A well-designed compensation program is critical to ensuring equitable and sound pay practices. When planned effectively, it will facilitate your recruiting efforts and align with your goals and values, ensuring you have the right people in place to drive the success of your organization. An effective compensation plan helps organizations:

  • Attract appropriate talent
    A competitive compensation package attracts highly skilled professionals who will propel your organization forward.
  • Retain employees
    Companies can reduce turnover and retain valuable employees by offering fair and competitive compensation and an attractive total rewards package.
  • Motivate performance
    A comprehensive compensation plan that includes detailed job descriptions with clear success criteria and a roadmap for advancement motivates employees to perform at their best and achieve organizational goals.
  • Ensure internal equity
    A compensation plan informed by relevant pay equity laws and best practices will help ensure fairness and consistency in reward allocation across different organizational roles and levels.
  • Maintain compliance with employment laws
    A sound compensation plan must accommodate relevant federal and state regulations, including job classification, minimum wage, and pay equity requirements.

Organizations should follow a systematic approach to create an effective compensation program that includes the following basic steps.



Establish a compensation philosophy

Before developing a compensation plan, define your company’s compensation philosophy. A compensation philosophy is a set of principles and beliefs that guide an organization’s approach to compensating its employees. It outlines the organization’s position on rewarding its workforce and aligning compensation practices with the overall business strategy and goals. The philosophy serves as a foundation for designing and managing compensation programs, ensuring consistency and fairness across the organization.

At its core, your compensation philosophy defines what your company wants to achieve through employee compensation and how you intend to get there. While some companies may choose to emphasize financial components like performance bonuses and opportunities for salary increases, others may focus on less tangible factors like flexible schedules, work-from-home options, and generous Paid Time Off. It should encompass your strategy to hire, retain, and reward talent. Compensation philosophies take many factors into account, including financial position, the size of the organization, industry, competitors, business objectives, the labor market, compensation trends and best practices, the unique aspects of your business, and the level of difficulty finding competent employees.

A well-defined compensation philosophy typically includes the following components:

  • Objectives
    Your compensation objectives clarify the organization’s compensation-related goals. These objectives may include attracting and retaining top talent, motivating employees to perform at their best, promoting internal equity, and ensuring competitiveness within the industry.
  • Internal equity
    Address how the organization intends to maintain fairness and consistency in compensation across different job roles and levels within the company. This sets the stage for determining the relative worth of different jobs and establishing pay structures that reflect the value of each position. Where appropriate, consult state pay equity laws to ensure compliance.
  • External competitiveness
    Here, you will consider the organization’s position in the external job market and how it plans to compete with other employers to attract and retain skilled employees. This provides context for conducting market research and benchmarking compensation against industry standards.
  • Performance-based pay
    Your compensation philosophy may outline the organization’s position on rewarding individual or team performance through incentives, bonuses, or other performance-related pay programs. This ties compensation to achieving specific goals and aligns individual efforts with organizational objectives.
  • Total rewards
    A comprehensive compensation philosophy takes into account not just base salary or wages but also other components of total rewards, such as benefits, retirement plans, stock options, and other non-monetary perks.
  • Transparency
    Your compensation philosophy may define the level of transparency at which the organization will communicate with employees about pay practices. Openly sharing information about the rationale behind compensation decisions can foster trust and understanding; however, it may be advisable to set boundaries as to what level of information will be openly provided.
  • Legal and regulatory compliance
    At a high level, your compensation philosophy should communicate the organization’s commitment to complying with relevant employment laws, regulations, and industry standards.

Overall, a well-crafted compensation philosophy helps organizations create a structured and fair approach to rewarding their employees, contributing to employee satisfaction, engagement, and overall organizational success. It also helps HR professionals and leadership make consistent and strategic decisions about compensation-related matters.


Create or update job descriptions

Once your compensation philosophy is established, you will need to update or define each job within your organization and create up-to-date Job descriptions before you can begin building a salary structure. Job descriptions are detailed documents outlining the specific duties, responsibilities, qualifications, reporting structure, and expectations associated with a particular job.

Developing a compensation plan and structure relies heavily on accurate and well-crafted job descriptions. Job descriptions provide the necessary information for HR professionals and compensation specialists to conduct a thorough job analysis. Through job analysis, the organization can determine the relative worth of each job in terms of its contribution to its goals, complexity, required skills, and market demand. This analysis helps establish an internal job hierarchy and grading structure, allowing the organization to organize jobs into appropriate pay bands or salary ranges.

When writing job descriptions for compensation planning, it is essential to include comprehensive and accurate information that helps determine the relative value of each job within the organization. Here are crucial elements that should be included:

  • Job title and summary
    Clearly state the job title and provide a brief summary that describes the purpose and overall objective of the role. This should give a quick overview of the position’s primary responsibilities and how it fits into the organization’s structure. Consider industry-recognized titles to assist with salary research and recruiting efforts.
  • Job duties and responsibilities
    Outline the specific tasks, duties, and responsibilities associated with the role. Be detailed and specific to provide a clear understanding of what the job entails on a day-to-day basis. Include both essential functions and any additional duties that might be required.
  • Qualifications and requirements
    Specify the necessary qualifications and requirements for the job, including education, experience, certifications, and skills. This helps establish the appropriate level for the role within the organization’s compensation structure.
  • Reporting relationships
    Clearly state the reporting relationships for the position, including the title of the immediate supervisor and any direct reports, if applicable. This information helps define the job’s scope and level of responsibility.
  • Working conditions
    Describe any special working conditions or physical demands associated with the job. This information is relevant when considering any additional compensation or benefits related to the job’s requirements. It also establishes clear parameters and mitigates risk when addressing ADA claims and reasonable accommodations.
  • Salary range or grade
    Although not always included in the public job description, it is important to determine the appropriate salary range or grade for the position based on its duties, responsibilities, qualifications, and the organization’s compensation structure.

By including these key elements in the job descriptions, organizations can effectively assess the relative worth of each job and establish a fair and consistent compensation plan. This ensures that employees are compensated appropriately based on their contributions and responsibilities within the organization. Additionally, job descriptions provide a foundation for well-written job postings, which help attract the right candidates during recruitment and provide clear guidance for employees’ performance expectations.


Create salary structures

A salary structure, also known as a pay scale or compensation structure, is a framework that organizes and defines the various pay levels or salary ranges within an organization. It establishes pay-setting parameters, helps to prevent pay compression, and streamlines the process of determining salary ranges for new or changing jobs. A typical salary structure consists of multiple pay grades or bands, each representing a range of compensation for jobs with similar value and responsibilities. The structure is usually informed by market data, job descriptions, pay equity, internal job evaluations, and the organization’s compensation philosophy.

The importance of a well-designed salary structure cannot be overstated. A sound salary structure ensures:

  • Pay equity
    It brings consistency and fairness to the compensation process. By categorizing jobs into specific pay grades or ranges, the salary structure ensures that employees with similar qualifications and job responsibilities receive comparable compensation. This fosters a sense of equity and transparency within the organization, reducing potential disparities in pay and promoting employee satisfaction and engagement.
  • Effective recruiting
    A salary structure supports effective talent acquisition and retention efforts. When an organization has a clear and competitive salary structure, it can attract top talent by offering competitive compensation packages that align with the external job market. Prospective candidates are more likely to be attracted to organizations that demonstrate clear and structured pay scales. Additionally, a well-defined structure helps retain employees, providing a clear path for career progression and advancement opportunities within the organization.
  • Predictable cost
    A salary structure aids in cost control and budgeting for the organization. By defining specific salary ranges for different job levels, the organization can better predict and plan for compensation-related expenses. It ensures that pay decisions are based on consistent criteria and align with the organization’s financial capabilities. This helps prevent ad-hoc or inconsistent salary adjustments that could lead to budget overruns.
  • Defensible performance management
    A salary structure supports performance management and employee development initiatives. The structure provides a framework for linking compensation to employee performance and contributions. This enables the organization to reward high-performing employees more appropriately, motivating them to excel and achieve their full potential. Additionally, it assists in identifying skill gaps and training needs within specific job grades, helping to shape targeted employee development programs that align with organizational goals.

Define pay practices

Once your salary structure has been established, you will need to define your pay practices; this determines how pay decisions are made. Defining pay practices involves establishing a set of guidelines and procedures that accompany the organization’s salary structure, providing the framework for making various pay decisions. The goal is to streamline the pay decision process, ensure consistency, equity, and alignment with the organization’s compensation philosophy. Pay practices address critical questions related to making pay decisions, such as setting new hire pay, determining pay factors, handling promotions, and criteria for implementing additional pay elements.

  • Establish base pay
    When setting base pay, your pay practices should consider and consistently apply measurable factors such as experience, education, and training/certifications. In addition, decisions will be informed by market position, pay compression, pay mix, internal equity, and work location. This ensures that employees are compensated fairly and competitively based on their skills and contributions to the organization.
  • Establish criteria for raises and promotions
    Beyond base pay, your pay practices should establish criteria for employee raises and promotions, outlining a clear process for determining pay increases. There is no one-size-fits-all all solution for how your organization will determine pay increases, but it is important that they be defined and applied consistently across the organization and that differences in how pay is calculated have well-defined boundaries. This may involve factors like competencies for advancing from one level to the next or the employee’s performance, the complexity of their role, and internal equity of their compensation relative to others in similar positions.
  • Set guidelines for additional compensatory options
    Add-on pay elements, such as additional compensation for graveyard shifts, holidays, out-of-class work, bilingual skills, and other specialized skills or duties, should also be addressed in pay practices. Clear guidelines should be established to determine eligibility for these additional compensatory options and the specific criteria for receiving them. This ensures that employees receive fair compensation for their extra efforts and skills.
  • Select a model for geographic pay differentials
    Organizations that have a distributed workforce model will need to determine how geographic pay differentials will be addressed. There are several models for determining unique differentials, including a standard pay rate, where a national average is used; regional pay differentials, where pay is determined for each new hire based on pay data from the new hire’s location; and geographic zones, where predetermined adjustments are used for specific regions. Regardless of the geographic pay differential model used, it is critical to be consistent and consider any regional pay equity or other compensatory legislation.

By having well-defined pay practices, organizations are positioned to create a transparent and efficient compensation system that supports employee engagement, retention, and overall organizational success. Your pay practices, as the playbook for pay decisions, provide a clear and consistent approach to rewarding employees, making the compensation process fair, understandable, and beneficial for both the organization and its workforce.


Put a compliance and equity lens on it

Reviewing pay practices for compliance with employment law is essential to ensure that your organization adheres to legal regulations and avoids potential lawsuits or penalties. Here are the steps to conduct a thorough review:

  1. Familiarize yourself with applicable laws
    Start by understanding the relevant employment laws that govern compensation in your jurisdiction. These may include federal laws (e.g., Fair Labor Standards Act – FLSA) and state or local regulations. Pay attention to laws related to minimum wage, overtime, wage deductions, pay equity, pay transparency, and other compensation-related requirements.
  2. Examine pay policies and practices
    Gather all the documentation related to your organization’s pay policies and practices. This includes job descriptions, pay scales, bonus or incentive plans, overtime policies, commission structures, and other compensation elements. Review these policies and practices in light of the applicable employment laws. Ensure that your organization is complying with minimum wage requirements, properly classifying employees as exempt or non-exempt for overtime purposes, and maintaining accurate records of hours worked.
  3. Conduct a pay equity analysis
    Analyze your organization’s compensation data to assess pay equity. Ensure that employees who perform substantially similar work are compensated fairly. Pay attention to potential disparities and take corrective action if any unexplained pay gaps exist. When evaluating pay equity, consider measurable and objective factors like job responsibilities, experience, education, and performance.
  4. Consider outside expertise
    If you have doubts or concerns about your organization’s pay practices, consider contracting a compensation specialist experienced with relevant employment laws. They can provide a comprehensive review and offer guidance on potential areas of non-compliance and ways to rectify any issues.

Regularly review your pay practices to stay up-to-date with changing employment laws and regulations. Keep accurate records of your review process and any corrective actions taken to demonstrate your commitment to compliance. An ongoing commitment to maintaining fair and compliant pay practices will protect your organization from legal risks and contribute to a positive work environment and improved employee morale.


Educate your workforce

Communicating pay practices to employees is essential for building trust, ensuring transparency, and promoting employee engagement. Here’s a step-by-step approach to effectively communicate pay practices:

  1. Provide a clear compensation policy
    tart by creating a compensation policy that outlines your organization’s pay practices, principles, and philosophy at the level of transparency appropriate to your company. Clearly explain how pay decisions are made, considering factors like job responsibilities, performance, market competitiveness, and internal equity. Ensure that the policy is written in plain language that is easily understandable to all employees, regardless of their background or level within the organization.
  2. Train your managers
    Managers and supervisors should comprehensively understand the organization’s compensation strategy to implement it and effectively make informed decisions regarding employee compensation. Ensure they know the criteria used to determine job levels and the factors that influence pay within each grade. They should be equipped to communicate with employees about the relationship between performance and rewards, motivating them to excel in their roles. This knowledge helps your organization maintain consistency, fairness, and transparency in its compensation practices.
  3. Communicate your pay practices regularly
    Share important updates and information about pay practices at least annually in companywide meetings or communications. Consider creating a dedicated section on the intranet or a compensation FAQ page to address common questions and concerns.
  4. Provide individualized compensation statements
    Consider offering employees individualized compensation statements that break down their total compensation package. Include details about their base salary, bonuses, incentives, benefits, and other compensation elements. Providing personalized statements helps employees understand the direct link between their performance and the rewards they receive. It also shows that the organization values each employee and recognizes their unique contributions.

By following this approach, organizations can ensure that their pay practices are effectively communicated to employees. Transparent communication about compensation builds a sense of fairness and trust among employees, enhancing overall job satisfaction and promoting a positive work environment. Additionally, it helps align employee expectations with the organization’s compensation philosophy, resulting in a more engaged and motivated workforce.

While defining a compensation program is a complex project, it can be tackled with confidence if you carefully consider the important elements that shape it. Once in place, a sound compensation strategy will ensure compliance with employment law, keep compensation within budget, encourage employee engagement and longevity, and facilitate organizational values and goals.


Related services from Trüpp

Compensation consulting services

Have your compensation practices become too complex to manage? Not enough time or expertise to tackle an update to your compensation program? Let the experienced professionals at Trüpp help you dial up your compensation program to ease the process of making pay decisions, competing for talent, and maintaining equitable pay practices.

Pay equity analysis

Whether complying with current state and local fair pay laws or trying to get ahead of the equal pay trend, Trüpp’s team of compensation specialists has the experience to assist your organization with navigating the complexity of compensation legislation. Let our team ensure your pay practices are aligned with relevant equal pay laws and best practices.

HR outsourcing services

HR management presents a complex set of responsibilities requiring specialized expertise that can be difficult to manage internally. Choose Trüpp as your third-party administrator for HR Services, Benefits Administration, and Leave Administration. Enjoy the benefits of our streamlined technology-enabled processes, carried out by a team of trained professionals ensuring maximum efficiency, compliance, and return on investment.

Online training

Elevate your workplace with convenient online training from Trüpp. Our modern approach is both practical and engaging for the learner and incorporates interactive tools proven to facilitate comprehension and retention. Trüpp offers respectful workplace training aligned with federal and state requirements, supervisor training designed to equip managers to lead, and comprehensive HR training.

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