Clarify

Employee Compensation

As an agency promoting progressive causes, Clarify makes every effort to live our progressive values in our own company. As part of those efforts, we emphasize doing what we can to keep employees fulfilled and treat them equitably.

Pay equity can be a thorny subject. Research has shown that the higher social cost women typically face when negotiating for a raise is a driver of a society-wide pay gap for women, even if they do ask for raises as frequently as men. Negotiation disparities are also likely a driver of society-wide pay gaps for people of color vs. white counterparts. More broadly, employers typically have much deeper knowledge of salary scales than any individual employee, and any negotiation with highly asymmetric knowledge possessed by each side is inherently less fair.

To blunt the negotiation advantage of white male employees and make as much of a dent as we can in these society-wide disparities, Clarify has developed a compensation system that is rigid, relatively objective, and 100% transparent.

You can think of the system as a three legged stool. It needs each of three legs in order to stand: grounding in performance (output), transparency about how performance translates to compensation, and feedback to employees about their progress. We adapted this system from one used by Chewse. Here’s how each of those legs works.

Output Levels

First, the employee’s manager assigns the employee a letter grade designed to measure that employee’s productivity (output level). The greater the output, the more that employee should be earning, so each output level is tied to a specific level of compensation.

The progression of output levels represents a rough version of a typical career arc. Not everyone will advance in the same order, and not everyone will advance all the way to the end. Once in awhile someone might even regress. But everyone should be able to understand the different levels, and everyone should know what their coworkers’ output levels are.

These are the output levels Clarify uses for standard strategy roles (e.g. advertising operations, email production and content, etc.) and for technical specialist roles (design, videography, etc.).

Standard Strategy Roles

Letter Grade

Output Level

Level
Description

A Entry level, untested Fresh, new, right out of college or training. Untested and learning.
B Some proven aptitude, but still green Intermediate skill level. Showing potential and progressing, consistently meeting all essential aspects of the job description, but still needs skill or experience development to stand alone.
C Proven Contributor Able to stand alone on smaller projects and contribute in a more nuanced and skilled capacity on larger projects.
D Leading contributor Proven success in role. Exhibits strong to above-and-beyond effort – consistently exceeds baseline expectations. Still requires support, but less so – highly self-directed. Has ability to train others, contributes to overall team processes, exhibits leadership in project ownership.
E D-level work or better + significant progress T-shaped paths emerge: has depth of experience in an area, but can work with others across the company. Has both technical and soft skills. Prioritizes learning and acquiring new skills and experiences. Active contributor to strategic conversations. Shows strong effort AND skill.
F E-level work or better + significant progress Can set the charter, get buy-in, and champion initiatives across the company. Sets a vision and owns it. A leader. Actively takes on mentorship of others in and outside of their team. Expert skill level.
G Best-in-industry work All of the above. Absolutely rare find. Top of their field, an expert and trusted source. They have an unfair advantage that makes them uniquely suited to the role. The highest quality of person for the role — to those both inside and outside the company.

Technical Specialist Roles

Letter Grade

Output Level

Level
Description

A Entry level, untested Fresh, new, right out of college or training. Untested, learning how to be in an office/on a team and how to apply technical skills to real world situations.
B Some proven aptitude, but still green Intermediate skill level. Showing potential and progressing, consistently applying basic technical skills to real world situations, but still needs understanding of broader strategic context and broader skill development to stand alone.
C Proven Contributor Has the technical skills and understanding of broader strategic context to stand alone on smaller projects and contribute in a more nuanced and skilled capacity on larger projects.
D Leading contributor Proven success in role. Has complete facility of strategic context or one set of technical skills. Exhibits strong to above-and-beyond effort. Still requires support, but less so – highly self-directed. Has ability to train others, contributes to overall team processes, exhibits leadership in project ownership.
E D-level work or better + significant progress Has complete facility of either strategic context and one set of technical skills or of multiple sets of technical skills. Can work with others across the company and has soft skills. Can direct subordinates and/or vendors to achieve discreet pieces of a coherent whole with strong results and has the ability to step in and complete various discreet pieces personally. Shows strong effort AND skill.
F E-level work or better + significant progress Has expert level mastery of either strategic context and one technical skill set or of multiple technical skill sets. Can set the charter, get buy-in, and champion relatively complex initiatives across the company. Sets a vision and owns it. A leader. Actively takes on mentorship of others.
G Best-in-industry work All of the above. Top of their field, an expert and trusted source on strategic context plus multiple technical skill sets. The highest quality of person for the technical vertical – to those both inside and outside the company – with skills to not only produce top quality work personally but to get top quality work on the most complex projects out of vendors and/or subordinates as well.

Compensation Levels

Each employee’s compensation starts with the same base salary, currently $43,680. The employee’s actual compensation is the product of the base salary and a multiplier determined by their output level.

We also add a fixed amount to any employee’s salary if they have one of the qualifications that is especially valuable to us: an extra $5,000/year for a graduate degree in a relevant field and an extra $2,500/year for experience working on the digital team of a major Democratic presidential candidate, for a potential total of $7,500/year. We account for these qualifications on a flat rate basis rather than with a multiplier because they’re more valuable the less experience the employee otherwise has in the job.

These are the multipliers Clarify currently uses for each output level.

Output level

Multiplier

Product of base and multiplier

% change over previous level

A 1.0000 $43,680 N/A
B 1.0760 $47,000 8%
C 1.2592 $55,000 17%
D 1.3507 $59,000 7%
E 1.8315 $80,000 36%
F 2.2894 $100,000 25%
G 2.8617 $125,000 25%

Feedback to Employees

The output levels and the compensation levels match up nicely together, but to really make it work, the third leg of the stool is having frequent check-ins with each employee. Each check-in is much shorter than a typical annual review, and it involves specific mention of what the employee is doing well and needs to improve. This helps each employee understand why we have assigned them to a certain output level.

Caveats

We may change this system as time passes and our company evolves, whether to account for inflation, create a parallel version for jobs requiring specific technical skills that command a premium, or for some other reason. We may also use selective bonuses from time to time to address short-term needs for flexibility.

But overall, we’ve seen positive results since implementing this system. We look forward to continuing to support our employees openly and transparently as our company grows.