I Set My Own Salary. It Blows People’s Minds.
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I Set My Own Salary. It Blows People’s Minds.

Happy Boss’s Day! Or is it Merry Boss’s day? Come to think about it, what even is Boss’s day? It sounds like a holiday invented by a search engine or a particularly cloying batch of Hallmark interns.

It shouldn’t bother me, I suppose. I’m my own boss, like everyone else at GrantTree. It’s my day too. So let’s just pretend today’s a nice excuse for me to buy myself a new mug. We’ll ignore the fact that asking people to thank their boss for being nice is…well…absurd.

In truth, there are no ‘bosses’ at GrantTree. We embrace a unique organisational philosophy called Open Culture, where there are no managers, no subordinates, no hierarchy of personnel. Each employee has autonomous control, or ‘domain’, over their specific responsibilities. The company’s functions are assigned to employees (we call them partners) who are interested and qualified to manage them.

For example, I’m in charge of writing GrantTree’s blog posts. While I can ask my colleagues for their input, I’m under no obligation to change what I write. There are ways for my colleagues to intervene if I publish something that could damage the company. But otherwise I have free rein. I’m trusted to do a good job.

This isn’t to say there’s no hierarchy at GrantTree. There is a hierarchy of work. Writing blog posts is part of the work of Marketing, which is part of the work of our Tax Credits business. In this model, work is subordinate to other kinds of work. Blog posts ultimately serve our Tax Credits business, for instance. While still relatively flat, this organisation creates structure.

The lack of a ‘personnel hierarchy’ means each person can make important decisions within their sphere of influence and accountability. We call this system self-management. Self-management has some interesting consequences, aside from the fact I have to write my own Boss’s Day card. For one thing, I can’t get promoted. Not in the traditional sense. There’s no ‘ladder’ to climb. I can choose to take on more responsibility by signing up for more duties, but there’s no top-down system of appraisal and reward. No one will sit me down in a year’s time and give me a raise.

So what do I do if I deserve a raise? Simple. I give myself one.

At GrantTree, we set our own pay.

Yes, I really do set my own pay

Having partners set their own pay is the ultimate expression of the self-management philosophy. Companies often use self-management as a millennial-baiting euphemism for a handful of fairly superficial freedoms like working remotely or wearing shorts in the office.

True self-management goes far beyond relaxing company etiquette. It requires taking control from the upper echelons of management and sewing it into the primary responsibilities of every single employee. There’s no better (or more challenging) example of this than empowering staff to adjust their own pay.

When I talk to my friends and family about GrantTree’s radical practices, they give me a suspicious look. But when it comes to the idea of setting my own salary, they look almost aghast. Then they’ll usually ask me ‘why don’t you just quadruple your salary and be done with it?’

The simple answer is I, like most people, wouldn’t do that. GrantTree expects partners to act responsibly. Our hiring process thoroughly tests a candidate’s development and maturity. If someone were short-sighted enough to raise their pay to exorbitant levels, they probably wouldn’t be hired in the first place.

But moving past this silly example, what would happen if I felt I deserved a reasonable raise?

How I change my pay

In most jobs, salaries are set by negotiation – a tug of war between company and employee. Salaries are reflections of more than an employee’s development or market value. They incorporate the strength of both sides’ bargaining positions and their ability to argue their case. GrantTree removes negotiation from the procedure and places the decision entirely on the shoulders of the partner, via a process called Pay Self-Assessment (PSA for short). Here’s how it works.

There are four stages: We collect data relevant to our salary and performance, we write a proposal for a new salary based on this data, we receive feedback on our proposal and we make a final decision about our pay.

1) Data Collection

This is where I collect data that will inform my decision about what my salary should be, including information about my performance, my career progression, the market value of my role (i.e. what I could be earning given my skills and experience), and an analysis of the impact my raise will have on the company’s budgets. Then I look at what this data says. If, for example, the evidence shows I have grown professionally and that the market value for my skills has increased, I can work out a numerical value for my wage increase. Of course, the data could also could lead me to conclude that I should be paid less. PSA isn’t just about raises. Pay decreases are also possible.

2) PSA Proposal

I then compile this information into a PSA Proposal; a form in which I state my current pay, my proposed new salary, and an explanation for how the data and evidence I have collected supports my proposal for a pay raise. For example, I would point to how the data I have collected indicates professional growth and my market value has increased.

3) PSA Feedback

A number of my colleagues – those who supplied evidence in the data collection stage – will then review my PSA Proposal to provide feedback and ask questions about the data I’ve provided. For example, they could suggest that I’ve misinterpreted the budgetary impact of my proposed wage increase, and that I should lower it. This feedback isn’t binding. It’s there to advise me on the best course of action, for both me and the company.  

4) PSA Decision

Finally, I publish my Pay Decision. This confirms my new salary and also allows me the opportunity to answer questions or concerns my colleagues posed in their feedback to my PSA Proposal. My new salary will take effect the next pay cycle. And voila. That’s it. I have my pay raise.

The PSA process might seem strange. It did to me, at first. I used to work for a large PR firm where the process for granting raises and promotions was both inscrutable and strictly controlled. But now I can see the benefits of this approach. While a lot of companies underpay employees that have been with them a long time, the PSA process allows us to set our wage at a level that reflects our value to the company.

However you prefer to be managed, I hope you feel valued and fairly paid. If you do have a nice manager, maybe get them a card for Boss’s day. Or not. It’s a silly idea, anyway.

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