Open Salaries and compatibility

Buffer, a social sharing start-up, made waves when they put their salary formula and individual salaries on their blog. Understandably, this has generated much publicity and plenty of discussion in multiple places. As I was skimming the most up-voted comments on their blog post, I was drawn to a comment that said they wouldn’t want the world knowing how much they made and if any of the members in the Buffer team had pointed that out.

I found this response from one of the Buffer team members instructive


The learning for me here is that we often jump straight into make a judgment on a situation. Often, a tad too quickly. Practically, all I’m looking to understand when I see something like this is what I can learn. And I’ve learnt a few things from this –

1. It is easier to fight for your values than it is to live them. I applaud Buffer for living up to their value of transparency. Too many organizations and people pay lip service to their values.

2. This compensation structure will not work for everyone. I’m not sure if this will work everywhere. That said, it is thought provoking and should be a great discussion for every founding team.

3. Stop judging.. look for compatibility instead. A lot of folks on the thread are busy making a judgment of whether this is good or bad. I think they’re missing the point. No one knows if this is good or bad. It hasn’t been tried before. Even if it has, the context was most definitely not the same. The deeper point here is about compatibility. Buffer has made a strong statement about the kind of people it looks for. If you are the sort of person who will not be comfortable with having your salary out in the open, don’t bother applying to Buffer.

This isn’t all that different from life. It’s easy to go about classing people as good, bad, low quality, high quality, etc. Who the hell really knows this stuff? It’s smarter to just check for compatibility. We won’t work well with everyone. Hopefully, we spend time with people who work well with us and vice versa.

Overall, I’m impressed with what Buffer has done. I don’t know if this is the best business move. Only time will tell. I do however think this has raised the bar on defining “core values.” And, at the very least, it will make folks think twice when they talk about “transparency” as a core value. That’s a big win. Well done Buffer.