Corporate directors facing shareholder pressure over executive compensation have a new tool to help get it right: specialized training.

The Human Resources Professionals Association has launched an education program to train business people - including board directors, in-house human resources staff or external compensation consultants - on the intricacies of executive compensation design.

With shareholders now demanding say-on-pay votes to express their displeasure about poor pay practices, boards have little room to make mistakes, said HRPA chief executive officer Bill Greenhalgh. As a result, boards are seeking directors with more expertise on compensation issues.

Story continues below advertisement

"The whole area of executive compensation is relatively new in the sense that if you go back about 10 years, boards were fairly casual about their oversight of executive compensation," Mr. Greenhalgh said.

"It's really in the last five years or so that it's become absolutely critical, where you have cases where CEOs have walked away from companies with huge packages - we're talking $100-million-plus - and the boards are surprised."

The training program, designed in conjunction with Toronto-based compensation consulting firm Global Governance Advisors, will focus on compensation strategy, detailed plan design, corporate governance issues and regulatory requirements.

The first session begins this month, and was initially marketed to human resources staff at large public companies.

Paul Gryglewicz, managing partner at Global Governance Advisors, said he hopes that compensation consultants will also sign up. They are the primary designers of CEO pay packages for most large boards of directors, but there's no formal training program for their industry.

"How do we create additional accountability in our industry to push the envelope of professionalizing our practice," he said. "This is a concerted effort to help put that professionalism into the system."

Mr. Gryglewicz said the program should also help corporate directors more critically evaluate advice from compensation consultants pitching their services - especially given plethora of new designs being proposed to boards.

Story continues below advertisement

"What's dangerous about this time, when everybody has an idea, is that there's no proof that it is the right idea, so you have to evaluate each of these ideas with caution," he argues.

Participants can take parts of the 16-part training program, or complete the entire set of courses and receive an executive compensation certificate.

Mr. Greenhalgh said the program is intended to fill a broader untapped niche for comprehensive training on executive compensation issues. It is not meant to compete with more general board training offered by director certification programs, nor with more narrow training offered to human resource professionals on technical issues involving compensation.

"This is a one-stop shop that gives them it all in one place," he said.