I’m Going to Try Making Salaries Transparent

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May 23, 2019

As a leader in the corporate world, I always did my best to show up as my authentic self. That Kim can be a little sarcastic according to some. I personally like to call it witty humor.

During projects that felt long, tiring, difficult, or even (hate to say it) pointless or lacking strategic vision, I would always look for light-hearted ways to help my team ensure that their time and effort was valued.

“See, this is why they pay us the mediocre-bucks,” I might say to the response of laughter, and a mutual unspoken understanding that the archaic “do hard work, make a little money” circle of life was just the way things are.

My corporate teams and I always had meaningful, authentic connections — and with respect to each other and our organizations, always felt safe to talk about real stuff.

But often, the reality of these real conversations left us all aware that we had a different level of control over our present and future situations than we may have liked, especially around how we were compensated for our work.

I hated this … the seemingly powerless transaction between employer and employee, where the employer ultimately decided how hard you will work, and how much (or how little) you will be paid. Permission was required to venture on either side of these parameters. When you aren’t able to make your own choices, or control your own destiny, what you are permitted by someone else never quite seems good enough.

Fast forward to today, and I’m now running my own company, Kolmeta. We’re five months old, and now have our first full-time, fully paid employee! (YAY!) So, naturally, I’m trying frantically to figure out the payroll situation (This is real-time, folks. Literally, she started May 6, payday is May 24, and I’m STILL trying to get my act together…). Insert #stresslevelKimK meme here.

Anyway, the other day, as my team and I were in a boardroom, deep in another discussion about what we want Kolmeta’s company culture to be, my team asked me a very simple question. “Why, Kim? Why should we make salaries transparent?”

After sitting for a moment to really reflect on this seemingly simple question, the answer I gave them actually felt a little selfish. It’s because, as a leader and a business owner, I never want to have to answer the questions, “when can I get a raise?” or “ is so-and-so being paid more than me?” or “what do I need to do to make more money around here?”

If financial security is a basic need of employees, it seemed odd to me that I should have such control over their finances. If employers encourage and preach accountability, how might I put my employees in a position of accountability to choose how hard they want to work and, in turn, make as much money as they want? How might I empower employees to be in control of their own financial success? The only questions I want to be asked as a leader are “how can I use my tools to be successful?” or “how can I make an impact?” or “what can I learn?” or “how can you help me grow?”

At Kolmeta, I want to create an environment that values the following:

Transparency — And I mean real transparency from all vantage points. From openly sharing the company profit and loss statements, to publishing salaries where every member of my team knows exactly what and why that individual makes what they do. Myself included. From the initial job posting containing the exact annual salary, to employees’ individual year-end bonus.

The individual will know exactly how their compensation model works, how they can make more money, and what the results of their hard work really translate to. They are in the driver seat of their own financial well-being. The whole team will know what level of performance and goals the individual achieved for the compensation they obtained.

Equity — Job titles are a thing of the past, but people need to feel valued by how they are identified. We’ve taken away the traditional hierarchy and replaced it with a flat structure that empowers people to individually progress through a transparent model, one that helps them obtain rewards that motivate them intrinsically as well as extrinsically. We’ve trashed the idea of role segregation. Everyone does everything. We title everyone the same. More importantly, we pay everyone the same way, using the same methodology and philosophy. Even the CEO.

Belonging — This means creating an environment that is unwavering on teamwork and collaboration. The success of the individual is actually completely dependent on the success of the collective. In other words, we incent the team to win, rather than each individual to compete for bonuses, commission, or rewards. And yes, Kolmeta is a commission-based pay organization.

I know what you may be thinking. All of these things could lead to some really uncomfortable conversations. Money is so personal. It’s something we as society often avoid talking about. That is why this is an extreme experiment. It might be a great success. It might be a colossal failure. And trust me, building this model isn’t happening without many difficult conversations. Although I said in my write-up for this fall’s ERE event in D.C. that I would never dare compete with the KUWTK-level drama, I think my experiences will rival it.

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