What is a Compensation Structure: Learn to Build Salary Structure

A compensation structure, in its simplest terms, is the framework used by companies to determine how employees are paid.

 It includes all the different components of an employee’s pay, from their base salary to bonuses, benefits, and other forms of compensation.

The goal of a compensation structure is to ensure fairness and consistency in how employees are paid, while also helping to attract, retain, and motivate staff.

While the actual compensation details will vary from one company to another – based on factors like industry, size, and location – the structure itself usually follows a consistent setup.

This includes elements like pay scales, job grades, and salary ranges, all designed to provide a clear and transparent framework for employee compensation.

As a compensation analyst, it’s your job to build a compensation structure that works for your organization. This involves balancing the need for competitiveness (to attract and retain top talent) with the need for sustainability (to keep your organization financially healthy).

It’s a challenging task, but with the right approach and the right knowledge, it’s certainly achievable.

So, whether you’re just curious about compensation structures or you’re in the thick of building one for your organization, we hope you find this blog helpful.

How to build an effective compensation structure?

Building a robust compensation structure is like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle.

It requires an in-depth understanding, precise planning, and thorough execution. To kickstart the process, it’s crucial to have a clear picture of your workforce composition.

This means understanding the job functions and families in your company. If you’re wondering what job families mean, they’re simply groups of related jobs, like sales, IT, marketing, and so on. So, the first step is to map these job families.

Next, delve deeper and map out the job categories. These could be professional, managerial, supervisory, etc. But, don’t stop there. Go a step further and map out job levels as well. From entry-level to mid-level, senior, and so on. By doing this, you’re effectively laying out the structure of the entire organization.

At this point, you’ll see a pattern emerging.

The pay grades will start falling into place. It’s like a grid that balances out the workforce.

The best part?

You’ve already covered 80% of your task, and it hasn’t cost you a dime! You’ve now got a clear understanding of the job profiles that need to be benchmarked externally.

This is where Mercer comes into play.

Mercer is a fantastic tool that can be used for compensation benchmarking. It helps you target the correct data sets, whether it’s job types or locations. I personally stand by Mercer for its effectiveness and reliability.

Remember, building a successful compensation structure is not just about paying your employees. It’s about creating a salary structure that promotes fairness and transparency, a range structure that offers scope for growth, and a broadband structure that provides flexibility. These are all key components of an effective compensation structure.

Benchmarking is crucial in this process. It ensures that your compensation strategy aligns with the market trends. And lastly, remember, a well-structured compensation plan is not just about one pay grade. It’s about creating a balance that motivates and retains your employees. So, take your time, understand the types of compensation structures, and build the one that best fits your organization.

Challenges in Implementing and Managing Compensation Structures (Salary Structures)

Implementing and managing compensation structures can be quite a complicated process, filled with various challenges. These challenges can vary from internal issues like budget constraints to external factors like market dynamics.

These are some of the main challenges that arise when implementing and managing compensation:

Data Accuracy

In the ever-evolving business world, staying ahead of the curve is crucial. This is particularly true for people leaders who are constantly striving to ensure their compensation packages remain competitive.

They have a keen interest in understanding what similar organizations in their industry are offering their employees or potential candidates for various positions.

However, this is easier said than done.

The market data they need can be elusive, particularly for more niche roles. It’s not always a straightforward process to compare apples-to-apples, and even when companies do manage to find relevant data, it may not be entirely accurate or beneficial.

The challenge here is not just finding any data, but rather, finding reliable, market-based data. This data can truly make a difference when it comes to shaping compensation structures that are both fair and competitive.

Matching compensation with performance

One of the hurdles that we often stumble upon in the corporate world is the task of aligning compensation with performance.

It’s like a balancing act on a tightrope. How do we ensure that an employee’s pay accurately reflects their performance?

This becomes even more complex when we consider promotions and the organizational hierarchy.

Performance-based compensation inherently means that we need to evaluate employee performance in a fair and consistent manner. It’s not just about the numbers.

There are other factors at play here, including an employee’s attitude, their contribution to team dynamics, and their commitment to organizational values and goals.

So, how do we go about this?

Well, companies need to establish robust processes and leverage performance management technology to properly administer these evaluations. This might sound a bit technical, but in plain English, it means that we need to use the right tools and methods to assess an employee’s performance accurately.

It’s not just about the annual review anymore. Continuous feedback and regular check-ins can provide a clearer and more comprehensive picture of an employee’s performance. This can then be used to determine their compensation, ensuring that it’s reflective of their true worth to the organization.

Economic Volatility

When we talk about the challenges in implementing and managing compensation structures, the biggest hurdle we face is the constant economic volatility.

You see, designing a fair and competitive compensation strategy is no walk in the park. It’s like playing a game where someone keeps moving the goalpost. That’s exactly how shifting market factors feel.

One moment, you have a solid plan for promotion and organizational growth, and the next moment, the economic climate changes, making your plan seem less feasible. The struggle is real and quite challenging.

Now, let’s consider another scenario. Imagine trying to maintain pay equity across your company.

Sounds simple, right? But then, you also have to compete with market rates. And let’s not forget about retaining your top performers, your company’s superstars. It’s a balancing act that requires constant attention and adjustment.

It’s also important to factor in the cost of living and market pricing when developing a compensation strategy. As the cost of living increases, employees expect their salary to keep up. But what if the market pricing for their roles doesn’t align with that expectation? It’s yet another challenge to overcome.

Budget Concerns

Another prominent hurdle is aligning company executives on a compensation strategy.

It’s a well-known fact that to attract and retain top-tier talent, the company needs to offer competitive compensation packages. However, this isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds.

A significant sticking point that many HR leaders encounter lies in budget constraints. While the company needs to reward its employees adequately, there also needs to be a careful balance with the budget. The mention of the word ‘salary’ can often trigger pushback from company leaders, with budget concerns being a common excuse.

In this scenario, the HR team is tasked with the difficult job of moving an employee from one salary grade to another, ensuring that the new compensation remains within the company’s budget.

This task becomes even more complicated when we consider ‘minimum and maximum’ salary ranges. Ensuring that an employee’s salary doesn’t fall below the minimum or exceed the maximum for their grade, while still staying competitive within the market, is a tricky balancing act.

Thus, budget concerns pose a significant challenge in implementing and managing compensation structures. It requires a strategic approach, careful planning, and continuous monitoring to ensure a balance between the company’s budget and its need to retain and attract great people.

Types of compensation structures

Traditional pay grades

Traditional pay grades are a fundamental aspect of any compensation strategy and form a key part of the pay structure in many organizations. They are essentially a series of levels that define the hierarchy of an employee’s remuneration.

The concept revolves around the ‘grade and range’ system, where each job position is assigned a pay grade that determines the range of pay an employee can expect. Each pay grade corresponds to a salary range, which includes the minimum, midpoint, and maximum pay for that grade.

Now, you might be wondering, “how does one move from one pay grade to another?”

 Well, this typically happens when an employee receives a promotion or takes on a role with more responsibilities. Moving from one pay grade to another often results in a pay increase, reflecting the additional duties or the higher level of expertise required.

In essence, traditional pay grades provide a structured and organized way of managing salaries within an organization. This type of pay structure ensures that there’s a clear progression path and a fair and transparent system for determining employee salaries.

Broadband structure

Broadband pay structure, a relatively modern concept, is a unique approach to managing pay decisions. It’s an integral part of employee compensation strategies in many organizations. 

In simple terms, a broadband pay structure is a type of compensation structure that consolidates numerous pay grades or job classifications into fewer “bands” with wider pay ranges, hence the term ‘broadband.’

This structure offers organizations a lot of flexibility when it comes to setting pay rates and managing promotions.

Imagine a typical company with a traditional pay structure. You might see several narrowly defined pay grades, each with a specific set of job roles, skills, or experiences required.

In contrast, a company using a broadband pay structure would have fewer, broader pay bands. Each of these bands would encompass a wide variety of roles and pay rates.

One of the key advantages of this structure is the enhanced flexibility it offers in pay decisions. With a broadband structure, companies can easily adjust pay rates to meet the evolving needs of their business or to match market trends.

 It’s also easier for employees to move laterally across different job roles without necessarily changing their pay band, promoting a dynamic and adaptable work environment.

However, it’s worth noting that while a broadband pay structure offers various benefits, it might not be suitable for all organizations. It requires careful management to ensure fair and equitable pay decisions.

Step structure

The step pay structure, as the name suggests, is quite like a staircase.

This structure allows an employee to climb up the pay scale in a systematic and predictable manner. Imagine yourself ascending a set of stairs, each step takes you higher, doesn’t it?

Similarly, in a step pay structure, each ‘step’ or level takes an employee to a higher pay.

This structure is designed so that with each step or level, an employee’s salary increases. However, it’s not just about the climb. The step pay structure also factors in an employee’s experience, skills, and tenure at the organization. The more seasoned or skilled you are, the higher up the staircase you can start or move.

The beauty of this structure is in its predictability. It gives employees a clear understanding of when and how they can expect a pay raise. It also provides a sense of security, knowing that their hard work and dedication will be rewarded in a structured manner.

 Market-based structure

Market-based pay structure is a unique method of determining compensation that is heavily reliant on the current conditions of the job market.

This structure is, in essence, a way for organizations to ensure that their employees are paid competitively, thereby improving their chances of attracting and retaining top talent.

At the heart of a market-based pay structure is a process known as benchmarking compensation. This involves comparing a company’s compensation packages against those offered by other companies within the same industry or market.

Benchmarking compensation is a strategic move that allows organizations to understand where they stand in terms of employee compensation and to adjust their pay scales accordingly.

Supplementing this process is the use of market research.

Organizations using a market-based pay structure typically conduct comprehensive market research to gain detailed insights into the current trends, demands, and expectations in the job market. This research may cover various elements, including average salaries for different roles, benefits packages, and other forms of compensation.

It’s important to remember that the job market is dynamic and ever-changing. What may be a competitive salary today might not be the case in a year or two. Therefore, market-based pay structures require regular review and updates to stay relevant and effective.

Overall, a market-based pay structure is a proactive, adaptive approach to employee compensation that involves benchmarking compensation and performing market research to stay competitive in the job market. It’s all about staying in tune with the market, being fair to employees, and securing the best talent for the organization.

Leave a Comment

Compensation Interactive Logo

Make informed decisions through visual reporting and provide pay transparency to sales teams. Turn sophisticated data into actionable outcomes with incentive compensation management software.


Incentive Compensation

Plan management

Sales Performance Management

Territory Planning

Quota Planning





Compensation Interactive

2300 Yonge St, Toronto