Tag: pay management

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.

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A company’s salary scale is a reflection of its pay philosophy. A salary scale illustrates an organization’s values in terms of how it positions itself in the market and a demonstration of its internal pay policies – whether career-based or project-based. But more importantly, salary scales can tell us everything we need to know about an organization – from its internal cohesion explicitly differentiating the value they are willing to pay at each job level, to how they approach the symmetry between experience and responsibility.

In addition, organizations use salary scales as a tool to manage staff. Its structure shows the relationships of work from one grade level to the next, variable, or predictable movement within the organization, and expectations around career can be identified.

Types of Salary Structures

The three most common salary structures applied by most organizations is the traditional, broadband, and step pay structure.

  • Traditional Structure – typically has multiple grades, each with established salary ranges providing for a well-defined progression path from one job level to the next. Because of its straightforward design, career progression is clearer and easier to communicate because differences between job levels are very distinct and pay and career movement can be done in a controlled manner.
  • Broadband Structure – has fewer bands with multiple job levels grouped into each band. Many organizations find this structure to be more flexible where career progression can be done through lateral movement within each band and salary increases can be provided without necessarily warranting a promotion. However, differences between job levels is not as distinct in the broadband design which could be a cause confusion among staff.
  • Step Pay Structure – is made up of multiple grades, and each grade has several steps representing scheduled pay increments every year. The step pay structure’s rigid design allows for clear and predictable pay movement within each grade, but is linked to staff tenure/time rather than skills growth.

Tailoring Your Salary Structure to Support Multiple Employment Scenarios

Once an organization has decided on their salary structure type, each grade should now be tailored to illustrate different employment scenarios that can be expected in that organization.

What many do not realize is that there is more to building a salary scale than just simply setting minimum and maximum salaries at each level. There are two other things to keep in mind when designing your salary scale, and that is your Span and your Inter-Grade Differential. To put it simply, the span of your salary scale is the difference between the minimum and the maximum salary of each grade level. This ultimately defines the range of pay for work at any position. Your inter-grade differential, on the other hand, refers to the overlap between one grade level to the next. This allows you to differentiate the level of responsibility between grades. Organizations need to keep in mind that the spans of certain grade levels would depend on the nature of the jobs in that grade. For some jobs, their nature is to progress deeper into their grade resulting to more complex and highly-skilled work, some are expected to advance to the next higher grade, while for others, the nature of their role does not change.

In the case of project-based jobs, it would be logical to apply narrow spans for their grade levels because their roles are not designed to be short-term depending on the project. Career-based jobs, on the other hand, would have wider salary ranges to support growth in skills, moving them deeper into the grade or advancement to the next higher grade over time. Lastly, there is also time-based jobs where their nature does not change justifying a wide salary range but does not allow for much discretion for pay increments or career advancement.

Below are three examples of salary scales showing different employment scenarios, number of grade levels and overlaps between salary ranges:

The salary scale above is an example of a traditional structure with multiple grade levels with each grade mapped to one job level. Salary ranges for each grade is defined showing the value the employer has established for each level of work, and movement from one grade level to the next is clear.

The salary scale above is an example of a broadband structure that has fewer grade levels/bands, but with multiple job levels present in each grade. As staff accumulate more skills and experience, pay increases and progression can be provided through lateral movement within each band without necessitating a promotion.

The salary scale above is an example of a project-based employment scenario which also has grades or bands like the first two structure types above.  What makes this structure different is that each grade/band is designed for roles that have short lifespans to reflect the project timing, without the possibility of promotion. A structure like this is only appropriate for project-based organizations with definite term contracts. Project-based structures often have higher minimums reflecting the need for employers to reach experienced talent that can “hit the ground running.”  Employers utilizing such a structure should also consider project completion bonuses to improve retention.

A salary scale is essential for any organization. It affects all other areas of HR – from recruitment, to pay management, career development, and promotion. But we recognize that not all organizations have the capacity to design a salary scale. Birches Group has extensive experience in designing salary scales to fit the needs of organizations from different sectors and markets. 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.