Open Salaries: When
Once I started playing with the idea of making salaries at Lunar Logic transparent, the question that popped up almost instantly was: when? Well, one thing that I should probably start with was to ask whether we want to do that at all.
If I simply ask the latter out of the blue I would likely get mostly negative feedback. This is a huge change and one that may make people uncomfortable.
The answer for “when” question would thus likely be “whenever we are ready.”
I started with sharing with everyone that there is an idea to go transparent with salaries at some point in the future. I got some early feedback on that, including concerns on what would happen once we have open salaries.
This gave me confirmation that transparency alone is not enough and there has to be an accompanying mechanism that allows people to influence how salaries are set.
Then there was a question of how fair we were with salaries at that moment. Well, from my perspective it was fairly fine of course. However, the moment of making salaries open to everyone would mean that we are suddenly taking into consideration everyone’s opinion, and not only mine.
I asked a few people at the company to prepare their abstract salary list. They could use whatever reference point they wanted, either they own salary or just a completely abstract number, like 100. Then they were supposed to relatively set other employees on the scale. I wasn’t very strict with that. “No opinion” was a perfect option, as well as an incomplete list or partial information, if someone decided to use a whole set of factors.
I gave that task to a few people in different roles and of different characters to get a possibly broad set of data. They were working individually.
The outcome was some sort of an abstract, and partial, verification how my views on salaries differ from opinions of others.
One result of that was my further work on flattening the salary scale – a process that was in place for some time already. There were a couple of cases when I realized that someone should have gotten a raise already and fixed that too.
Concurrently more and more informal chats around the idea were happening. Given a well-thought approach to the process, more and more people were buying into the idea. At some point, I felt that majority of us were supporting the idea.
The last missing bit was figuring out how the change to transparent salaries would happen and what will be the mechanism of influencing salaries from that point on. On one hand, this part wasn’t easy. On the other, stories from companies that are already doing that are available. A few examples that come to my mind would be: Buffer, Semco, and a few case studies covered in Reinventing Organizations.
I used these stories more as an inspiration than a recipe. Eventually, I ended up with an idea that was ready to put under the scrutiny of the whole team.
We were ready.
By the way, if you are interested, the whole preparation process took 9-10 months.