The Person in Front of You Isn’t Headed Where You’re Going

The stories my son Grey finds the most entertaining are those about my father’s legendary lack of direction. He loves hearing how Grandpa would regularly get lost coming home from work, a place we drive to every single day. My father would nearly always end up about seven miles from our house at a restaurant called the “Giant Artichoke.” They sold only deep-fried fresh artichoke hearts. (The 1970s were kind of awesome.) But Grey’s favorite stories are about Grandpa driving around with the whole family.

We would be driving for a long time to a place that didn’t take a long time to get to. When one of us came to the realization that we were once again astray, we’d ask our intrepid drive if he knew where he was going. His most common response? “I’m just following the guy in front of me, he knows where he’s going.” It may sound like a joke, but my dad regularly drove hours out of his way based solely on this “the other guy knows” philosophy.

I direct my team to perform “blind” market pricings whenever possible. Blind pricing is matching a role and pricing it based on all the available details except what the person is currently being paid. This ensures the pricing used is not biased by the current compensation being paid. In my experience, too many compensation professionals choose, weight, or adjust data to align with what an incumbent is already being paid, or what a recruiter has said it will take to fill the position. Like my dad, this assumes the person in front of you knows where YOU are going.

I recently had someone new on my team price some jobs and the data came in a bit lower than the current staff for several positions. When I did an initial review with the client, they were shocked. They were a startup and had been intentionally paying people below market as they waited for funding to come in. We went back to the data and found that Level 1 and 2 positions were similar in price, but the jump to Level 3 was more than 40%! It turns out the Level 3 data and above matched several other surveys, but the Level 1 and 2 data matched the company’s current pay. In this case, the current pay was wrong. We releveled the data, and everything made more sense.

When I dig into analyses done by others, I often see adjustments being made to “bring the market in line with expectations.” Data is data, it is not information. Data is numbers, it is not a rulebook. Do your job analysis. Be confident in the role details. Price to the role, not the current pay levels. Then, evaluate where things stand and what to do. If you are paying below market, but can’t afford more, then just be cognizant of the opportunity that provides competitors. If you are paying above market, but the person is doing a great job, just make sure they know they are being paid well and fix things slowly over the long run. Please stop selecting and modifying data to match your past pay decisions. Just let the market data tell its story and use your own intelligence to decide what to do with that data.


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