reward intelligence HR

Mastering HR Reward Intelligence.

Sometimes HR activities are like a detective’s work. Sherlock Holmes would have been able to determine the capabilities of a candidate and what salary offer to make. But we’re not fictional characters relying on almost superhuman powers. Thus, in the real world, we have to pick or build our sources of information and use them to make the best decisions. Reward intelligence can help you while trying to analyse that.

What is Reward Intelligence?

Intelligence means finding out information, determining what it means, and then using that knowledge and making it actionable.

Information is everywhere around us (news, blogs, casual conversation with friends, social media, emails).

Intelligence refers to information that is not freely available, or which needs a certain degree of processing, filtering, structuring so that it becomes relevant and usable.

From this perspective, we can compare the HR department with a Talent Intelligence Agency. Comp&Ben (or HR Rewards) needs to have the best instruments to ensure that compensation decisions are well documented, data-driven, and for the benefit of both the company and the candidate. This is what we can call Rewards Intelligence. 

Reward sources and resources

The only source of information that can prove to be efficient and relevant is the one you build yourself, according to your specific needs, from compiling varied different ones.

You can get the most from a diversity of sources, but it’s also the most time-consuming way. Pay attention to how much time requires gathering all the info in one place, and decide if you’re willing to do it.

Here are some examples of sources you can use.

1. Salary surveys

Traditional salary surveys from dedicated HR consultancy firms are the most used form of Rewards intelligence. They provide quantitative data, as well as qualitative. Most of them offer online platforms where you can consult market data, build advanced comparisons, or even customize jobs. These providers often compiled reports on trends in rewards, including comparisons among industries or geographies.

You should use the salary surveys which give you information about your direct competitors (companies that hire the same talents as you do). You can even use more than one survey, but when doing that, avoid the trap of very similar data from various sources. Look at the participating companies in each survey, and choose complementary sources.

Most used such surveys come from Mercer, Korn Ferry (former Hay), PwC, or Towers Watson. Although reliable, these can be costly for SMEs, and might not respond accurately to some very specific needs that your busines has. However, they tell you what others are paying.

Watch out

Go through the survey methodology and see how often data is collected, and how much time it takes to be validated before you can access it. Usually, this data is collected on an annual basis, and the results are available after a few months from collection. In very dynamic markets, this long process makes the data almost obsolete by the time you receive it.

An idea

Consumer market reports (like Neilsen) are collecting data and providing it to companies every month. Could this approach be applied to Rewards as well?

2. Local survey

Get local. Get as close as possible to the specifics of the local labor market. In compensation, geographies can be a high differentiator, especially in jobs where physical presence is still a must. This criterion fades away for industries where work is done from anywhere, leveraging the rise of globalization and (forced) increase in remote working.

3. Recruitment data

Investigate with your internal Recruitment data. If you have an applicant tracking system or if you are recording on spreadsheet, lool at the data you are collecting from the screening and the discussions with the candidates. If necessary, structure data in the easiest possible way. When establishing the format, have in mind that you will have to integrate this data within other sources.

Try to differentiate among expectation and current package, among fixed and variable, among gross and net. This might sound like common sense, but every individual looks at income in a different way and you need to be clear on the type of data collected.

Understand also the candidate context: if coming from a smaller city, or leaving a company with a tough corporate culture, then most probably their expectations are lowered accordingly.

Apply the same with external recruitment agencies or freelance recruiters if you are using them.

Watch out

Another factor to acknowledge is how your company is seen in the labor market: do candidates come to you because they expect that you pay better? – but the link between Rewards and Employer Branding is a topic for another article.

4. Published job ads

Investigate local job posting sites, newspaper job boards, announcements, linkedin Ads, Glassdoor, or any other type of job posting done by others.

In certain cases, especially for entry-level roles, these ads contain a detailed description of the rewards package and this can help you.

Another very helpful activity is participation in job fairs, gathering insights on the labor market, and candidates’ expectations.

5. Public info and other reports

Check free surveys, or sites like Glassdoor, PayLab, etc. Many consulting companies (Deloitte, BCG, PwC) are regularly providing insightful reports on the labor market. You can also get local here, and follow which type of provider is more likely to publish such content.

6. Informal network

There are a lot of communities, clubs, social media groups, where you can reach out to professionals for advice. Of course, there are certain things you cannot ask directly (because there is a business etiquette you need to stick to).

You can reach out to friends or acquaintances from other companies to ex-colleagues. My advice is always to be honest and transparent with the reason you’re asking for that info, and how you are going to use it – always ask for permission to use the data.

Reward data to collect

Except for traditional salary surveys, all the other data is messy, unstructured, you have to make sense of it.

Your main criteria when deciding what data to collect is asking yourself: What data am I going to use?

At least, in the beginning, avoid the risk of being overwhelmed by large amounts of data that doesn’t make sense. Stick to what is essential for you, and focus on gathering more on that. The collection process is anyway a difficult one – don’t overcomplicate it.

Among the types of information you can gather, the most used ones are:

Type of information that you can gather
Base salary, and number of installments
The variable part of the salary
1. How much is it compared to the salary?
2. Is it Calculated as an amount reference, or as a percent?
3. What is the frequency? (monthly, annual)
4. Based on which indicators is calculated? Individual, or collective indicators?
5. Other internal contests, commissions, discretionary bonuses
Annual guarantee payments
Long-term compensation plans
Any type of support received for special situations
Tax waivers or facilities
Employee Benefits
1. Fixed (same for everyone) or flexible
2. Just for the employee, or extended to the entire family
3. Which is the core benefit? Which are nice to have?
Car and other work tools
Networking and learning: corporate conferences, annual meetings, executive training, team-building events
Workplace benefits: gym, cafeteria, relaxation area, pet-friendly, flexible hours, remote working – these are just some examples.


Try to include some details on the person who added the information, and when. Compensation details are time-sensitive and I would not want o base my decision on a salary from 3 years ago.

Include also the work seniority and tenure of the provider – whether the person is junior or expert makes a big difference.

Tools to use

You now have all the data that you need. What’s next? The art will be to combine them, keeping in mind the source, and putting everything in the right context.

For example, in the recruitment phase, people usually express their desire for a certain salary. Sometimes this is a very optimistic projection of their wishes.

To make processing as fast and convenient as possible, you should aim at feeding all the accumulated information into one tool.

You can use the traditional Microsoft Access or Microsoft Excel. If you want to collaborate more you can use online versions of Microsoft tools, or choose Google Sheets. Airtable or Smartsheet are alternatives with a more modern design and appetite for aesthetics.

If you are concerned about the user experience (the person inputting the data) you can use survey tools like Monkey Survey, Google Forms, Mircosoft Forms, or the beautifully crafted surveys in TypeFrom.

Once all the information is aggregate (ideally into no more than two sources), you can start analyzing it in a Business Intelligence software. My top recommendations are Tableau or Qlik.


The philosophy of successful HR Reward Intelligence is achievable if you master these three steps:

  • Collect that specific set of data which is relevant to your business needs, and which is not obvious (and available to everyone).
  • Establish collection from diverse sources, and do it in a structured and consistent manner.
  • Compile collected data and use it to your advantage, to thrive in a highly competitive labor market.

With these in mind, you can have all the details to take educated compensation decisions, and spend your budget in the most efficient way.

3 thoughts on “Mastering HR Reward Intelligence.

  1. Hey there! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I really enjoy reading your blog posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same topics? Many thanks!

  2. Carl Heighs says:

    I really like reading through a post that can make people think. Also, thanks for allowing for me to comment!

    1. Hi Carl, thanks for your comment! We are happy to read that you enjoy it!

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