Tag: compensation


The salary scale is the single most important document in human resources. 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
• 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.


Designing a salary scale requires skill and expertise, balancing the internal considerations and team dynamics with the external market. It’s an art form, not just math.


In human resources, salary benchmarking serves many critical needs. It helps organizations assess the competitiveness of their total compensation versus the market, and is an important step in managing your human resources program. When organizations look to introduce new positions, salary benchmarking ensures a good understanding of the prevailing market conditions.

Here’s a short checklist – five steps – to follow for your next benchmarking exercise:

  1. Start with a High-Quality Survey

To do any benchmarking, you need market data, and that market data comes in the form of a survey.  The foundation to any market survey is its job matching approach. The job matching exercise ensures that jobs of similar levels of complexity are benchmarked against each other to establish common value across the market. 

It’s important to understand the methodology for job matching used by the survey provider and how the process is managed.  Are clients responsible for job matching, or does the consultant take the lead?

In Birches Group’s Community™ Market surveys, our survey specialists perform the job matching on behalf of every client, ensuring consistency and high-quality.

We use a job matching methodology that is simple, clear, and consistent, based on our Community™ Jobs evaluation approach.  Community™ Jobs considers three factors – PurposeEngagement, and Delivery.

Purpose enables us to examine each role within the organization and determine its primary objectives and how it supports the overall mission of the organization. Engagement identifies how each job interacts and collaborates with internal and external stakeholders to carry out its function. Delivery examines how each role plans, organizes and delivers work to fulfill the organization’s mission.

These three factors are present in any job, at any level. And together, they allow us to understand how an organization conducts business across all levels of work, starting with defining the purpose of its jobs, determining their level of engagement, and examining how each of its roles organizes and delivers service.

2. Focus on Grade Data

Many salary surveys take pride in the number of specific jobs captured in their surveys, but this is really a questionable practice.  Most organizations use generic pay bands and set pay ranges for all jobs at a particular level across all occupations.  Jobs with the same internal grade are paid in the same pay range, so the differences measured in the survey between different jobs are based not on job characteristics at all, but personal ones, like performance or tenure. Job data is also easily affected by the number of incumbents matched to a particular role, giving an illusion of precise differences based on volatile data of questionable value. The differences reported in the survey by job are misleading

When benchmarking your salaries, we believe that organizations should focus on grade data. Grade data is based on the job level and the associated ranges, and not the actual people sitting in those jobs. It’s a more reliable analysis because grade data captures all jobs with the same contribution level to an organization.  Grade data is a more stable representation of actual market movement versus incumbent salaries, which is highly variable.

3. Know Your Target Market

Before making your assessment, it is important that you select the survey comparators that are relevant to your organization. Out of the bigger survey sample, you will need to choose a smaller group of comparators relevant for your organization.

Market surveys can have twenty to over a hundred participants, or even more. But it does not necessarily mean that you compete with each one of them. If you are unsure where to begin with your selection, the criteria below are great places to start:

  • Organizations working in the same/similar sectors;
  • Those which you have lost staff to/hired staff from;
  • and Organizations in the same geographic area. 

You should also consider comparator organizations which share a similar Employee Value Proposition (EVP). Each company’s EVP is different, but look for organizations that have similar mission, approaches to career development, or pay and benefits philosophies similar to your own organization.

4. Identify Your Market Position

Once you have narrowed down the selection to your chosen comparators, the next step is to identify which level or percentile of the sample you want to target. But before making that decision, you will need to go back to your company’s EVP. Your EVP for total rewards should state your organization’s objective for competitive market position. 

Organizations typically state their target market position as a percentile of the targeted comparator group.  A position versus the 50th percentile or median of the market is common; going higher or lower is OK, too – it depends on what talent market you are trying to reach.

Being competitive is not always just about salaries. Allowances and benefits – monetary and non-monetary – can also be used to attract and retain talent. In our own experience, we have encountered companies that choose to position their salaries a bit lower in the market range but offer additional benefits on top of market practice. Again, depending on your company’s EVP, its all about striking that balance.

5. Always Use Fresh Data

If you are responsible for managing your company’s compensation and benefits, one concern that you might have is making sure that you are working with the most updated market information. Companies that have solid compensation policies will still struggle to maintain their competitiveness in the market if they are working with outdated information.

In Birches Group, we recognize that not all organizations update salaries at the same time every year or apply the same frequency between salary reviews. We know that organizations choose to participate in salary surveys when it makes sense for them. Our surveys are evergreen, with the opportunity to participate when it makes the most sense for you, and multiple publication dates.

Our Community™ Market salary surveys are updated three times a year, every AprilJuly, and October. This ensures that we always have the freshest data in our surveys and that any change to your compensation and benefits can easily be captured anytime during the year. Our evergreen approach also allows us to grow our survey sample throughout the year, providing our participants with the most robust data possible.

Birches Group provides labor market information for over 150 countries around the world. Our compensation and benefits surveys cover a full range of professional and support levels, providing information that ensures a client’s pay practices are aligned with the market conditions of leading employers in each country. 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.


Lately, we have been receiving a lot of inquires from clients about how to best manage compensation in high-inflation countries, including Ghana, South Sudan, Zambia, Argentina,  Venezuela, Kazakhstan, etc. (to name a few!). This post shares our guidance about managing compensation when uncontrollable events, like hyper-inflation, impact the labor market.

What are “Uncontrollable Events”?
The world is a complicated place to do business. There are many unforeseen circumstances that occur to disrupt the normal dynamics of a labor market. Examples include:

  • hyper-inflation, devaluation and other economic events;
  • natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, etc.;
  • periods of unrest, civil war or other armed conflicts; and
  • accidents impacting infrastructure such as the power grid and telecommunications.

I’m sure you can think of other situations that fit the definition.

You Need to Have a Policy for “Special Measures”
The common thread in all of the above uncontrollable events is uncertainty — nobody knows what’s going to happen, how long it will last, and what tomorrow may bring.

Special Measures Policy is a way to assist managers and staff when a crisis occurs. The policy outlines what the company will do when certain uncontrollable events occur.

It might not be what employees want or ask for, but it’s what they can count on from the Company, which turns out to be even more important. Let me give you some examples using the topic everyone is asking about – high inflation.

How to Manage Compensation During Periods of Economic Turmoil
Suppose the situation you are concerned about is similar to what happened in Ghana in the summer of 2014. Devaluation over the 12 months from July 2013 in Ghana was approaching 50%. Various sources reported the annual rate of inflation in Ghana around 15% and trending higher, perhaps towards 20% by year-end. Some sources were reporting even higher numbers.

The first thing to consider is whether or not the situation qualifies as one which should be addressed by special measures. Inflation of 15% to 20% is high, but if the increase is gradual each month then it might be possible to address it through normal compensation management, perhaps with an extra pay adjustment mid-year. But if the inflation rate were higher, say 25% or more, and the increase in inflation happened all at once (or over a short period of time), then special measures might apply. Devaluation is generally not a factor in determining salaries for local staff. However, high devaluation is normally followed by periods of high inflation, so it becomes relevant.

Our recommended approach to managing a situation like the one described above is as follows:

  • If the threshold you’ve set for inflation (for example) is reached or exceeded, apply your special measures. When establishing thresholds, be sure to identify multiple, reliable data sources. Be wary of official sources.
  • We suggest providing an across-the-board increase of no more than 25% of the inflation (e.g., if inflation is measured at 40%, provide no more than 10%, which is 25% of 40%). Be sure to consider your desired market position and adjust the increase to be sure you don’t exceed where you want to be positioned in the market.
  • Treat the increase as a temporary allowance separate from base salary.
  • Monitor the market over the next three to six months through the use of market surveys, and conversations with consultants and other employers in the market.
  • When the market movement, as measured by the surveys and other data, exceeds the amount of the temporary increase, it’s time to convert the temporary allowance into base salary.
  • Having two increases per year instead of one often helps smooth out the disruptions, too.

Why does this approach work? There are several reasons:

  1. You have a policy which can relied on by your employees, providing them with some certainty in an otherwise uncertain period in their country.
  2. While employees often express the need to be “kept whole” that is not how it works — your policy clearly indicates that the Company will offer only partial compensation for special measures. There are no surprises, and you continue to use cost of labor, not cost of living, to drive your compensation program.
  3. It’s a very conservative approach, allowing you to continue to monitor the situation and increase salaries slowly, ensuring you can continue to manage your compensation according to market conditions rather than uncontrollable economic events.
  4. It’s unlikely that you will over-compensate for an event, thus allowing you to have positive employee communications and avoid any possible acquired-rights issues.

There could be variations on how a Special Measures policy is implemented, which types of events are covered, and the specific steps each Company decides to follow.

The important thing is to have a policy and use it.

Employees want to rely on you to help them during a crisis, and managers want to be able to make decisions quickly during difficult times. A clearly written policy for Special Measures addresses these concerns easily.

Other Resources
I have written a few other articles for my blog on related topics that you might find useful as well. Although they were written a few years ago, the information is applicable to current conditions as well.

Here are three useful links:

Warren joined Birches Group in New York as a partner in 2007, following a long career in Compensation and Benefits at Colgate-Palmolive. He held the position of Director, International Compensation for 10 years immediately prior to joining Birches Group. Warren has broad experience working across the globe with clients on local national and expatriate compensation projects. He leads our Business Development and Client Services teams and manages our strategic partnerships around the world. Warren previously held leadership positions for the Expatriate Management Committee of the National Foreign Trade Council and was president of the Latin America Compensation and Benefits Forum.


My business is focused on advising employers on how best to structure their compensation and benefits programs in developing and high-growth markets. We have particular expertise in Africa, where our compensation and benefits surveys cover all 54 countries.

Recently, I helped conduct an employer roundtable for clients in South Africa, focused on fast growing African markets. It was a lively and informative discussion, but one of the charts we looked at stands out: A comparison of the pay mix across 20 different African markets.

You can see there is wide variation across the featured markets in how employers design their pay packages. Base salary is at least 60% of the total package in most countries, but the pattern is not uniform. That’s why it’s important to watch your A-B-C’s — Allowances, Benefits in-kind and Cash.

We are often asked by clients why the pay packages in Africa are so complicated? Why can’t they just pay cash and be done with it?

There are several reasons for the widespread use of cash allowances and benefits in-kind. Here are some to think about:

  • Benefits are provided for critical business reasons – for example, a commuter bus is needed to ensure workers can go to and from the office on time. In some countries, the lack of reliable public transportation, coupled with traffic congestion and the high price of shared taxis is a real hardship for workers. So the company steps in. Similarly, companies sometimes provide in-house medical clinics, free or subsidized meals, and even access to credit.
  • Historical reasons – many cash allowances used to be treated differently for tax purposes, providing a small advantage to staff through higher net income. Most of the special tax treatment is long gone, yet the practice of providing allowances such as 13th month or rep allowance persists.
  • Statutory requirements – certain allowances or benefits are mandated by local labor law, so there is no choice but to provide them.
  • Cultural reasons – a company car is a status symbol in many countries, and even if there is no advantage compared to cash, the car continues to be popular. Why? Well, your friends and neighbors can see the car in the driveway, but they cannot see the cash in your wallet!
  • To save the company money – Really? How can a company save money by providing extra allowances or benefits? If an allowance is paid just once a year at the end of the year, the company has essentially an interest-free loan from employees for the first 11 months of the year.

    We know employers benchmark their total compensation package against the market. The total compensation is a fixed pie that simply gets divided up according to each employer’s policies. Adding a new benefit or allowance usually means reducing other components, including cash, so that the total is still aligned to the market. It’s a zero-sum game, actually.

Our experience working with employers in developing markets in Africa and elsewhere around the world indicates that employers need to pay careful attention to their pay mix at all levels of the organization. If you focus just on cash, you will fall short in the eyes of your employees, even if the cash has been adjusted to “make-up” for benefits and allowances you decide not to offer.

Ironically, one of the most challenging aspects of compensation administration in these markets is reward communication. Many employees don’t fully understand what they get, why they get it and how the company calculates their packages.

So my advice is two-fold:

  • Be sure you have a competitive mix of cash, allowances and benefits in-kind, and that your “A-B-C’s” are aligned to the market and your internal policies and strategies.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Make sure your staff understand their pay packages in total, not just their paycheck. Focus on total rewards in your explanations.

Warren joined Birches Group in New York as a partner in 2007, following a long career in Compensation and Benefits at Colgate-Palmolive. He held the position of Director, International Compensation for 10 years immediately prior to joining Birches Group. Warren has broad experience working across the globe with clients on local national and expatriate compensation projects. He leads our Business Development and Client Services teams and manages our strategic partnerships around the world. Warren previously held leadership positions for the Expatriate Management Committee of the National Foreign Trade Council and was president of the Latin America Compensation and Benefits Forum.


Compensation professionals all use salary surveys as inputs into the management of salaries in their respective organizations.  As we all know, surveys capture market data for benchmark jobs – representative positions that are commonly found across many employers – and this data is then used to inform about other (non-benchmark) roles.

As a survey provider for high-growth and developing markets, Birches Group is focused on countries with smaller markets, fewer employers, and a myriad of different jobs, often defined differently from employer to employer.  In our surveys, we capture occupationally-specific data as a reference, because our clients demand it.  But are these references really valid or meaningful?  Below is an example from Côte d’Ivoire:

You can see that the range of pay provided by job family (green columns) closely matches the overall data at the 50th percentile of the market (grey rectangle).  The incumbent average data also varies a bit by job family, but clusters within the market range.

We would argue that fewer jobs might serve clients better. Here’s why.

Let’s suppose you hire three new staff this week – one in finance, one in marketing and one in engineering.  All three are placed in the same salary band in your company, say band C.  The starting salary for each is determined in accordance with your policy, and takes into account several factors, such as experience, education, past salary history and scarcity in the market.  You might also consider internal equity and compression issues.  In the end, all three individuals are successfully recruited and placed at three different salaries in band C, all within the lower half of the range.

Fast forward to the first pay review for the same three individuals.  What factors are used to determine their pay movement?  Performance?  Budgets?  Compa-ratio? Relationships with the boss and peers? Internal equity?  Yes to all of these.  Now how does their specific job role or occupation factor into the calculation?  Not at all!  You treat all the band C employees the same when applying your merit pay policy, don’t you?

Companies typically have generic pay bands.  Jobs with comparable value to the organization are placed in the same band, regardless of occupation or role.  Pay movement for individuals within the band is based on many factors, but it is company parameters and individual characteristics, not job or occupation, that determine pay progression.

If you agree with this conclusion, then what follows is even more important.  The occupational differences reported by most surveys, while certainly interesting, do not actually mean that the reason for the difference is related to the occupation or the role.  Rather, it illustrates that for any job, there is a range of compensation that varies according to individual circumstances.

Companies build their generic pay ranges by carefully selecting representative benchmark jobs across each job family.  They look for multiple sources of data for each benchmark job and often create elaborate calculations, with weightings of various sorts, and using different percentiles of the market data, to establish the final going rate.  This is then used to build a structure for all of the jobs at that grade in the company.  By blending data into a single going rate, you are in effect, using generic data for your structure.

So, why not simplify your life, and use generic data to start with?  Our grade averages report (other providers refer to them as level reports or roll-ups) provides all of the information you need to build a structure.  Because all job data we collect is included, even those positions with insufficient data to be separately reported, the sample size is the largest and most reflective of the market practice.

Best of all, you no longer have to wring your hands about what to do if you cannot match enough specific jobs to the survey.  As long as you know how the survey provider levels map to your internal grades, you’re good to go.

It’s time to rethink how surveys are conducted and used, and admit that false precision and complex processes are misleading and wasteful.  De-emphasizing jobs is the first step.  We will share more ideas in future articles.

Warren joined Birches Group in New York as a partner in 2007, following a long career in Compensation and Benefits at Colgate-Palmolive. He held the position of Director, International Compensation for 10 years immediately prior to joining Birches Group. Warren has broad experience working across the globe with clients on local national and expatriate compensation projects. He leads our Business Development and Client Services teams and manages our strategic partnerships around the world. Warren previously held leadership positions for the Expatriate Management Committee of the National Foreign Trade Council and was president of the Latin America Compensation and Benefits Forum.


More and more companies are consolidating operations into regional centers, using a base in one country to manage businesses in multiple markets. This makes good sense for several reasons:

  • Efficiency – regional offices eliminate duplicate resources and allow organizations to focus on customer-facing positions in smaller markets.
  • Expansion – a regional approach allows for gradual expansion into new markets, permitting “testing of the waters” before entering a market.
  • Local knowledge and expertise – staff in a regional center are usually familiar with more than one of the markets in the region, so can often help bridge market, language and cultural differences.

Regional offices sound like a great model for many companies. But how does a regional role impact compensation? This is a subject of considerable debate amongst compensation professionals.

Here’s my take:

Regional roles should be benchmarked against the market where they are physically located. So, a regional role based in Kenya, focused on East Africa, should be compared to the Kenyan market. Now, I know some of you would suggest I’ve got this wrong — you think a blended approach using data from multiple countries would be better. Why?

A blended approach could result in a lower number since lower-paying, less developed markets come into the mix. In the East Africa example, would you include Ethiopia? Rwanda? Tanzania? Uganda? Burundi? In Central America, would you look at data from all six countries for a position in El Salvador?

I believe a better approach is to use local market data for the regional office location. It’s usually the largest and most sophisticated market and typically has a more robust (but not necessarily the highest-paid) labor market. But how do you match regional jobs with local country roles? What if there are insufficient regional positions in your survey for a good measure of the market?

The simple solution is a regional “premium” which usually takes the form of an increased grade level. For example, in Kenya, if a country-based Brand Manager is an internal grade 8, a regional Brand Manager might be slotted as a grade 9. This reflects a premium for the regional role to compensate for added complexity, multiple market coverage, more customers, etc. You may debate if this is enough — that really depends on your business and how the jobs are actually structured.

This is a better approach because you end up using solid benchmarks to build your country market profile, and then overlay the regional jobs using mostly internal criteria. This makes sense because each organization structures their regional roles a bit differently, and none are really solid survey benchmarks.

Another point-of-view argues that a regional position competes for talent across many countries, so all of the countries are appropriate to consider in deciding on compensation levels. But, each country market is separate, impacted by multiple factors besides availability of talent. Consider standard of living, exchange rates, tax and social insurance differences and benefits, to name a few. It’s impossible to reconcile these factors into a truly blended regional pay rate, unless you are willing to just take the highest country as the starting point. Even if you could create a blend using multiple country data, there is a high likelihood that for more senior level professional roles, the sort that are usually regional, there won’t be clear benchmarks from every country of the region used in your blend.

One more issue to think about is how to treat foreign nationals in a regional office. Most regional offices will recruit nationals from neighboring countries. Are these incumbents expats, even if there is no possible role for them in their home country? Many will have previously migrated to the regional office headquarters and are then hired; will you provide any special benefits? How should expenses such as schooling be treated, especially if languages are different (for example, a Uruguayan in Brazil, or a French national in Germany)?

My view is “it depends.”

It depends on each unique situation, and sometimes it will be necessary to provide something extra. Generally, though, I would discourage treatment of locally-hired foreigners as expats, and even for those recruited from the region, a modified local-plus approach makes more sense for the company.

By now, you are probably thinking that this stuff is getting really complex. You’re right – this is a complicated subject. What is your experience managing pay for regional roles? What pitfalls have you encountered? What are your “better” ways?

Warren joined Birches Group in New York as a partner in 2007, following a long career in Compensation and Benefits at Colgate-Palmolive. He held the position of Director, International Compensation for 10 years immediately prior to joining Birches Group. Warren has broad experience working across the globe with clients on local national and expatriate compensation projects. He leads our Business Development and Client Services teams and manages our strategic partnerships around the world. Warren previously held leadership positions for the Expatriate Management Committee of the National Foreign Trade Council and was president of the Latin America Compensation and Benefits Forum.