Notes on CEO / Executive Director Salary Surveys (Compensation Strategy)

Overall Approach to Executive Compensation Surveys

As an Adjunct Professor, Tim McConnell of our firm taught graduate courses in Compensation and Compensation Strategy in the Advanced Program in HR Management at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, from 2001 to 2008. The industry standard best practices outlined below were part of this curriculum.

While our firm may be hired by the senior management of our clients, we are often called on to present our findings and rationale to the Boards of Directors of these organizations as they exercise their fiduciary responsibility. This is particularly true in the case of Executive Compensation. We have been called in to hearings (for example) by the Executive Committees of the Board of organizations such as Alterna Savings Bank and the Hospitals of Ontario Pension Plan to justify our recommendations.


Compensation Strategy

Compensation StrategyElements of Executive Compensation

  • There are five basic elements in Executive Compensation; Base salary, employee benefits, perquisites, short-term incentives, and long-term incentives.
  • Our Survey Reports covers all of these, except long-term incentives which are usually not offered in the NGO/Not-for-Profit sector.
  • In Executive Compensation, we normally survey for actual base salaries or Job Rate.
  • Most senior executive positions do not have a salary range per se, or a job rate.  In the NGO/NfP sector, the CEO / Executive Director is often at the Job Rate (if there is one).

Job Matching

  • The key to any survey is job matching.  This is the most common method of ensuring comparability of data.
  • Job matching looks for comparable positions with similar job content and responsibility.  In order to accomplish this, we look at several factors.
  • The first factor is the industry sector, your comparative labour market.  Depending on who the client is, we are often looking at the NGO/Not-for-Profit sector, with the sub-sector being health and medically-related (for the most part) organizations.
    • Within this sub-sector, we look for comparable scope.  This is normally assessed by size of operating budget and number of employees. To obtain a full picture, we included organizations in your sector that are both larger and smaller than the client organization.
  • It is important to emphasize that, statistically; sector, revenue and staff size are normally the major correlating factors driving executive base pay.
  • These are the tangible factors.  They are used by every Compensation Consulting firm and published survey.
  • Geography is a tangible factor.  There is normally a regional (Ontario/Quebec) or national labour market for executives.  However, most of our comparable organizations are headquartered in Ottawa.
  • The other major tangible factor driving pay is occupation, and the relative supply and demand in the labour market.  Generally speaking, occupations requiring greater qualifications receive higher rates of pay.
    • In salary survey job matching, occupation generally ‘self-screens’.  That is, for a Director of Finance we are looking at other Directors of Finance.
    • In most cases, we are looking at other CEO / Executive Director positions.  However, given the medical community sub-sector noted above, a number of potentially comparable ED’s in other organizations are physicians.  Their rate of pay is determined by the market for physicians, not Executive Directors.
    • If the CEO / ED of the client organization is not a physician, we normally exclude data from the physician-led comparators.
  • An intangible factor is the relative importance of the client organization’s value-added role in the Canadian medical and health care communities.  This factor is not statistically measurable or quantifiable.  The impact of this on the value of the Executive Director’s pay (over and above our standard survey methodology and findings) would need to be a judgement call by the Board of Directors.
  • In terms of statistically validity, the approach in surveying is to obtain data from as many ‘comparable’ organizations as possible. For CaRMS, we have looked at 23 separate data sources.
    • Standard Deviation is a statistical method used to validate salary survey data. If a job match has been done properly, then the range of survey data for a given position should (normally) not be significantly different.   Compensation specialists use a calculation of plus or minus two standard deviations to exclude “outliers” and improve the statistical validity of the results.

Pay Policy

  • Another aspect of Compensation Strategy is the organization’s Pay Policy Position.  That is, where do you position your salaries relative to those paid by your comparative labour market?
    • Most NGO’s / NFP’s will aim to pay at the average (or mean) of the survey data.
    • A related data point is the 50th percentile of the data, or P50 for short.  This is usually close to the average (although statistically a separate measure.) So, the phase “being competitive” means P50 in HR terminology.
    • Some organizations however, deliberately choose to pay more than the market average, recognizing that ‘average’ means half of the data is higher.  This is often because they need / want to attract and retain better than average employees.
  • Relevant Labour Market.
    • While we often look at multiple sources of data in surveys, some organizations decide to directly compare only to a selected few organizations – and match their pay to those comparators. This is done via a customized Salary Survey of selected respondents.

Tim McConnell, MPA, SPHR
Managing Partner

McConnell HR Consulting Inc.
260 Hearst Way, Suite 603
Ottawa, Ontario K2L 3H1

Compensation Management  – Organization Design  –  HR Strategy  –  HR Outsourcing