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Drawing robots, being transparent, and reaping the rewards

So, 12 whole months since I joined NixonMcInnes, and whilst I could write a whole blog post about the amazing year it’s been, I won’t; a quick scan of our back catalogue provides a wealth of information on the topic of working here. Instead, I wanted to discuss my experience of our salary process, as it’s pretty special, and is a process that I approached in (hopefully) a fairly unique way.

Instead of going into huge depth about the process, which is constantly evolving, not perfect, and also ultimately uninteresting in detail, here is the 30 second outline: we are personally responsible for proposing salary changes on an annual basis, and once you’ve prepared a salary proposal with help from your direct manager, an elected group of four colleagues review and discuss your review before approving or suggesting an amendment. Ta-dah!

Like most other people, I’ve previously worked in workplaces where salary changes are often unexpected, and always undiscussed. Therefore, the openness of NixonMcInnes is pretty exhilarating, and that’s why I wanted to share this, my proposal.

As part of my future development, I want to make more of my creative side, and so the salary proposal seemed like a perfect time to do so. I’m pretty pleased with it as a picture, but obviously a picture requires more narrative than a word doc or powerpoint would, but for me that was the fun. In short, the little robot is me now, and the bigger robot is the world-conquering mega consultant I will become. Going from the top clockwise, you’ll see the actual figures in question, main achievements, a word-cloud of feedback from colleagues and clients, my plans for the future, and then a visual pause for discussion about whether the proposal is fair, equitable, affordable and attractive – the four main benchmarks against which we measure any salary request.

I’m pleased to say that the committee approved my proposal, but instead of a quick rubber-stamping exercise, we spent an hour discussing my role in relation to the other consultants, and their respective goals and rewards. Doing this with colleagues rather than one-to-one with a boss can be slightly awkward as it’s unusual to be so open about your strengths and weaknesses, but ultimately it results in a team who completely ‘get’ each other, and can find ways to compliment each others unique characteristics.

Lastly, when planning and writing this post, I asked the team whether I should blank out the actual amount on the proposal, which lead to an interesting debate. I posted the question:

Some responses suggested not to show the amount:

Others suggested a clever alternative:

And others were all for openess:

So, I decided to just put it up there. We are a transparent organization, we share other figures, so why not share this? I’d welcome any feedback you have on the idea of salaries being public, any thoughts on the process, and lastly any comments on my picture :)

This post was filed under Not for profit, Training, Working culture Comments are currently closed.


  1. I have a sort of inherent, morbid fear of discussing salary, kind of like those dreams when you go to school with your pyjamas on.
    I like the fact that salary changes are self-proposed. My first ever salary increase was self-proposed – it wasn’t a lot but I got a bigger buzz from that than any increase since. Now I think about it, all the subsequent ones seem more to do with how the organisation was doing rather than me as an individual.

    Posted 8th June 2010 at 10:14 am | Permalink
  2. Joe McLaren

    Hullo Ross. Interesting post, particularly as someone who works freelance, and who misses the stability of a salary sometimes!

    I would like to add my twopenn’orth to the debate about declaring income. While I believe no hegemony should go unquestioned, I think the convention of keeping salaries secret is a valuable tradition, and in keeping with one of our more laudable national sensibilities: humility.

    Those of us who are more comfortably off should be mindful that the average salary is a little over £20,000 per year. If you get your proposed salary increase Ross, you’ll be earning more than 75% of the population.

    The (possibly peculiarly British) tradition of not mentioning money has evolved for many reasons, but it functions very well to prevent the embarrassment of those on lower incomes, who may not wish to publish their salaries.

    Posted 8th June 2010 at 10:43 am | Permalink
  3. Ross

    Interesting point you raise Joe M, although I think context plays a big part. Whilst I’m lucky to earn more than the national average as you state, I earn less than the agency average largely because I work in Brighton rather than London.
    I definitely agree however that humility should be front of mind when discussing salary, particularly as public sector cuts and other economic factors are making life tough for large groups of people at present. Ultimately, in my own small way I’m hoping that openness could catch on and lead to those at the higher end of the scale following suit. Maybe it’s a long way off, but more openness around salaries could only be a good thing for those earning less, in my opinion.

    Posted 8th June 2010 at 11:10 am | Permalink
  4. Helen A

    I’ve always thought this democratic approach was one of the strengths of NM and for me the salary openess is an admirable part of that.

    I tend to agree with Jenni – salaries are published at time of advert so I don’t see why a raise should be shrouded in secrecy and the more senior you are the more you should be prepared to stand by your salary and therefore what you contribute.

    I also believe that the level of openess makes you far more aware of what you’re contributing in the eyes of your colleagues and therefore result in sustained productivity and meaningful contributions.

    My only query is whether this is biased towards certain members of the NM team: those that are more outgoing and self-confident and those that perform client delivery work. Would for example a junior part-time member of staff feel they were able to ask for a pay rise.

    The above aren’t criticisms; I’m just interested in how you actively mitigate against people’s innate self-consciousness.

    Posted 8th June 2010 at 11:20 am | Permalink
  5. Nice pic. Nice salary. In the UK’s hippest city?

    PS. You can send the dvds now ;)

    Posted 8th June 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink
  6. Ross

    Hi Helen, thanks for your comment – in response to your query, it’s part of everybody’s annual review to go through the salary process, meaning that all members of the team have the chance to ask for a pay rise. I personally found it quite tough to articulate my needs, and even writing this blog post caused me concern as to how it would be perceived by colleagues and others, but knowing that everyone in the team go’s through the same process (including Will and Tom), is comforting.

    Posted 8th June 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink
  7. Richard Taylor

    There is so much here to be appreciated. Asking the individual to rate their worth has to be positive even when in some circumstances that might be misplaced. For the salary proposal to then be discussed openly removes that taboo too. Then to share the process, the proposal and the outcome with rest of the world! I hope some senior HR people see this as the way forward.

    Posted 8th June 2010 at 2:09 pm | Permalink
  8. I share the concern that people might feel modest or lack the confidence to ask for more money. The hope is that the elected group of their peers would spot this and adjust the pay rise upwards to make sure it’s fair and equitable. Something to keep an eye on though. In any case I hope that its better than a manager making an arbitrary decision.

    Posted 8th June 2010 at 4:38 pm | Permalink
  9. Well done mate, that must have been hard for you as I know you well so can imagine you worried about that for several weeks in advance. I don’t think there is any shame in sharing details as you have to talk about money to make money and become more successful.
    Better to do that than be all up tight about it. (can get my 10% cut for adding a positive comment like you asked me to – cheers)

    Posted 8th June 2010 at 9:13 pm | Permalink
  10. Ross, – I’ve been following what you’ve been doing at NM for a while and really love the idea of open salaries. And I think that following that through to being publicly open about it is the right thing to do.

    I must say that Joe McLaren’s point is an interesting one I hadn’t fully considered and one which is disturbing.

    But on further thought does this tradition not also obscure the reality of higher salaries from those very same lower earners – which may lead them to not realising their full potential?

    On a very simplistic level I believe that any barriers to openness cannot have just and good causes or reasons – there must be something else at play.

    Posted 18th June 2010 at 9:46 am | Permalink
  11. To both Joe and Al’s points, in my experience talking to lots of other owners and MD’s of small businesses like ours over the years about how we try to work, the number one reason cited to not openly publish salaries is because it would reveal challenging and controversial inconsistencies between people doing similar or the exact same role.

    For me, what could be described as humility and privacy and so on has actually become a disguise for unfairness.

    However, we feel this same strain too – but we feel in a more positive way. The conversations that happen about the inter-relationships between ‘my performance and rewards and her/his performance and rewards’ are hugely powerful but also very sensitive.

    We have found that sometimes a cluster of people can emerge, grouped around the same role, similar or the same performance, with then proposals to have the same rewards.

    Whilst this can be comfortable at first, it can lead to its own problems!

    Still, we’re committed to this and enjoying – over the years we’ve been doing it – the challenges it throws up and the learning we gain along the way. But it isn’t necessarily easier.

    Posted 21st June 2010 at 10:01 am | Permalink
  12. Hi Ross,

    Cool pic,

    Have you read Seth’s latest book? worth a read :)


    Posted 22nd June 2010 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

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