, both began to see the considerable benefits. And today’s technology advances made the adjustment easier. Organizations reconfigured company computer access for off-site staff. Zoom became the most popular platform for team meetings, cross-functional collaboration, and webinars.

The remote work relationship proved to be a win-win for employers and employees alike. Workers recaptured commuting time and costs, enjoyed more flexibility to attend to childcare and other family needs, and this translated into increased productivity. Employers maintained business operations while accommodating remote work.

Once the business disruptions from the pandemic fade, many are predicting remote work will be here to stay.

In fact, a new survey from U.S.-based Enterprise Technology Research (ETR) finds the number of employees permanently working remotely is set to double in 2021 to nearly 35%.

Businesses have many good reasons to support the remote working trend including:

  • Lower costs for commercial office space, utilities, and ancillary expenses
  • Increased diversity in hiring
  • Better employee retention
  • A reduced carbon footprint with fewer people commuting
  • Expansion of the available talent pool

On this last point, remote work allows companies to recruit from a much larger pool of candidates than they currently do, as most medium and small-sized organizations recruit talent locally. Now organizations can expand their recruiting base to the entire U.S.

One impact of the pandemic has been a reported flight from big cities as professionals seek less crowded urban environments and a significantly lower cost of living (COL). According to a new study by freelancing platform Upwork, 14 million to 23 million Americans intend to relocate to a different city or region because of telework.

If these trends do indeed become reality, employers have a strategic opportunity to reframe their basis for compensation decisions.

Even so, the current question that many employers are asking is this: Should I pay someone who is working remotely in a lower COL city the same as an employee working at our more expensive central business location? The traditional thinking goes like this: built into the corporate salary structure is recognition that larger population areas generally pay more. So, will I be overpaying if I do not reduce remote salaries to reflect these COL differences?

We believe that reducing salary simply based on COL is wrong for several reasons. First, employees will not like having their salaries reduced. How they spend their money is their own business. After all, employers do not care if an employee drives a 10-year-old Chevy or a Mercedes. So, why should they care what street the employee lives on? Second, paying less than the broader market rate increases the risk employees will be recruited away. Finally, administering and communicating separate pay programs for remote employees with multiple pay arrangements can be an organizational burden.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

A better approach is to define a larger geographic area and set compensation competitiveness targets for that area, then administer pay to one set of parameters. So, instead of using competitiveness survey information for the company’s immediate surrounding geography, expand the territory that is used to determine competitiveness.

For example, if you are recruiting from a Midwest talent pool, you may want to examine salary data for Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana. Both state-level data and regional data can be used to determine pay ranges for each position or job level. If you are recruiting from coast-to-coast, you can use a national median. This can offer a great advantage to organizations with a highly distributed workforce.

In any case, it is important to weigh the benefits and risks for your remote workforce and to consider how pay may vary depending on the industry, occupation and skillset required. Using a broad geographic approach for your competitive salary information is easy to administer and avoids confronting employees with a pay reduction.

About Lappley & Associates

Lappley & Associates is a management consulting firm that specializes in the development and implementation of compensation programs for clients. We primarily consult with manufacturing, service, utilities, and not-for-profit organizations for medium and small-sized businesses.

Contact Us

If you would like to discuss pay of remote employees, contact Neil Lappley at (847) 921-2812 or nlappley@lappley.com.

Changes to executive pay packages during the COVID-19 pandemic have been swift, revealing stark differences in how boards approach compensation for public and privately held companies. Many executives at public companies reliant on annual and long-term incentives (LTIs) are facing significant pay cuts in the wake of dwindling profits with more economic uncertainty ahead. For stable or growing privately held companies, this presents a buying opportunity to attract and capitalize on executive talent with the right compensation strategy.

Executive Pay Practices

Media coverage based on filings and disclosures required for public companies along with say on pay votes ensures most people are familiar with executive pay practices at public companies. This publicity and the large role played by proxy advisors has resulted in a standardization of executive compensation in public companies as no one seems to want to stand out. To play it safe, public companies typically target the market median with stock performance the largest component of pay results.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Private companies, on the other hand, without the limitations of public exposure can implement more creative pay programs that are crafted to each organization’s unique circumstances. With stock performance a non-factor, other innovative measures including non-financial metrics can play a more meaningful role.

Although pay practices for both public and private companies vary significantly depending upon the industry and type of ownership, all are designed to attract and retain top-notch talent. For private companies, this means making pay sufficient for the quality of executive they are seeking and aligned with the values and goals the organization has established.

However, in our current, challenging business climate, private companies have the distinct advantage of being more flexible, agile, and inclusive than their publicly traded counterparts. In that sense, it may be a golden opportunity to seek where the grass may be greener to upgrade or expand executive ranks.

The Elements of Executive Pay

Public company executive compensation is comprised of three components: base salary, annual or short-term incentives (STIs) and long-term incentives (LTIs). In public companies, incentives dominate executive pay, including annual incentives and long-term, equity-based incentives. Further, in public companies LTIs are the largest component of compensation.

In contrast, private company pay centers on cash compensation, emphasizing base salary and annual incentives. Cash pay is often positioned above the market median, with low or no LTI opportunity. However, this trend is changing as more private companies offer more incentive-based compensation as reported in the Compensation Advisory Board (CAP) and WorldatWork 2019 survey of Incentive Pay Practices.

Executive Pay Components

  Base Salary Annual or Short-Term Incentives Long-Term Incentives
Public Companies 1) 20% of compensation package
2) Some are temporarily reducing base salaries
1) Financial incentives tied to key performance metrics
2) Sustainable Impact measures: Environmental, social and governance
3) Seeing reductions of 25% to 50% of the current plan target opportunity
1) Some adjusting targets on a year-by-year approach
2) Others extending the performance period
Private Companies 1) Stressed
2) One-third to half of compensation
1) Financial measures: profitability and revenue
2) Individual performance common
3) Threshold payment about 50%; maximum payout is 150% to 200% of target opportunity
1) 60% offer LTIs
2) Cash-based plans most common
3) Phantom stock, or real stock vehicles added by minority of companies

Add LTIs to the Pay Mix

Long-term incentives are fast becoming a growing element of executive compensation for private companies. They are essential to attract talent in competition with public companies where LTIs are common. In addition, LTIs play a major role in company retention strategies and to motivate executives to achieve long-term objectives.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

For owners at private companies, they must thoughtfully consider if and how they are willing to share ownership in the enterprise with other executives. In addition, they should consider succession plans and future liquidation or merger opportunities depending on their long-term plans for the business.

A typical sharing percentage range is between 5% -10%. Phantom stock is another vehicle often used, although these programs require sophisticated valuing studies and strong communications support. A final option is a long-term cash plan. This requires solid financial planning and transparency of key financials.

Benchmark for Success

Executive pay has come under increased scrutiny in the current business climate. New attitudes about work and pay practices are being shaped by the pandemic, as well as social and cultural trends in an election year like no other. Executives seeking to make meaningful contributions may find even greater opportunity at private companies embracing innovative strategies and pay practices. Private companies recruiting new talent can cast a wider net and utilize benchmarks for non-traditional sources and their market competitors.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Still, benchmarking in a rapidly changing business environment can be challenging, making salary projections more obscure. Regardless, the quality of survey data obtained for an executive search must meet high standards. Survey sources should be carefully examined to ensure data cuts are available based on industry and size, which are closely related to the level of executive compensation.

Summary

With less public scrutiny and fewer regulatory hurdles, private companies have more freedom to make proposed changes in creative ways that balance stakeholder interests, improve employee morale and boost the bottom line. Executives at public companies may be ready for a change if an opportunity promises a promotion or broader role or one with more autonomy and more responsibility.

Yes, pay will certainly be an important piece of the equation. However, at a time when job losses in the top ranks may be considerable, enterprising private companies should view this as a recruiting opportunity to build on for the future.

Contact Us

For help or information on this topic, you can email me at nlappley@lappley.com or call (847) 921-2812.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.