Leaving aside the 87 who earn more than what half of the world population earn, you are probably shocked from time to time at the seemingly exorbitant pay increases many CEO’s and the like expect and receive. Unless you are one of them, that is, and even if there isn’t anything apparently untoward in how they got paid or paid themselves.  One’s shock can turn to indignation at the complete lack of any embarrassment on the part of these overpaid leaders when their pay increases are remarked upon or challenged. They seem perfectly entitled to increases that in themselves are often many times more than the total annual pay of the people who work for them.

Not just about Greed

Without it being in any way a justification for these immoral excesses, there are some explanations at how such mad extremes can be reached, and reached without a blush. Crudely put, it comes down to the more you have, the more you want. This is so, not just because people are by nature greedy, but because even money is relative and emotive.   An increase of 10,000  ‘whatever’ a year can be seen as generous by one person and as an insult by another, depending on their starting-point salary. So, you can see then that, the higher the pay, the higher the increase must be for the person to get any kicks and to feel rewarded by the increase. And, on it goes inexorably. The better you do as a Company, the higher the salaries you will pay, and higher the salaries, the greater the increases on those salaries you will need to continue making. Now you can see where this will end. And you can also see the inevitable struggle and potential conflict that is built into the system before it all ends.

Resist them, Fool them!

So, what to do? Don’t perform too well or play down and hide how well you are performing as many Companies do? Fight tooth and nail every inch and cent of the way to keep salaries down “for the welfare of the Company and everybody”? Only pay bonuses that will at least soften or slow down the feeling of relative deprivation?  Not a great choice! But there is a solution and a very good one.

Stealing our Meaning

In all these cases and in this entire situation what we are doing is allowing or encouraging one value to replace another. We are replacing the reward of satisfaction for doing a job with the reward of money.  Now, this has become so prevalent and universal that we don’t even notice it any more.  The infinite satisfaction and reward that playing a sport, singing a song, painting a picture, writing a book, caring for somebody and working, has now been stolen from all these and other activities and replaced with one single, common reward – money.  This, then, becomes the only value and all the motivational weight required for somebody to perform a job  falls onto the driver and measure of money.

The Wonderful Currency of Meaning

The good news is that we can negate this and deal with the issue of incremental increases by replacing money with ‘meaning’ as the key measure and driver of everything and, tooth and nail, refuse to allow it to be devalued or replaced with money or any other currency. All this means is taking really seriously what we mean by our Company Mission and/or Vision. Getting in touch with what we are about as a Company, the difference we want to make, the value we want to add, and holding these up as the single greatest reward always will not only deal with the issue of out-of- control spiralling increases in salaries but will increase the deep down satisfaction of people and enrich the Company as a whole.  This is where your real power as a leader lies. Give up on or neglect this power and you will feel about as strong as a manager negotiating a Christmas bonus with Ronaldo or Rooney. Think they might settle for a hamper? Doubtful.  But think of all the goodies available to you in the hamper your call your Company with its infinite assortment of goals, challenges, changes, successes, learnings, growth, relationships, teamwork  and fun.   These are real and lasting and not too expensive either!