Author: Kai Donesa

Pay Management using Skills-based Approach

To effectively manage salaries, organizations need a compensation policy that will guide them during the scale design exercise. A compensation policy outlines the organization’s approach to selecting and refining their relevant comparator sample, determining their target market position, identifying which benefits to assess and include in their pay package, as well as determining the frequency of salary scale reviews. There is a misconception that salary survey data alone, can give organizations what they need to manage compensation. But in Birches Group, we believe that having a strong compensation policy, coupled with good survey data, will steer organizations in the right direction toward the answers that they need. Without a compensation policy, it will be difficult for organizations to know where to start, or what to do with the survey data that they have.

When establishing your compensation policy, a few things need to be considered, beginning with identifying one or more surveys of high quality as your source of market data. Be sure you fully understand each survey’s methodology and approach so you can easily aggregate the results in your market comparison.

Once you have your salary survey data, the next step to designing your salary scale is to establish a refined comparator sample comprised of employers important or comparable to you. While having a robust salary survey may sound ideal in providing an extensive range of data, not all survey participants will be relevant. Your compensation policy should clearly identify the number of comparator organizations to be selected and the criteria they must meet to be included in your market comparison.

Building a Compensation Policy, Examples of Criteria to Consider:

  • Talent competitors (those you recruit talent from and lose talent to)
  • Industry peers
  • Organizations of the same size or in the same geographic location
  • Other leaders in your market outside of your sector

Choosing the right target comparators is key to be able to narrow down the bigger survey data to a group of more significant employers that share qualities parallel with your organization. Additionally, organizations need to keep in mind that participants in a survey can change each year, with new ones added and old ones dropped. The key is having consistent criteria that ensure, even with a changing survey sample, your selected comparator group is consistent and still sufficient to meet your requirements.

Once you have selected your target comparators or target market, you will need to identify your target market percentile or target market position. Selecting your target percentile would depend on how competitive you want to be against your chosen market, while also taking your organization’s budget into consideration. Your organization’s compensation policy should define the ideal market position it requires to reach the talent it needs to recruit and retain. Further, the compensation policy should also identify if all levels in the organization will have the same market position or will be tailored to each level.

If your organization is facing challenges to recruit or retain talent, you should reassess your target market position and adjust it to ensure your organization is positioned competitively against your chosen market. Sometimes recruitment and retention issues are limited to specific grades or bands. While some organizations may use the same target market position for all grade levels, labor markets are not uniform and do not move in a linear fashion. Certain grade levels can move faster due to high demand, hot skills, or other considerations. Organizations can choose a more competitive target market position for job levels where these talent challenges exist.

In our article, It Starts with Jobs, we explained that there are four labor markets, not just one. In Birches Group’s Community™ approach, these are called the four job clusters. Different grade levels in the labor market are grouped into these four job clusters and movement from cluster to cluster can be very distinct, where jobs at higher grade levels often move much quicker than jobs at the lower levels. It is important for employers, when comparing their salaries to the external market, to recognize this when deciding which grade levels to adjust as it allows for a more refined approach that is targeted to the organization’s needs, rather than simply applying an across-the-board adjustment.

Now that you have identified your target market comparators and target market position, your compensation policy should also outline the benefits that will be included in your compensation package. If you are looking to introduce benefits into your compensation package or change your existing benefits package, you’ll need to consider the following:

Some Things to Consider if You’re Looking to Introduce Benefits into Your Compensation Package:

  • Locally Mandated Benefits – The first place to start is by checking if there are any benefits, whether cash or in-kind, that are prescribed by law. Different countries have different mandatory benefits; some may have mandatory bonuses or allowances, while others may have mandatory contributions toward pension or medical coverage.
  • Market Practice – When assessing your benefits package, it also helps to know the common practice in the local market. While some practices may not be mandatory, if they are provided by most employers in the market, it may be a competitive requirement to follow the market. Your survey sources should be able to provide detailed information on all types of benefits.
  • Benefits that Promote Desirable Behaviors – Some employers use benefits to promote desirable behavior among their staff. For example, a performance bonus to reward achievement and encourage good performance, and seniority bonus or subsidized loans to promote retention.

Finally, your compensation policy should also identify how frequently your salaries will be reviewed. In Birches Group, we recommend that organizations review their salaries and benefits every year to ensure that their salary scale is adaptable to changing operational realities in terms of budget and resources, and evolving team structures, as well as ensure that their scales are aligned to their target market position and is able to adapt to changing market trends.  

It is important for organizations to have well-articulated pay policies in place that will not only guide how they develop their salary structure and manage compensation, but also provide the framework for forming strategies around recruitment and retention of their staff, proving this to be a valuable HR tool. Birches Group is ready to assist in establishing the appropriate compensation policy that can address your organization’s needs. Contact us to learn more.


Bianca manages our Marketing Team in Manila. She crafts messaging around Community™ concepts and develops promotional campaigns answering why Community™ should be each organization’s preferred solution, focusing on its simplicity and integrated approach. She has held various roles within Birches Group since 2009, starting as a Compensation Analyst and worked her way to Compensation Team Lead, and Training Program Services Manager. In addition to her current role in marketing and communications, she represents Birches Group in international HR conferences with private sector audiences.

Follow us on our LinkedIn for more content on pay management and HR solutions.

Salary Scales

A salary structure is essential in every organization. It is the single most important document in human resources. Build a salary scale and have a salary scale, why bother? It tells you everything you need to know about an organization:

  • How the organization positions itself in the market
  • The value the organization places on its jobs
  • How relationships across jobs are managed
  • Possible career progressions
  • And where the organization stands on equity and transparency

For an organization to work efficiently and achieve team cohesion, a well-balanced salary scale is crucial as it drives all other critical HR programs — everything from recruitment, staff retention, promotion, and ultimately career development.

Many organizations fail to realize the value of a salary scale. More than just pay ranges, a salary scale, when used correctly, can guide an organization to efficiently execute all its different HR functions and strategies, from managing compensation to managing its people.

Beginning with compensation, though, the fundamental purpose of a salary scale is to provide a framework for managing salaries. Setting competitive hiring rates that facilitate recruitment, establishing pay ranges that show value for experience, and defining the differences in pay from one job level to the next — all these need to be managed carefully to ensure that organizations are attracting and retaining the talent they need while maintaining team cohesion.

Of course, salary scales’ use extends beyond compensation. Learning and development milestones can be defined by the underlying job structure used to build the salary scale, which enables effective career pathing. Salary scales can also facilitate the mechanisms to reward employee development through recognition of skills growth. Finally, a well-designed salary scale demonstrates and promotes fairness and equity within the organization.

To develop salary scales to meet the unique requirements of your organization, you need to start by establishing your job structure, defining your compensation philosophy, and developing your scale design methodology.

This is the first of our blog series on “Building Your Salary Scale.” In our next post, we will be discussing how you can begin to develop your organization’s compensation philosophy and the different elements that need to be considered. Birches Group can help design a salary structure that meets your organization’s needs. Contact us to get started.


Bianca manages our Marketing Team in Manila. She crafts messaging around Community™ concepts and develops promotional campaigns answering why Community™ should be each organization’s preferred solution, focusing on its simplicity and integrated approach. She has held various roles within Birches Group since 2009, starting as a Compensation Analyst and worked her way to Compensation Team Lead, and Training Program Services Manager. In addition to her current role in marketing and communications, she represents Birches Group in international HR conferences with private sector audiences.

Follow us on our LinkedIn for more content on pay management and HR solutions.

Pay Management using Skills-based Approach

One of the most significant responsibilities of human resources is pay management. Without a clear and objective way to manage salaries, managers are frustrated, employees are disappointed and organizations risk losing employee engagement. Traditional approaches use “merit” increases tied to individual performance don’t really work well, failing to achieve the key objectives of the process – to motivate and retain staff, and to differentiate between staff based on performance.  We think there is a better way.

As we explained in our article about Pay for Performance, pay management consists of two critical parts – recognizing the accumulation of skills and knowledge for the job, and rewarding individual and team achievement.  In this article, we will explore our ideas about how skills and knowledge can drive pay.

Skills, Not Time

If you ask any manager who their best employees are, they will know.  Dig a little deeper, and you will hear things like “Sophia is very experienced” and “Marc really knows the job well.”  In a lot of cases, these star employees have been in their jobs for a while.  Managers often use time as a proxy to measure experience – the longer the time in the job, the better the employee gets at doing it.  Sometimes, though, an employee with a short tenure excels at their job – their level of skill is one typically observed after a longer period.

Birches Group believes pay movement should reflect the value of an employee’s experience in their role.  Over time, employees gain experience through the accumulation of skills and knowledge.  It follows that growth in salary should be a recognition of growth in skills and knowledge.  The challenge is how to measure it, and how to apply the measurement to salary management.  Time is a terrible way to measure experience. 

Responsible pay management should be based on a framework that can clearly measure an employee’s capacity, rather than their achievement. As an employee grows and develops a deeper understanding of their role over time, the required skills and expected outputs naturally become bigger and more complex. Staff need to continuously learn and develop new skills to enable them to engage and deliver work at higher, more intricate levels.  In this model, growth in skills and knowledge drives increases in pay.

The Five Stages of Knowledge

Birches Group has developed Community™ Skills, a tool to measure experience.  In the Skills tool, we have identified five Skills Stages at each grade level:

  • The Basic stage reflects the minimal acceptable understanding of the job and is capable of addressing simple issues in standard operational settings.
  • The Proficient stage reflects the level of understanding of work where more complex issues can be addressed and the employee can adapt to most operational settings.
  • The Skilled stage is achieved with a complete conceptual understanding of the job and the ability to be effective in all types of operational settings.
  • The Advanced stage shows the level of knowledge that enables a high degree of independence in the job and reflects a broad understanding of concepts that also overlaps with the next higher grade level.
  • The Master stage indicates the highest level of understanding of the job and overlaps with the next higher grade level. The level of understanding found at the master stage also allows for advising on process and systems improvements, which in turn results to better outputs and stronger capacity.

These Skills Stages were developed using the Birches Group Community™ Jobs approach as the underlying foundation.  For each Birches Group level, milestones are defined by Skills Stage for each of six Indicators – two Indicators for each job evaluation factor – as shown in the chart below:

Birches Group Community™ Jobs approach

With six Indicators and five Skills Stages, there are a total of thirty (30) milestones to measure skills and knowledge per grade.

Measuring skills and knowledge

Aligning Skills to Pay

In a salary range, there are three important points – the minimum, the midpoint, and the maximum. The midpoint of a pay range represents full capacity for that particular role, while the minimum reflects entry level experience for that grade, and the maximum shows a highly developed level of skill that may overlap with the next higher grade. Using these three points in the pay range, we can easily establish a mapping of the Skill Levels to pay ranges:

Skill Levels for pay management

The illustration above can be applied to most grade levels.

Pay Management Using the Community™ Skills Solution

With the five Skills Stages mapped to the salary range, it is possible for any organization to easily manage pay clearly and objectively. Using Birches Group’s Community™ Skills solution, pay increases are linked to increases in Skills Stage.  Organizations can determine the specific set of rules to govern these increases.

For example, you can grant pay increases when a new Skills Stage is fully achieved.  Another approach is to grant an increase for partial achievement, with a proportionate reduction in the increase amount.  You can also require that growth be broad and encompass milestones from each of the three factors, to ensure well-rounded growth is being rewarded.  Organizations could even pay per milestone.

This innovative approach to pay management eliminates the guesswork for managers and HR and assures that pay increases are explicitly tied to an employee’s growth in their job.  Organizations can objectively measure experience and ensure that higher salaries are paid to those employees who are the most capable in their job.  At the same time, the skills-based approach to pay management is motivating and empowering for staff.  There are clear milestones to strive towards, and managers can conduct meaningful discussions with their staff about how best to grow their skills and grow their career.

Finally, an objective and deliberate framework that can truly allow for an engaged workforce. Contact us to learn more about Community™ Skills.


Bianca manages our Marketing Team in Manila. She crafts messaging around Community™ concepts and develops promotional campaigns answering why Community™ should be each organization’s preferred solution, focusing on its simplicity and integrated approach. She has held various roles within Birches Group since 2009, starting as a Compensation Analyst and worked her way to Compensation Team Lead, and Training Program Services Manager. In addition to her current role in marketing and communications, she represents Birches Group in international HR conferences with private sector audiences.

Follow us on our LinkedIn for more content on pay management and HR solutions.


Performance management is the Achilles Heel of HR.  It remains a contentious process that many companies have now abandoned, or at least are thinking of abandoning. A tool initially intended to communicate management objectives and keep the work of staff aligned throughout the year has now evolved into a dreaded exercise that just further leads to a disengaged workforce. With its rigid design and lack of adaptability, the traditional performance management approach has left many questioning its effectiveness. But without it, organizations are deprived of the feedback system needed between management and staff.  Sure, you can abandon performance reviews, but before you do that, check with your lawyers to see if it’s a good idea.  They will probably suggest that it is not.

Clearly, performance management is broken.  Let’s explore why it’s broken and look at some ways to fix it.

The Failure of Cascading Objectives

In classic performance management, the broader company objectives provide the framework which is cascaded into the different departments and then finally delivered as individual objectives to staff. While this may certainly sound like a logical approach, many find the entire process confusing, subjective, and frustrating.

One of the biggest issues with the cascading objectives approach is that it is a one-sided conversation. Many employees, especially at the lower levels, find it difficult to understand the goals set out for them by management with respect to their actual roles. Since the approach does not allow the goals of the staff to be centered around their jobs, there is often a disconnect between what the employee is hired to do in the first place versus what they are asked to accomplish by the end of the year.

Another issue with the cascading objectives approach is that the process does not allow for much flexibility. Strategic goals established by management at the beginning of the year can easily change after some time. But classic performance management tools can be difficult to use, and executives are often reluctant to update their goals and go through the entire process again.

Finally, because managing cascading objectives is so time-consuming, running the exercise always requires extensive monitoring by HR. The problem with this top-down approach is t takes too much time.  By the time the process reaches lower-level staff, the allotted timeframe for the entire exercise has already passed.

With these challenges, it is easy to see why many organizations have chosen to give up on performance management entirely. But before you throw in the towel, shouldn’t you consider some alternatives? 

What if we tell you that there is a better approach? One that brings the entire performance management exercise back to what it was originally meant to measure – results.  Introducing Community™ Performance from Birches Group.

Why Do You Need Performance Management, Anyway?

Community™ Performance

In our article about pay for performance, we highlighted the key differences between recognizing employee growth in their job and rewarding employee achievement. The former is focused on measuring the accumulation of skills and knowledge in staff as they become more expert in their job roles.  This growth should be recognized through pay movement.  Employee achievements, on the other hand, should be measured and rewarded with one-time recognition through bonuses or other, similar tools.

Like the performance of the stock market, past achievement does not guarantee future achievement.  Therefore, performance should not be the basis for salary movement. Instead, achievements attained during the performance year should be celebrated and rewarded relative to that year.

Linking Performance to Purpose

One of the most glaring flaws of classic performance management is that it sets goals for staff that are often irrelevant to their jobs. Birches Group’s Community approach to performance management centers its expectations on performance to the actual definition of the job level. While specific initiatives set for each job may change year after year, the purpose of the job level remains the same.

Going back to Community’s approach that jobs at every grade level can be evaluated using only three factors – Purpose, Engagement, and Delivery – the same can be used to measure performance by simply asking three questions:

  • Purpose – Does the employee have good ideas?
  • Engagement – Did they listen and adapt to customer feedback?
  • Delivery – Did they deliver on time with high levels of quality?

Using an approach that measures achievement by linking it back to the job evaluation factors, this provides organizations a performance management system that is standardized, simplified, and can easily align with objectives across different grade levels and teams.

When the focus of measuring achievement becomes purpose-driven, employees will better understand how their objectives contribute to the overall mission of the organization, resulting to a more engaged and motivated workforce. Equally, this can allow employees the responsibility for setting their own initiatives in a way that contributes to the organization’s strategic priorities giving them ownership of their own performance.

Focusing on the Good

In traditional performance management, only the achievements of high performers are celebrated often causing the rest of the staff to feel demotivated and ignored. Because it uses a five-level rating system, many see the Achieve rating as inadequate. But the fact is most staff in an organization are reliable and satisfactory performers – those that deliver what is expected of them in a performance year. If most of the staff were able to carry out their jobs effectively by the end of the year, why only reward the achievements of an exceptional few?

Through Community Performance, we believe that achievement should be connected to reliable and satisfactory performance – celebrating the many good performers that are able to Achieve their primary purpose. Instead of a five-level rating system, we have developed a four-level rating system where there is only one level above Achieving the primary purpose of the job. This way, outstanding accomplishments achieved by an exceptionally few high performers during the year can be rated accordingly, but still allowing majority of staff to be rewarded.

360° Performance

Classic performance management applies a top-down approach where only the direct supervisor provides feedback on an employee’s performance. While it is the supervisor that would be familiar with the work of their staff, allowing for only one perspective can create room for partiality.

Additionally, the standards used in classic performance management has not always been clearly defined, making it possible to have differing interpretations among supervisors leading to inconsistent ratings despite similar levels of performance among some of the employees.

Our Community performance management approach allows for multi-rater perspectives. By applying our 360° feedback from the supervisor, peers, and external clients, this gives depth to the assessment and allows for a more holistic and objective outlook of one’s performance.

Traditional performance management has left many organizations confused and frustrated. But measuring performance remains essential to good workforce management. It provides an opportunity to link everyone’s contribution to the success of the organization. Rather than giving up on performance management, Birches Group is here to help your organization provide structure and clarity. Contact us to learn more.

Bianca manages our Marketing Team in Manila. She crafts messaging around Community™ concepts and develops promotional campaigns answering why Community™ should be each organization’s preferred solution, focusing on its simplicity and integrated approach. She has held various roles within Birches Group since 2009, starting as a Compensation Analyst and worked her way to Compensation Team Lead, and Training Program Services Manager. In addition to her current role in marketing and communications, she represents Birches Group in international HR conferences with private sector audiences.