Sliips founder, Patrick, recently caught up with Justin Douglas, an independent business consultant, coach and Sliips' favourite business skills trainer!
How do you feel about Pay Transparency?
Pay has long been a taboo subject and unfortunately this seems to mostly benefit employers. As an employee I found pay secrecy frustrating. Was I paid fairly for the work I did? Were outstanding results fairly rewarded? It was impossible to say for sure, but the lack of transparency and the difficulty of getting pay rises certainly made me suspicious that the company could pay below market value simply because it was hard for me to prove otherwise.
You might say, ‘Isn’t this just good business, or good economics? The price of something is only ever what the other party is prepared to accept; if the company offers me £x, and I accept it, isn’t that just fine?’
Well maybe. But this misses out the complex emotional effect. We can easily build up feelings of resentment or dissatisfaction if we feel that perhaps we aren’t rewarded fairly. All companies should be aiming for highly engaged, satisfied employees. Pay and reward should not be one of the factors that lets people down.
It is important to note, however, that I do not expect everybody to be paid exactly the same even if the role is the same. Inevitably, we all come with different knowledge or expertise, experiences, and performance ability. It is not an easy task, but I believe companies should be striving towards greater transparency. Ultimately this would mean published pay or reward bands for different roles or job titles, with clear criteria for how to qualify for different pay levels within each band.
However, a balance needs to be struck: in large companies where there are perhaps hundreds of roles and dozens of career paths, full transparency may result in people in certain types of role feeling undervalued compared to other roles. This could simply be a result of market forces, but inside the company it won’t feel like that: there will be disgruntlement and a kind of internal ‘class’ structure - this is to be avoided.
But at the very least, the gender pay gap should be consigned to history - and that is a pledge that should definitely be made - and for or some businesses, it is likely to be an imperative. Since 6 April 2017 the law now requires businesses with more than 250 employees to publish gender pay gap data. Although it is a pity that self-motivated reasons have not been enough, the change in the law is a helpful step in the right direction.
What do you think are the biggest changes in employee and employer interaction since the time you started work? What’s the biggest challenge in this respect that organisations need to respond to?”
I took up my first permanent job in 1993. It should be no surprise that the biggest change in those 20+ years is without any doubt the massive explosion in connectivity between employees, and between employees and their employer: welcome to the sharing society! It is easier than ever before to find out information about what our employer’s business is, often right across the world.
Given all this, it is perhaps surprising therefore that the relationship between employees and HR departments still seems to be stuck in the past. Sure, filling out a timesheet on triplicate paper as I did back in the mid-1990s has gone - we now have the cost-saving connected employee systems - but HR still remains that part of a business where there can be an air of secrecy, a department behind closed doors."
I am not suggesting that we fling open all the HR filing cabinets and databases - of course confidentiality that employees can trust will remain a vital attribute - but more openness and a welcoming style of interactivity would be good for employees and good for business too. The biggest challenge in this area therefore is changing what I have observed in my client consulting career as a common ‘them and us’ feel to employer-employee interactivity.
What advice would you give business leaders to address that challenge?
It has to be a range of initiatives.
Of course, invest in employee-employer systems, but go further: invest in the human touch - employees want to feel the employer is on their side. This means having a firm open doors policy. Sometimes it is as simple as making that more visible: I remember when I left my last employer I was so impressed by the brilliant level of can-do support I received from the HR professional I liaised with. So the attitude and human touch was there - I just didn’t realise it.
I also think it is time to think about ways of making some of the interactions less formal, less locked in by process. I am a firm believer that official process should never trump what is logically a good way of doing something.
Employees seek much more than base pay: employees enjoy imaginative and valuable ways of reward. So I recommend being as creative as possible. Bring a group of employees together from across the age and gender spectrum and find out what they want - get loads of ideas. It is likely that they will come up with ideas that employers typically say, ‘too hard; too unorthodox’. I like to think differently: ‘yes, it may be different, not done before, but is it possible? If yes, find a way to do it; this is a fantastic way for us as an employer to differentiate ourselves’.
But whatever they and the employer come up with, recognise that people value different things, so flexibility and offering a wide range of choice, be they rewards or lifestyle options, will be key to success. Furthermore, senior management must visibly embrace any such offerings - this is key as employees need to be able to trust the authenticity of the offer. I’ve seen great role models: senior management working 4-day weeks; senior management always ensuring they play tennis on a Wednesday; senior management building in time for their family during the working week.
Another area to be addressed is the way performance is measured: there is a growing trend amongst big employers to say goodbye to forced distribution rankings and other concepts such as annual appraisals. This is to be hugely welcomed: massive gains in individual engagement (and proven knock-on benefits to employee turnover, productivity and profitability) can be expected. ‘Brilliant’ should always mean ‘brilliant’; ’good’ should always mean ‘good’. It’s fair; it’s understandable; and it’s a win-win for employees and employers.
Fourthly, pay transparency. As outlined above, start to dissolve the secrecy where possible, publish pay bands and be clear about criteria required for different pay levels within a particular band.
How do you see pay transparency evolving over time in the UK and affecting the future of work?
Well, although deep-seated habits typically take time to change, I think that due to the younger generations that have spent all their adult-lives sharing, the scene is set for some quick momentum in this area. Sharing pay will come relatively naturally; and together with imaginative practices, greater fairness, and particularly more exposure of the gender pay gap, the building blocks are there. I thought it was great therefore when I discovered Sliips’ new business. I can really see the team will help to address this shift in expectations. Companies would be well-advised to embrace the change.
Patrick: "Thanks, Justin, it’s great to hear your thoughts on what we feel is a really important subject."
Justin: "My pleasure, Patrick, thank you for inviting me along. It’s really great to see what you guys are doing and I wish you lots of success in your venture; do keep me posted"
Patrick: "We certainly will!"
The Sliips team first met Justin Douglas on one of his dynamic and fun training courses. He has operated internationally both as an employee and independent business owner for over 20 years. Justin is a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach, and would like to offer readers of this article a 20% discount on personal coaching, and for businesses, the same discount on an introduction to strengths-based teams, valid until 30th September 2017. Connect with him via LinkedIn to find out more.