The Salary Barrier

The salary question is the first one I’d like to address here, or more specifically I want to address The Salary Barrier.  The Salary Barrier is that point in a conversation where you have ascertained that the person in question understands and accepts the concept of prices and pricing, but still can’t see how that applies to labor, or salaries.  We’re going to have to start with some basics on this one.

Prices.  Everything that is scarce and valued has a price.  Prices are developed on markets, they are bid up and down based on supply and demand conditions, all based on the subjective perceptions of the people doing the bidding.  I prefer the most and least competent buyers and sellers model, but I forget who first proposed it.  However, it’s enough to know it’s a process of discovery that occurs continuously.

Now, if you were to run into a Rolls Royce dealership and demand a Grey Ghost, but only offer the price of a Honda Accord, almost everyone understands you will be asked to leave, or laughed out of the place.  This concept, using various goods and services, is understood by most every human being on the Earth.  Except with regard to wages.

What’s more, HR and recruiting professionals, at least some of them, seem to make a living not doing much HR or recruiting, but writing about those things.  They tend to hive off into high minded theoretical horseshit.  One such avenue their thoughts travel is the role of compensation in motivating people.  They will often talk about allowing employees to be creative, to stimulate them, to do any number of things.  Other than pay them.

Now, CEOs and business owners read these articles, and you must understand, most of them are incompetent.  Most companies in the US are small to medium sized businesses.  They are run by amateurs who were in the right place at the right time, with the right service or product.  they are not necessarily run by people who have a clue how to manage a business, much less other people.  So, they read these articles and always come away with the idea that you offer alternative forms of compensation in lieu of actual salary, not in addition to salary.

No, it’s also important to remember that salaries fall on a normal distribution like anything else.  There’s a mean, a median, and a mode.  These are instructive as to what the going rate for a given type of labor would be, and these numbers are easily accessible these days at websites like  This means both employers and potential employees know what they should be getting in a general sense.

Now, the kicker is that in recruiting, whether you’re corporate or agency, you’re still likely inundated with requests to fill positions at salaries that are 30-50% below where the market says they should be.  Here’s why…

No one thinks to check first.  Or, very few people do.  It’s really that simple.

So, we have a perfect storm of recruiting and HR professionals basically earning money by telling CEOs and business owners that they don’t actually have to pay their employees.  You get incompetent managers and HR departments that decide on budgets before looking at actual job requirements.  And you have agencies working mostly on spec who take the orders, with no DSLA in place and so no consequences for the originating company beyond the cost of their vacancy, and those agencies will sit on the order and work it and eventually what happens is the job doesn’t get filled, they get really lucky and find someone who is undervalued and willing to take the position at the salary proposed, or, and this is the least likely, the company caves in and pays market rate for what they actually need.

Here’s the reality…

You get what you pay for in the labor market as in every other market.  Labor has a price, you either pay it or put up with a more junior person who you can afford.

If you want to fill a position, you will figure out what the job description is and then look up the salary ranges for that type of role in your area, and aim there.  If you’re below the mean salary you will have problems filling the position.  If you’re significantly below the mean salary, you will not fill the position.  If you have alternative forms of compensation you can offer, these need to be offered to your high performers as a means of retaining them.  You can not make up for any significant shortfall in salary with other benefits except in rare instances where what you’re offering is exactly what the employee wants.

It is way past the time HR and recruiting professionals pulled their thumbs out of their asses and told companies they have to pay their employees and pay a market wage.  If they are not willing to do that, you can still find them people, however they will be more junior than where they were aiming, or of lower quality, like lacking leadership potential, etc.  You can’t simply “get people” at any price for any job.  Recruiters and HR professionals need to set better expectations and push back more on these companies run by idiots who think they can go to an electrical engineer who would be earning 90K at any random company in area and offer that person 50K and that they’ll jump at the offer for some reason.

To all business owners: you are not the only game in town.  There are other companies out there, and they’re offering jobs pretty much like the ones you offer, with pretty much the same benefits and working conditions, etc.  You need to look at your company in a totally honest fashion with no marketing or PR bullshit in the way and find out why someone would want to work there.  If you can’t answer that, or if there really is no reason, you need to look at your compensation rates because that will become the only way to differentiate your company from the competition.

And to finish up, you need to stop listening to morons who try and tell you salary is not a motivator for people.  It is the primary motivator.  People need food, shelter, and clothing.  They do not get that by having more creativity at work, or working for a company with a prestigious name.  Try and pay your rent or mortgage with either of those things, it won’t work.  You first need to compensate your employees fairly for what they are doing for you, and then target the ones you want to retain and hit them with non monetary compensation to try and keep them around longer.  Money is without fail the first question candidates ask about in any inquiry about a position.  People need to stop tip toeing around this issue and address up front and in the open: pay matters.  Deal with it and pay your employees with money, not freedom or opportunity or any other non monetary piece of bullshit.