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04/18/2013

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Is pay transparency ever a good thing? Besides aiding in the sense of open info, and hoping that leads to trust, what's the benefit?

I'd love to communicate HR's hard work and employee advocacy, but pay is private. People usually avoid quantifying their personal finances like substantial inheritances or large debts, why should their salaries be less guarded?

"Toxic Office" is an entertainment show, so you can be positive that they will seek the very dissention, conflict, antagonism and divisive hostility that good HR process seeks to avoid. The title alone reveals their intent. "Productivity" to them is DRAMA rather than any useful product or practical service. Their measure of success will be glazed eyeballs and Nielsen Scores to sell ads in support of their profits from broadcasting "entertaining" strife.

But it is a step that may restart a process attempted by others in real life. Perhaps those pioneers who actually DID this successfully will now emerge and speak up.

Richard H. Palmer, CEO of Western Textile Products in Tree Court Industrial Park in West St. Louis County, is one who led that fully transparent open process with great success many decades ago. He took a one-year leave of absence to attempt to spread the gospel and entice others to similarly benefit from full and complete transparency. Without going into details, he found no takers. All top execs were terrified by their fears at literally every organization he approached. Can't recall if he published a book on the experience, but wish he had.

Not to start an argument, but I'll merely observe that anything hidden is automatically suspected as illegitimate and undefensible... and that is generally true. Openness dispells lies, rumors and gossip. When you can back up your policies and practices, transparency blows away criticism, creates confidence and enables greater mutual trust. There have been studies and workshops on the process.

Scandanavians make all income public information, as do most public enterprises. If you are the comp person and can't explain salaries, you haven't done your job right. But that's all a bigger topic...

I've been advocating for years that compensation needs to come out of the closet. The arguments against pay transparency all stem from a stereotypical view of employees as immature, shallow and emotionally unable to deal with such information. I'm sure there are some in every organization who fit that description. However, I believe the vast majority of employees would respond positively, especially if the disclosure is delivered in the context of a culturally driven practice that supports the company's value system. Communicating such information as a stand alone exercise without tying the rationale to a larger purpose is an error of significant proportions, besides being just stupid, and will only serve to justify the naysayers arguments.

I think we can expect table-flipping, name-calling drama in this kind of show even if someone gets a single donut hole more than their co-workers. Unfortunately, what they won't be focusing on is where transparency is needed most... between Managers and Employees on why they get paid what they get paid and what they can do to get more.

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