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Compensation Structure: Salary Adjustment Strategies For Small Businesses

Compensation Structure: Salary Adjustment Strategies For Small Businesses

When you own a business, salaries are a big deal. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, employees’ wages can account for 18% to 52% of your operating budget. Your employees play a key role in the success of your business. A formal compensation structure can help your business manage salary expenditures and retain top talent that will help your company grow.

What Is A Compensation Structure (And How Can It Help My Business)?

A compensation structure, also known as a salary structure, is a framework that a business uses to determine compensation. A good structure sets pre-existing guidelines to delegate these pay increases in a fair, unbiased manner, as opposed to using inconsistent factors like negotiation or previous salary history. A formal structure typically includes standards for the following forms of compensation:

  • Starting salaries for various positions.
  • Managing when and how raises are addressed and awarded.
  • Distributing bonuses and commissions.

Formalizing how you compensate your workers achieves a couple of goals for your business. To start, it creates a structure where you can create accurate staffing projections going into the hiring process, while allowing you to map out how future raises and bonuses will impact your total salary expenditures.

A formal salary structure also gives employees more insight on how pay decisions are made. This information allows you to justify decisions with existing data and make the criteria for salary adjustments clear to everyone.

Types Of Compensation Structures

The good news about creating salary structures is that you don’t have to invent the wheel. There are some established compensation structures out there that you can adopt and adapt as needed. These include the following structures:

  • Broadband
  • Grade and range
  • Step
  • Market-based

Broadband structures

A broadband approach is a more traditional structure that was common for older companies. This type of structure creates “bands” of earnings that are based on seniority and position levels. As employees move up the hierarchy and stay with the company longer, they can move up to new bands.

Broadband structures were very popular when people tended to stay in one job for most or all of their career. These structures typically have fewer bands, but each band has a broad salary range and multiple positions within each band.

This type of system is good for rewarding employees who acquire new skills to advance from one band to another, or for companies who want extra flexibility in determining pay and promotions within a single band. However, the length of time it can take to move from one band to another may not appeal to ambitious young workers who want to be recognized for their achievements.

Grade and range structures

Grade and range structures are similar to broadband structures, but the “bands” are usually much smaller and are not tied to length of tenure. Every grade allows a company to group similar jobs together within and base that grade’s range on market rates, overall responsibilities, and organizational value. As employees advance to new higher grades, businesses can increase the salary range and earning potential to accommodate that level of value.

The added bands allow for more flexibility to jump from one pay grade to another, rewarding employees that perform well. A series of grade levels allows business owners to visualize each level of responsibility and communicate them to employees. These qualities make grade and range structures a natural fit for larger businesses, companies with extended management hierarchies, and organizations with diverse roles who want more flexibility to promote employees earlier without as much of a commitment as broadband.

Step structures

While broadband and grade structures take increased skill or responsibility into account for promotions and hiring, step structures are much more focused on length of service. “Stepping” sets up a structure where employees receive fixed pay rate increases based on a pre-set schedule. For example, an employee with four years of experience would make more than one with two, depending on your stepping schedule.

Step structures offer a couple of key advantages for both employers and employees: they’re easy understand and simple to manage. This type of compensation structure usually involves smaller increases per step, but employees will advance predictably up the ranks. Employees can very quickly understand what it takes to increase compensation, while employees can easily automate salary adjustment and forecast future expenditures based on set dates.

These advantages make step structures a natural fit for businesses with smaller compensation budgets or those that want to ensure steady increases to company spending. Organizations that prefer to tie their compensation philosophy to tenure instead of individual performance will also find step structures appealing.

Market-based structures

Market-based salary structures are less about what is happening inside your company and more about external factors. Businesses with this type of philosophy will base salaries and proposed pay increases on data gathered from outside sources.

This approach allows employers to benchmark starting salaries and promotions around what the market pays for similar positions. Businesses can then evaluate other external factors – cost of living, average compensation by location, etc. – to adjust their structure to their needs. For example, a business in a smaller market may offer slightly lower salaries than big cities because the cost of living is lower. By benchmarking salaries, businesses can be flexible enough to compete with the market for top talent.

How To Create Your Salary Structure

Now that you know the various salary structures, it’s time to create one that‘s best suited for your business. This process depends requires a few key steps to not only identify which type of structure is right, but also put that plan in motion.

Identify the value of each position in your company

Even though there may be salary data available for specific roles, they aren’t specific to your business. Take some time to evaluate just how essential each role is to the operations of your company. If a job is critical to your success, you may want to put that role in a higher pay grade or adjust your structure accordingly. This process will help you cater your structure to your exact needs so that you can attract and retain talent for pivotal positions while balancing your expenditures.

Consider how your company stands compared to your market

Your place in the market can dictate a lot about how you approach your compensations structure. This process involves asking yourself a lot of questions. For example, do you need to pay employees more than market-level wages to retain key talent? Do you need to adopt a lower-than-market strategy to stay within budget? Are employees in your market more likely to stay with your company for a long time?

Each answer will help dictate which approach is right for your company. Identifying opportunities in your region and industry can help you balance what’s most valuable to your business with what you need to pay to compete with competitors.

Formalize your compensation structure and align current employees with your strategy

Once you have the answers you need, you can build a compensation strategy tailored to your needs. This compensation plan should include a detailed breakdown of each salary range, pay grade, or steps so that nothing is left unanswered. Document everything from minimum and maximum salaries for each position, timelines, and other details that pertain to your structure of choice.

It’s also important to remember that this new structure applies to not only future hires, but also current employees. Take some time to evaluate your current employees’ salary rates and see how they compare to your new structure. You may find that some workers are behind – or ahead – of where they would be in the new system.

Create a plan to have these outliers align with your new structure. For people behind schedule, that may call for greater increases to help them hit their expected minimum rate. Meanwhile, employees that are well ahead of schedule may call for a pay freeze or smaller increases until they match the compensation you identified as appropriate for your structure.

Build a Compensation Structure That’s Right for Your Small Business

Creating a new compensation structure is a daunting task for small businesses. It’s not just about money – these decisions also need to factor in the costs of hiring and training employees, navigating payroll, and the ever-present need for compliance. That’s why it’s helpful to go through these processes with the right partner.

GMS works with small businesses to give them the tools and support they need to grow. Our experts can work with your company to implement salary structures that not only help you attract and retain key employees, but also work with your bottom line.

Are your ready to make your business simpler, safer, and stronger? Contact GMS today to about how we can help you save time and money through payroll administration and other HR strategies.



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