February 1, 2015

COMPENSATION & HR Practices SURVEY Invaluable Tool for HR Professionals

The human resource staff at Tanimura & Antle spend a lot of time carefully filling out the forms that make up the annual Western Growers Professional Compensation and HR Practices Survey.

“We are spending a lot of time getting it right and we hope other companies are doing the same thing,” said Carmen Ponce, vice president of human resources and house counsel for Tanimura & Antle (T&A), which is headquartered in Salinas, CA.

As one of the larger companies in the fresh produce industry, T&A has a big labor force and many different job titles.  In fact, Ponce said the firm has many bifurcated positions that don’t quite fit the definitions in the survey.  “We have worked closely with Western Growers to add job descriptions to cover the positions we have,” she said.  “The survey does a great job at the management level.  At some of the higher levels it is a little more difficult to fit the job to the job description.”

For example, her own job combines being the company counsel with running the HR department.  There are not many other companies that combine those two responsibilities.

Nonetheless, Ponce calls the survey “invaluable” as T&A goes about the task of making sure it is compensating its employees correctly.  Besides the Western Growers compensation survey, the firm also routinely participates in other national and local surveys as well as compensation surveys that are not produce industry-specific but more general in nature.  Ponce said every survey has value but the more specific to the industry and the geographic area, the more relevance it has to the participating company.  It is for this reason she urges other fresh produce companies to take the same due diligence that T&A applies to the task when they are filling out the survey questions.  “Our payroll manager is the person that actually fills out the survey,” she said.  “She typically does it over a four to five week period and I’d bet she spends at least 50 hours on it.”

Again Ponce said the number of job classifications at T&A require that it be a substantial undertaking.  But she reiterated that it is well worth it.  As a matter of course, Ponce said T&A does not adjust wages annually.  She said the company has a very generous wage, bonus and benefits package, and endeavors to be toward the higher tiers when it comes to employee pay and benefits.  Consequently, T&A carefully analyzes the surveys that it participates in to make sure its compensation packages are in line with where it wants to be.  “We certainly don’t want to be below the 50th percentile and I’d say we are more comfortable up near the 75th percentile.  We look at the survey and do adjust salaries accordingly.  This past year we made adjustments in several different classifications.”

Prior to participating in surveys, Ponce said the company hired consultants to analyze its pay levels, but she added that it is difficult to get an accurate assessment when you are comparing your numbers nationally.  It is even difficult on a regional scale.  “The pay scale in Monterey is different than it is in San Francisco or Los Angeles.”

Karen Timmins, senior vice president of human resources for Western Growers, said that is precisely why the association launched its annual compensation survey six years ago.  Prior to the WG survey, she said there was no accurate way for a fresh produce industry company to compare its compensation packages against like employers working in the same environment and covering the same types of jobs.

From that first survey in 2010, Timmins said the Western Growers survey has expanded significantly and the participants have more than quadrupled.  “Every year we are adding job descriptions.  That’s the key…the job descriptions have to be accurate.”

Timmins said the WG HR staff and Western Growers’ outside consultant—Fran Mueseler, certified compensation specialist at PeopleMatters LLC—spend a lot of time working with participants to make sure they classify each employee correctly as they fill out the survey.  The key is to have this aggregated information accurate so that a user of the resulting survey can easily compare their own company’s job descriptions with those in the survey.

Timmins reminds both returning participants and those contemplating providing information for the first time that no member of the Western Growers staff ever has access to the raw data.  PeopleMatters, an off-site third-party independent contractor, aggregates the information and creates the report that is then presented to the Western Growers staff as well as participants and others who pay to see it.  Firms can purchase the report for a fee of $1,500 for the compensation report, $500 for the HR practices, or $1,800 for both.  Survey participants receive the reports to which they contributed data free of charge.

While filling out the report can be time consuming, Timmins said an average-size company should be able to provide all the information asked for in less than an eight-hour work space.  Of course, she said, a larger company will require more time.  But she added it is well worth the effort and a proven benefit in the world of human resources.

At the recent Western Growers Annual Meeting, Frank Wagner, who is in charge of compensation for Google, said wage and benefits surveys are critical in helping a firm pay its many employees properly.  Wagner said Google wants to be at the top end of the pay scale for the technology sector.  To accomplish that task it participates in the Radford survey, as does virtually 100 percent of the technology sector.  Google, Apple, Twitter, Faceook…all of those firms provide compensation information to the third-party Radford Company, which publishes a report for the technology companies much like PeopleMatters and WG do for the fresh produce industry.

Timmins said the participants in the Radford report are named although the information is still presented in an aggregate form.  For these first five years of the WG Compensation Survey, the companies participating have not been named.  Timmins has promised the participants that until the survey includes at least 100 different companies, the individual firms will not be released. 

For the 2015 survey, the WG HR executive expects to reach that 100 company threshold.  “Last year we had well over 100 companies request surveys but for one reason or another, some people didn’t finish the project.  We had 88 completed surveys.”

That was about 30 percent greater than the previous year.  A similar increase this year will find the number easily topping 100.  Timmins believes publishing the names of the participants will result in another big jump in participation.  “When companies see who is participating, they will want to get involved.”

For the uninitiated, the Western Growers Compensation and HR Practices Survey collects base pay and bonus salary data for executive, sales and professional positions in the Arizona and California specialty crop industry. Timmins said this year, “we have introduced a new feature on our website that will make entering pay data much easier. This means less work for members to get top-notch feedback about your compensation and benefits programs.”

The HR Practices Survey collects data about performance appraisals, merit increases, bonus programs and eligibility, austerity measures, cost sharing of benefit plan premiums and more.

Firms are invited to participate in both surveys, but they can opt to do just one or the other. 

As always, an independent, certified compensation specialist analyzes company information to ensure the confidentiality of your data—no one at Western Growers sees individual information.  Data is collected for executive level, sales/marketing, logistics, food safety and plant/office/field positions.  For a full list of jobs, visit www.agsalary.com.

Timmins reiterated that “because the data in these surveys is unique to agriculture in California and Arizona, it provides participants a regional view of how regional companies pay and reward their employees.  This data allows decision makers to compare and contrast their salary and benefits programs when making critical budgeting and planning decisions.  The survey results provide a benchmark when making hiring and promotion decisions, allowing business owners to recruit and retain the best talent.”

Ponce of T&A said the report is very professionally done and it is easy to extract the information a company needs to do vital wage and benefit comparisons.

Participants can sign up at www.agsalary.com.  Participants will have until mid-March to enter their data.  If you have questions, contact Karen Timmins at 949.885.2295 or at [email protected]