Use Visuals to Tell Your Compensation Story
Workspan Daily
April 07, 2022

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When you’re trying to grab the attention of senior management, remember that they like a good story, especially one with pictures. 

If you’re addressing your organization's single largest expense — employee pay programs — then those pictures become charts, graphs and other visual aids that illustrate the presentation points. 

Visuals capture attention and build stronger connections and memories than text or even the spoken word. Show a picture and the image is locked in, while relying only on text becomes a risk. The drone of dry prose can grow tedious and is liable to lose the attention of all but your strongest supporters.

Attention grabbers that work include: 

  • Speedometer style formats that graphically indicate the current situation against the target
  • The green light, yellow light, red light approach, again to colorfully illustrate current status against objectives
  • Pie charts, tables, even regressed lines that illustrate a story
  • Stick figures or other "folksy" characters that integrate humor with your message.

People remember images because they capture the imagination. They'll have a harder time recalling (and taking to heart) whatever you said or whatever you wrote, so concentrate on your supportive imagery.

Make the story a short one. I once worked for a CEO who thought that any compensation proposal could be reduced to a single piece of paper, including plenty of white.  

“If you need more than that,” he would say, “it’s not such a grand idea.”

You Need a Plan

However, before you settle on the visual format best suited to sell your case you should focus on the data points necessary to make that case. Remember the old adage that a dream without a plan is only a fantasy?  If you don’t take action steps to convert ideas to reality, what you’ll be left with is smoke and mirrors — an illusion — with little results to show for your efforts.

For those of you who have ever been on a successful diet, you likely treated the effort like a planned project. Experts advise that participants write down everything they eat, have goals to strive for and milestones to gauge progress. It helps to have a plan and to keep score to know where you stand and where you’re headed.

To accomplish this, you should create quantifiable metrics that will collectively illustrate the well-being of your compensation program(s), and then establish baselines (current state) and targets for each performance indicator. This key step will help you understand whether your costs are being contained, whether the ROI on employee rewards is at the level your company requires and where your problem areas are.

Commonly Used HR Metrics

  • Average salary/wage
  • Compa-ratios (comparison of pay to a salary range midpoint)
  • Count of employees per segment (hourly, non-exempt, professional, management)
  • Average performance ratings (latest cycle)
  • Average annual pay rise granted for each performance rating
  • Count and average of promotional and “equity” increases
  • Voluntary turnover (employees who decided to leave)
  • Average employee age and length of service

We could go on and on, but you get the point. Refine these and any other quantifiable factors by further segmentation; per salary grade, employee group, male/female, etc. Make sure each metric is measurable because guesses don't count. A compelling argument demands accuracy.

To make these metrics work for you, and to avoid a series of make-work arithmetic exercises that do nothing more than capture minutiae, be certain to measure what's important to your business — not simply what data you can capture. Make sure the importance of the metric is clear to management (or can be made so). Management needs to grasp the importance of success, to understand why a metric is important and what achievement would mean.

Once you have the right metrics established (collectively called the “dashboard”) and a baseline in place, you'll readily see where the problems lie. Then set specific targets going forward to improve on these weak areas, and create a series of milestones to mark your progress. 

What To Look For

Every organization has different pressure points. However, if your metrics data indicates any of the following situations, management should be informed.

  • Average performance ratings that exceed how the business itself was rated
  • A workforce where key segments are approaching retirement age
  • Promotion and equity or pay increase adjustment activity that overwhelms the merit budget
  • Low compa-ratios that indicate you're not paying your salary ranges
  • Any figure that is an unpleasant surprise

When you’re telling a story to management, make it compelling with facts and visuals that feed off the critical metrics analysis that forms the pulse of your business. Put a picture in their head. Then bring home the sale by showing how to solve these challenges with practical strategies designed to end your story on a happy and successful note.

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