Published on: March 1, 2013
We've been having a lot of discussion here on MNB recently about the whole "equitable pay" issue, with a lot of attention being paid to whether senior executives with stratospheric compensation packages are putting distance between themselves and the people on the front lines in a way that can hurt the business.
One MNB user wrote:Kevin, don’t oversimplify the issue. What you seem to be saying is that we need to pay people at the top less and people at entry level more. We need to acknowledge that front line people are what makes or breaks our organization. Those that aspire to continue to grow and move up in an organization that have the ability can do just that.
42 years ago, I was a part time stock clerk at my local Super Duper making $1.75 an hour. I have never begrudged my Supervisors or anyone in a corporate executive position their compensation. I worked hard to move up the proverbial corporate ladder. Some people I worked with at the time did not have either the ambition or the ability to do what I did.
What we are creating today, with assistance from our federal government, is a type of class warfare between what they are calling the “haves” and “have nots.” This is not the way go grow in an organization, by tearing down what many people have worked hard to attain. Those who have continued to grow with an organization need to never forget the experience and how they were able to get there and continue to help those people within the organization reach their goals.
In thinking about the issue, I think I need to be clear that I am not begrudging senior executives pay that recognizes their talents, experience and responsibilities. Far from it. And yes, I think it is important to give people on the front lines something to which they can aspire. I'm just arguing that maybe these higher compensation levels have gotten out of whack, and that in a number of cases, they help create a chasm between the front lines and headquarters. Which never is good for business.
MNB user Rich Heiland wrote:I just returned from more than two weeks in Australia and New Zealand, working mostly with small businesses. In Australia the minimum wage is just over $14 an hour. I heard none of my clients whining about it or even talking about it compared with businesses in this country who seem to feel paying a living wage will bankrupt them. The reality is that when people are paid enough so that basics like a roof over the head and food on the table are taken care of they tend to perform better and stay longer – exceptions readily conceded up front. But as a rule……
It would seem to me we need to be removing the stigma of “low wage workers” by dealing in a realistic fashion with what “low” means and is. Frankly, my experience tells me that when a business person tells me paying a living wage will bankrupt them I have no trouble finding several other reasons among their business practices for poor performance. It’s usually not the employees or their compensation. And, I won’t go into how the Aussie health care system takes benefits off the table as a competitive issue between employers…
And then, there was this email from MNB user David Livingston:Don't expect businesses to simply start handing out raises to the less ambitious and unproductive people in our society. We are all free to opt into higher paying work any time we want. You can choose to hustle carts at Walmart or you can choose to work on an oil rig in Alaska and make 10 time more money. It comes down to personal decisions. If one chooses a minimum wage career and then complains about low wages, it is a classless and cowardly response to complain. Brave people go out to work every day in high wage, risky jobs that require a great sacrifice and ambition. To simply hand out raises to the unmotivated is a slap in the face to these brave hard working people.
I don't know where to start...
People on the front lines of organizations are not necessarily unproductive or less ambitious. And I'm not suggesting that we should hand out raises to people who do not deserve them ... just that we need to rethink that that word "deserve" means. I know smart CEOs who would argue that the people on the front lines are, in fact, the most important people in their organizations, because they are the people who interact with the shoppers. Observing that these people sometimes are undervalued and underpaid is hardly "classless or cowardly" ... it actually is and should be part of a continuing conversation about value and values in US business.
I know this is going to come as a rude shock to you, but the choice is not always just between working as a Walmart greeter and working on an oil rig in Alaska. And the choices are not always simple - they can be dictated by all sorts of factors that have nothing to do with ambition or bravery or willingness to sacrifice.
Do I think that people have to be personally responsible for their own career and life decisions? Of course. It seems to me that people always can find ways to better themselves, to educate themselves, to improve their own lives and those of their children. But sometimes, life gets in the way. People have bad luck. Parents or children get sick and need to be cared for. Economies go into recession. Options can be limited by reality (unless, apparently, you are willing to go to Alaska and work on an oil rig).
I'm only running your email because I think it is symptomatic of the "epistemic closure" that some people have in this country, and that we talk about here on MNB from time to time. We cannot be convinced that our own world views are so absolute and correct that we cannot allow for the fact that other people don't always have the same opportunities, options and even luck that we have.
And I know you'll disagree with this, but to me, the best leaders are the ones who understand that these issues exist, wrestle with them, try to resolve them within their organizations, and, yes, are willing to engage in this continuing conversation about value and values.
I asked the other day what the over/under is on when we'll discover horse meat in beef products being sold in the US.
MNB user Rosemary Fifield wrote:The trouble is, you have to test for something in order to identify it. Who knows what we should be testing for?
MNB user Steve Rash wrote:l'll bet you dinner that horse meat WILL show up in the U.S. When? Probably a day or two after the sequester kicks in and the food inspectors get laid off in an effort to scare the public.
MNB user Mike Franklin wrote:30 days…
Prop Bet: it won’t be found by the USDA.
From another reader:I think the $1 billion annual taxpayer cost of the continuous meat inspection program makes the likelihood of horse or other non-beef meat in US meat products extremely remote.
However, I'd accept the increased risk of a little horse meat now and then for a $1 billion federal expenditure cut.
You may be in a minority on that one...
On another subject, one MNB user wrote:I loved your comments on the new Amazon commercial with the man and the woman on the beach. Can't wait to see it. What people may not realize is that the LGBT community has become one of the most lucrative demographics in this country, with somewhere between $750-800 billion in spending power (various statistical agencies vary a bit), making them the second largest demographic in the way of expendable income. Couple that with a surveyed loyalty to manufacturers and retailers that support LGBT individuals with their policies of north of 70% in the LGBT community, and you have an un-ignorable opportunity that companies like Amazon absolutely must speak to. I believe a similar study of brand/retailer loyalty across all demographics is something below 20%.
I don't know what is more exciting - to see progressive companies like Amazon marketing to the LGBT community in a fun and savvy way or to be alive at a time when hearts and minds are changing so rapidly across our country. Probably both!
Finally, regarding the sudden departure of Walmart's chief administrative officer, MNB user Robin Russell wrote:He's leaving for a life of contemplation and prayer.....oh, sorry, that's the Pope.....
Funny line. Wish I'd thought of it.