Salary Survey Job Matching: The Juice is Worth The Squeeze
By Marj Atkins
Contributor to Empsight
Successful Human Resources (HR) practitioners know their business, their people and how they compare to the competitive market. One of the best ways to develop this knowledge is through job matching and survey participation. While survey participation is far from glamorous, the opportunities that are inherent in the process should not be overlooked. By incorporating the following best practices into the survey job matching process, Total Reward professionals will build relationships, expand their knowledge base and will increase HR’s credibility and value to the organization.
LAY THE GROUNDWORK
To complete the job matching and data submission process, it’s best to gather all the materials upfront to minimize disruptions. Tools that are helpful include:
- Job descriptions and/or job requisition postings – describe the job purpose, responsibilities, education and experience requirements.
- Job leveling guidelines – many organizations have created job architecture that includes high level guidelines that summarize the scope, knowledge, challenges, impact and requirements expected at each managerial and individual contributor job level. These guidelines help ensure consistency in job leveling practices across the organization and often seamlessly align to salary survey job levels.
- Employee data file – a download from the HRIS system that includes important current and historical data fields for each employee much of which will be included in the data submission (e.g. employee ID, title, job level, base annual salary, bonus target/actual, stock target value/ actual, supervisor, department, etc.).
- Organization Charts – are especially useful when meeting with managers to talk about their structure, the key roles, reporting relationships and the employees.
- Human Resources Policy Manual – most surveys contain questions regarding the organizations policies and practices that can be easily answered by referencing the HR policy manual.
- Annual Report - contains information regarding the company and subsidiary revenues, assets, projections, etc., that are used in the data analysis to create data cuts known as scope factors.
- Key Performance Indicators (KPI) – include metrics used to evaluate trends on topics such as increase budgets, voluntary and involuntary turnover, number of employees by status (e.g. part-time vs full time, exempt vs non-exempt), etc.
- Prior Year Job Matching – if this isn’t the first year of participation in a survey, having the previous year job matches is a great starting point. However, all job matches will require annual validation as all companies experience change in incumbents, jobs, and organizational structures. As more companies begin to rely on market pricing software, taking the time to add, remove and revise job matches becomes increasingly important. Failure to do so is likely to result in rework and assessment errors down the line.
ATTEND THE JOB MATCHING SESSION AND NETWORK
Many survey companies offer job matching sessions and survey education. The sessions will not only help practitioners better understand the survey jobs and data submission requirements, but it provides the opportunity to offer feedback and requests for survey revisions. Additionally, by attending job matching sessions there is an opportunity to learn about important updates that enable organizations to be proactive. While it’s not appropriate to share confidential information, there are still an abundance of topics that can be discussed during roundtable discussions or through socializing. Reviewing topics such as compliance, structural changes, mergers and acquisitions, office relocations, mobility, outsourcing, HRIS implementations, talent shortages and/or reductions in the workforce, etc., can be most helpful in determining best practices while avoiding costly missteps. Be sure to reach out and connect with peers as Total Reward and HR professionals develop career-long relationships.
PRE-MATCH TO THE SURVEY
The jobs that appear in salary surveys are considered to be “benchmark” jobs which means the positions are commonly found in the majority of companies and/or within specific industries. Benchmark jobs and levels serve as anchor-points in analyzing what the market commands at various percentiles and whether the company is lagging, meeting or exceeding its targeted market position per the organization’s compensation philosophy.
The job description briefs in the survey are intentionally broad and focus on the primary purpose or core responsibility of the position which means it’s very important to focus on job content. Never match jobs solely based on title as some companies may be more or less lenient with their titling practices. Ideally, the survey description should match the company position by 80% or more in terms of the primary focus of the role. Some surveys will allow participants to note when the match is more or less than has been described so the results can be calculated to reflect the degree of match. The reason 80% is considered to be a strong match is because it acknowledges that every company possesses some unique characteristics while also recognizing that the core responsibilities are similar in other organizations.
Using the materials collected, the next step is to pre-match 70% or more of the company jobs to the survey prior to meeting with managers. The reason for targeting 70% or more is that a significant number of reward programs rely on the data from the surveys. It is common to use the data to create salary structures, pay guidelines, increase budgets, pay for performance programs, etc., that will impact all employees. To ensure confidence in the decisions being made, it’s important to include as many jobs as possible to best represent the vast majority of employees.
PARTNER WITH MANAGEMENT AND THE HR BUSINESS PARTNER
Meeting with management and HR Business Partners to validate the job matches is one of the most important steps in survey matching for a variety of reasons. Not only does it increase the accuracy of the data submission, but it also builds relationships, buy-in and awareness of the company’s total reward programs.
Accuracy: No one understands the jobs and requirements better than the managers. In sharing the pre-matching survey briefs, be sure to have your tools ready so the manager can walk you through their organization, the roles and the employees who fill the jobs.
Explain the job matching approach.
- No title matching.
- Focus on job content for an 80% match to the survey job.
- Match as many jobs as possible.
- Focus on the job not the incumbent. This is potentially the most difficult concept to explain as there are situations where an employee’s efforts change the nature of the job. However, generally speaking, it is important for the manager to help match the “job” rather than trying to match each individual employee within the job to different survey positions. If the manager insists that each of the employees in a job title perform different duties, a more detailed review may be required to properly classify the employees. Until employees are evaluated, they should not be included in the data submission.
Work together to address any hybrid jobs that may exist. Hybrid jobs are positions that combine key responsibilities that typically exist in more than one job (e.g. an HR Representative that also runs payroll). Hybrid jobs tend to be found in small offices and remote sites where resource limitations exist. Generally, hybrid jobs should not be included in data submissions especially if they cross functions as in the example above; HR Representatives are in the HR function and payroll is often part of the Finance function. However, some surveys will accommodate a generalized functional match that can be used when companies aren’t able to breakout the job family specialization. For example, if the HR Business Partner was also responsible for Leadership and Development, this job might be able to be matched to an all-inclusive Human Resources survey job.
Review employees who shouldn’t be included in the data submission or any market studies that follow as they are considered to be anomalies or exceptions. Exceptions like the following are fairly common and may not be obvious by looking at the data alone.
- Sometimes exempt employees work less than a full-time schedule. Due to system limitations, they get entered into the HRIS system as full-time with a reduced annual base salary to account for the reduction in hours being worked rather than showing them as hourly or part-time. The only individuals aware that this was done may be the employee and the manager or HR Business Partner.
- In the second example, there may be employees who were demoted or reclassified into a lower level job, but their pay wasn’t reduced. This would be considered a “red-circled” employee.
- In the last example, there are times when an employee’s role changes yet they are left in their old title in an effort to retain them. This is another example of a “red-circled” employee.
Buy-In: When the market data results are reviewed at a later date, managers may not like or agree with the results. However, if they helped with the job matching, they still have ownership in the process which serves as the foundation of every market study. To help address any concerns they may have, it is recommended that more data be collected and/or the job matches be re-reviewed.
Education: Several companies have not been in a position to provide their managers with the education on Compensation and Benefits that they desire. Until formal education is possible, job matching sessions are a great first step to helping managers understand that compensation is a recognized field of learning with validated approaches and practices that are backed by research. When compensation meets with managers for job matching assistance, it allows for a non-confrontational exchange of information whereby managers can learn about the surveys and research the company performs, how the data collected leads to the creation of programs and tools and that ultimately, the company is taking action to achieve its total reward philosophy while ensuring adherence to budgetary constraints. Additionally, when discussing survey participation or data collection, it is the perfect time to raise awareness of Safe Harbor Compliance. Most managers and employees don’t know that calling their friends and peers at other companies to ask about pay practices may violate antitrust laws. By discussing the importance of using a qualified third-party survey provider, it will reduce the companies risk.
Safe Harbor Compliance: When participating in surveys that contain any type of “costs” to the company, it is very important to use a qualified third-party consultant.
- Age: data must be at least three (3) months old
- Participants: data must utilize a minimum of five (5) companies reporting information upon which each disseminated statistic is based.
- Scope: no individual participant company's information may represent more than twenty-five percent (25%) on a weighted basis of each disseminated statistic - no single employer may be identified with any specific information.
Marketing: Many managers and most employees are not aware that their company monitors competitive practices or that they have a targeted market position. Upon learning that the company invests in ensuring their practices remain competitive, managers and employees often feel more positive about their employer. By reaching out to managers to ask for their assistance in this process, it provides the ideal opportunity to market that the company cares a great deal about its employees as their people are their greatest asset.
Once matches are complete, the practitioner is ready to prepare for data submission. Most surveys provide detailed guidelines around their data submission files. Be sure to follow the guidelines and always keep one copy of the data submission file with employee identifiers for yourself so it can be referred to when answering the survey vendor’s questions and/or for future survey participation.
Before submitting the file to the vendor, perform the following quality checks as these are “red flags” that indicate there may be problem with the data;
- Employees in the same job matched to different levels or jobs in the survey.
- Employees paid above the range maximum.
- Employees paid below the range minimum.
- Wide swings in the salary data for a singular job.
- A cluster of salaries for a particular job are closely aligned except for an outlier.
- Bonus or stock targets that aren’t consistent for all employees within a job.
FOLLOW-UP WITH MANAGERS AND HR BUSINESS PARTNERS
Now that the relationship with the manager and HR Business Partner has begun, keep the momentum going. Plan a calendar of market studies so the results can be shared and discussed. If for some reason the level of granularity isn’t possible, consider presenting high level company versus market or functional areas versus market study results. At the very least, go back to the managers and share some of the policy and procedure trends. Present what is possible for the culture and continue the rapport. Most managers appreciate having someone they can turn to when they have questions or challenges involving the total rewards programs.