Salary Transparency in Action – It’s Personal

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Aug 20, 2019

Over the past two months, my company Kolmeta has been growing exponentially. So much so that I’ve decided to go all in on entrepreneurship and focus solely on moving this company forward.  If you want to read more about my departure from the corporate world, you can here. But that’s not what I want to focus on as it relates to this transition. What’s important now is that I’m truly putting my money where my mouth when it comes to this extreme experiment in salary transparency. And there is no better or more authentic time to share what’s behind the curtain than right now.  

Because right now, it is not glamorous. Right now, it’s messy. It’s difficult. It’s personal. It’s real.

People have a lot of extremely personal emotions attached to money. Their compensation from their employer, in particular.  

Before I get into detail, let me briefly describe what I’m doing.  

I’m making compensation completely transparent within the company. And I’m not talking about providing candidates with a salary range when we’re having recruitment discussions, or making a salary grid available to employees once they’re hired. I mean everyone knows everything about what, how, and why they are paid the way they are paid — and it’s wide open for everyone to see. Meaning, all employees in the company know how much one another is making and why. The ultimate goal of this is to create a culture of three key elements (you can read more about these in my last post):

  • Transparency
  • Equity
  • Belonging

Within Kolmeta, we are fiercely protective of the collective. Everyone does everything, and the expectation of collaboration is explicit in every interaction we have with each other, our clients, and our community. There is more power in the team than there ever is in one individual acting in isolation. As such, what we’ve built as a transparent compensation model ultimately has two core elements:

  • Individual compensation — Using a combination of equal guaranteed wages and variable individual pay for performance, each individual is recognized in ways that reflect the impact they make on their own professional growth, within the Kolmeta team, on our clients, and in our community.
  • Team Compensation — We are combatting the traditional culture of competition and inequity, especially in commission- and bonus-based environments, by creating a space where the collective is respected, yet the individual is never disadvantaged. At Kolmeta, everyone does everything. As a team we are rewarded equally for the work we do together using a “revenue-based goals, profit-based bonus” model.

Everyone we’ve hired into the team so far is extremely diverse in skills, experience, and knowledge. That is intentional and by design. I don’t believe in hiring people who all behave the same way. I want to be surrounded by people who are brilliant in the ways that I, and others, are not. People who have different perspectives that will make our collective ideas stronger.

As we attempt to create transparency, equity, and belonging using team compensation an element of our salary structure, here’s where it gets messy. Even though we’re all taught from a young age that “sharing is caring,” the idea of having money shared transparently as a team to reward their hard work is creating feelings of scarcity.

One of our most recent candidates used the phrase, “this model feels like a personal slap in the face to someone like me because of my experience. I have over 20 years experience and so-and-so is right out of university. How does this model make sense for me?” 

Now that’s real. And super personal. Twenty years of experience in their field — a value and accomplishment this individual holds — perceivably compromised by the fact that their compensation is transparently shared and in some ways equitable to their colleague, whom by traditional measures of years of experience, is not their equal. In that moment, I wondered how I could possibly respond in a way that allows for us to move forward. I had two points:  

  1. “When it comes to experience, different doesn’t necessarily mean better.” At Kolmeta, we don’t measure worth based on years. People are human and I believe a person’s worth should be established and validated by their own ability to reflect on the things that have made them feel proud, accomplished, or like they have learned something that adds to their core value system — whether they apply that to their employment or their personal lives. Experience comes in so many diverse forms. The new grad may have experience in an alternate field, or be proficient in current trends that a more seasoned professional may not. And while they each bring to the table a different level of professional sophistication, they will need each other to complete the work in front of them. I want to create a culture that views diversity in knowledge as an asset. The goal of this is to see each employee elevate one another, learn from each other and play off each other’s expertise, knowing that the success of each individual means the success of the collective.
  2. “Thank you.” Thank you for trusting me enough to share your real thoughts. I’m glad these difficult conversations are happening. In fact, I’m provoking them. Continuously seeking unvarnished feedback. And, I’m not allowing the conversations to happen behind closed doors. Not hiding them, not sweeping them under the rug, not responding defensively nor reactively changing our models out of fear that something won’t fly. We all have to feel psychologically safe enough to respectfully bring our thoughts forward with the intent of moving forward. If we stop being transparent with each other, the model will not survive. We need to be champions of this model in a respectful way and set the right examples for each other and the next employees who join us. 

Some people are just not into this. I’ve had people — including people who know me well and trust me — tell me (or, more painful and dramatic yet, show me) how little they think of this model. And that’s ok. I shed the tears, built the bridge, and got over it — taking with me the gift (yes, that’s right, gift) of some seriously fierce feedback. I am truly grateful to these people for providing their personal perspectives. Because as I keep saying — this is personal.

Other people are totally into this. Believing in it so much that they have left their corporate jobs or turned down more stable opportunities to join a company that offers them something different: transparency, equity, belonging, and the ability to make an impact. Their unique perspectives and experiences are creating the Kolmeta culture. They are the ones who are driving us forward. Even though I may have established the vision, every person who joins Kolmeta are the ones who now own this. And they know it. I see them holding themselves, each other, and me accountable to our model every single day. We’re in it to win it as a collective.  

I mentioned we’re growing exponentially. And I meant it.  If you are (or you know) someone who wants to make an impact, I want to hear from you. Whether you love or hate the idea of being part of an environment that is fully transparent, your feedback is a gift.

If you want to learn more about Kolmeta’s transparent salary structure, I’ll be sharing the full model in detail at the ERE Recruiting Conference in Washington, D.C. in October.  

Spoiler Alert:  I chose to hire the candidate I’m talking about in this article because of their bravery to share their unique perspectives. Similarly, they chose to join the Kolmeta team as a result of the fully transparent conversation I shared above and because of our core company values. They will be in the audience during my session at the conference so you can meet them and get their unvarnished thoughts on what full salary transparency has looked like from the candidate and employee perspective.

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