Why and How to Run a Compensation Cycle Post-mortem

3 min read
Mar 31, 2022 6:05:00 AM

As the first quarter of 2022 comes to an end, many organizations have completed their annual compensation cycles. We know this can be a grueling process, but don’t kick up your feet just yet! A compensation cycle post-mortem can do wonders to make your next review cycle more efficient and strategic. 

What is a compensation cycle post-mortem?

A compensation cycle post-mortem is a meeting for stakeholders to discuss what went well, what didn’t go well, and how your process may be improved. 

It may also be called a retrospective or debrief, but the ultimate goal remains the same: to reflect and iterate on your compensation cycle process.

Why should you run a compensation cycle post-mortem?

The ups and downs of your latest compensation cycle are fresh in your head soon after running it—not when you’re getting into your next planning season months from now. Take the time to discuss and document the things you’d change for your next cycle to enable continuous improvement. You may also need extra time between cycles to evaluate new compensation solutions and update your documented processes and training.

How do you run a compensation cycle post-mortem?

There’s no right or wrong way to run a post-mortem, but popular approaches include the Agile retrospective format and surveys. 

Post-mortem retrospective

Traditionally, an in-person post-mortem retrospective meeting would utilize a whiteboard or large sheet of paper, and sticky notes:

  1. Divide the white board or paper into sections, one for each area you’d like to discuss. For example, “What we did well,” “What we can do better,” and “Actions.” Or you might use the 4Ls facilitation technique, using “Liked,” “Learned,” “Lacked”, and “Longed For” as your section labels. Choose the labels that make the most sense for your team.
  2. Give each stakeholder a stack of sticky notes and a marker, and ask them to write down whatever comes to mind for your first section. When everyone is finished, they may stick their feedback to the corresponding section on the whiteboard or paper. This can help avoid groupthink and allow stakeholders to maintain some anonymity if they prefer. You may choose to timebox this step to keep things moving.
  3. Repeat for each section.
  4. Discuss the ideas provided for each section and decide what changes to make to your next compensation cycle to help it run more smoothly. Assign owners, next steps, and due dates to each action item and follow up as needed.

Is your team remote or hybrid? You can run a post-mortem retrospective on a video conference while using a shared Google Doc to organize and collect stakeholder feedback.


Some teams prefer to send a survey to all stakeholders to gather feedback, then discuss findings and solutions during a project debriefing meeting. This may be on its own or in addition to a retrospective meeting. Using a variety of question types and keeping your survey brief can improve your response rates and feedback quality. Some questions you may want to consider include:

  1. Which part of the compensation cycle review process ran really smoothly?
  2. What was the most frustrating part of the compensation cycle review process?
  3. Did the HR/Total Rewards/Compensation team offer you enough support? If not, please explain.
  4. What would you do differently during the next cycle?
  5. Did you have the appropriate budget to meet your strategic goals (i.e. retention, pay equity, or relocation.)? If not, please explain.
  6. Did you have enough time to meet your deliverable deadlines? If not, please explain.
  7. On a scale of 1-5, how easy or difficult was it to use our compensation tools(1=very easy, 5=very difficult)? Please explain.
  8. On a scale of 1-5, how well does our process and technology support remote team members (1=extremely well, 5=very poorly)? Please explain.
  9. On a scale of 1-5, how well does our process and technology support office-based team members (1=extremely well, 5=very poorly)? Please explain.
  10. How much time did you dedicate to compensation recommendations and approvals during this cycle? (less than 5 hours, 5-10 hours, 10-15 hours, 15-20 hours, 20+ hours)

You may also choose to run an employee Pulse survey to learn how your team members perceived the compensation cycle. It can be helpful to ask your employees to voluntarily share their remote status and demographic data so you can compare the experiences between different groups. Some questions you may want to ask include:

  1. Do you feel you are paid fairly in relation to your peers? 
  2. Do you feel you are paid competitively in relation to market salaries? 
  3. Do you understand how your pay is determined, and what you can do to earn more?

Use your survey data to uncover opportunities for improvement and brainstorm ways to iterate on your compensation cycle process.

Final thoughts on running a compensation cycle post-mortem

A post-mortem can yield valuable feedback which you can use to make meaningful changes to your compensation cycle timeline and process. If approvals were late, for example, you can learn whether stakeholders could benefit from software that’s easier to use or simply need more time to get through the process. 

Take action on the feedback you receive so stakeholders know you value their opinions and care about improving the process. Your goal, after all, should be to improve the compensation review process for everyone involved.

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