Storytelling About Barley With Jafar Owainati

Welcome to the Use Case Podcast! Today we have Jafar Owainati from Barley, a compensation management platform. We’ll be talking about the use case or business case for why their customers use Barley.

Owainati explains that Excel and Google Sheets are the main competitors for Barley, as many organizations continue to use these spreadsheets to manage compensation. However, Barley provides a more intuitive and simplified solution that reflects what people expect from modern-day software.

While compensation analysts may still use spreadsheets to do their analysis, Barley empowers the entire organization by providing a solution that takes away complexity and shows end-users what they need to do with the right context.

But what exactly is compensation is tied to these days? Owainati notes that pay for performance is still a predominant approach to compensation, but there is a trend of dissociating pay from performance to avoid biasing the performance management process.

He explains that Barley helps organizations structure, analyze, and manage their compensation while keeping a pulse on shifting market trends. By doing so, Barley helps organizations make better decisions around compensation and rewards, which ultimately leads to better retention rates and employee satisfaction.

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Thanks, William

Show length: 23 minutes

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Jafar Owainati
Co-founder & CEO Barley

Barley is a compensation management software that makes it easy to structure, analyze, and manage compensation - and keep a pulse on changing salary trends. Barley’s platform gives forward-thinking businesses the tools to make smart, consistent, and fair pay decisions, while saving time and optimizing budgets.


Storytelling About Barley With Jafar Owainati

William Tincup: [00:00:00] This is William Tincup and you are listening to the Use Case podcast. Today we have Jafar on from Barley and we’ll be learning about the business case. So the use case is prospects and customers use for barley. So we’re gonna just jump right into it. Jafar, would you do us a favor and introduce yourself and Barley?

Jafar Owainati: Awesome. Thanks so much, William, for having me. Sure. So I’m Jafaro Anadi. I’m the co-founder and CEO of Barley. Barley is a compensation management platform that helps organizations structure, analyze, and manage their compensation, while also being able to keep a pulse on [00:01:00] shifting market trends.

William Tincup: Compensation.

A lot of folks don’t know this, but compensation is where some of the most sophisticated spreadsheets exist, right? Oh, yeah. If you ever want to dig in, finance, obviously, they have some pretty sophisticated spreadsheets, of course. But in hr in hr, not as sophisticated until you get over to comp and then it gets crazy, wacky zany.

And I know you’ve seen this just because of the folks, customers that you deal with. Yeah. So getting the practitioners out of Excel. And into some sophisticated software that does all that stuff, but better. How have first of all, how do you get ’em to move away from what’s comfortable in Excel and what they know?

Yeah. Into something that’s far better, but it’s also something that they may not know as well.

Jafar Owainati: Yeah, for sure. I think, you, you hit at home in terms of what I’d consider the main competitor to a compensation [00:02:00] solution is Google Sheets or Excel. And I think there’s two camps there.

There’s in some cases there’s a sense of pride of this like really amazing spreadsheet that I’ve held. And in other cases there’s a continuous frustration of I hate Excel, I don’t wanna work in another spreadsheet. And I think part of it really depends on what your role in the company is and also your stage of your company.

If you are more of an analyst type who is maybe a compensation analyst, you’re gonna love. Having your spreadsheets. But with that, the challenge is who your end users are. And if your end users are the different people managers, you have HR generalists and HR business partners that are involved with compensation they need to have something that’s really intuitive and takes away the complexity and just shows them what they need to do with the right context.

And at the end of the day, if you’re working in compensation, It’s still, you’re probably still gonna be using some spreadsheets to do your own analysis, but once it comes to empowering the entire organization, it’s really [00:03:00] important to get into a simplified solution that reflects what people expect from modern day software.

William Tincup: What’s can, what’s what do you see with your customers? What’s comp tied to these days? What’s comp tied to in terms of the workflow of where does. Where does compensation data need to come from? And where does it need to go to, because I’m kinda looking at the what you, what used to be the kind of interconnectedness of, okay, it’s gotta be tied to performance.

In some ways it’s gotta be tied to rewards and recognition or incentives. Yeah. It’s gotta be tied to, there’s certain things that at least historically comp was like the glue that, went to a lot of different people for different reasons.

Jafar Owainati: Yeah, I would say that pay for performance is still a predominant approach, right?

To compensation and making increases as well as even developing like incentive plans and things like that. But you do see a trend of people trying to dissociate pay from performance because it can bias [00:04:00] the performance management process itself, right? So if you’re a people manager and you really care deeply about your direct reports, You may be hesitant to give them a very real performance rating because you might know that if I give someone a underperforming rating, then they’re gonna get a worse salary increase.

But the reality is that direct report actually needs the real talk and the performance management and the guidance. And so there is definitely a perspective and emerging trend of companies that focus more on paying towards market and making adjustments based on market shifts. And then segmenting salary ranges into different develop developmental blocks or zones where you might have the first third of your band is for certain skills and attributes, and then you have like your target range and then like a premium zone.

So those are some of the things we see from like a evolution of how pay is tied. But from a system standpoint, compensation [00:05:00] is typically living in the H R s or the right human capital management system. And our goal as a solution is not to replace the H R I S. We do see that as the system of record for employee data, but rather what we do is we integrate with these systems to pull all that data and barley then becomes the system of engagement and the workflow management system really on driving those compensation decisions.

And. Getting out of all those spreadsheets, especially when there’s one spreadsheet sent to every single people manager, where then they’re breaking all these formulas and the formulas don’t work anymore.

William Tincup: I don’t understand why does it work? Oh yeah. A number of things I wanna, I wanted to ask you as it relates to what you, the good work that you do with barley, the the what we’ve seen over the last couple years with remote.

Now I got into a little bit of hot water a while back when I wrote an article indeed. Basically advocated for getting rid of location based pay. Okay. [00:06:00] And of course, indeed it then informed me that they’re, everything’s built around location based for them. So that was not necessarily a great kind of thing for them.

But basically what I was arguing at the time was, do people wanna live where they wanna live? Why are we using this kind of arcane model of buying skills that are similar, but that just because they live in different places, we pay for them differently now. Yeah. I’m, I know that there’s a lot more to it I’m making real simplistic argument.

Sure. But basically, what have your customers been talking to you about? How they’ve dealt with hybrid and remote and, how they’re, how we looked at work differently. And obviously we’re working at, we’re looking at comp differently.

Jafar Owainati: Yeah, absolutely. I think it is a very sensitive topic and I think the sensitivity gets emphasized whether you’re talking to employers or employees and candidates as well.

And I think when it comes to location based pay our approach at Barley is [00:07:00] that we can support whatever approach. But what we’ve been seeing predominantly happen is, let’s speak on a country by country basis. Historically, if you’re looking across the us you had location based pay that may have even gone down to the city, right?

And so someone moved away from San Francisco and then moved to Sacramento. Even they may have a different pay because those cities have different premiums or different costs of living. What we have seen with our customers is moving away from that level of granularity. And rather having more of a national based pay per country.

And I think when, yeah. And so when it comes to location based pay, I would say that you do see more and more organizations going specifically as well in tech companies that just have a national pay. And that national pay would be benchmarked across a specific region or across the entire country.

But with that said it, it is rare. That a company would have, what [00:08:00] I consider a completely location agnostic pay. And what I mean by that is a G Global pay strategy where it’s like you’ll pay someone in the UK the same as you’ll pay in Argentina or Brazil. There are some organizations that advocate for that.

And quite frankly, barley can support that philosophy as well, as long as you. Look at pay under a single currency.

William Tincup: So you’re, what’s great about that is you’re flexible to whatever their strategy is. If their strategy is to, again, run it the way they want to run it that then barley can adapt to whatever they want.

Yeah. And

Jafar Owainati: just, sorry, one other point on location. Sure. I think at the end of the day, what shook people up when we first went into sort of more remote work when Covid first hit is people were implementing location based strategies. Out of nowhere, right? The employees who joined those organizations did not sign up for that philosophy and it was enforced on them, right?

But I think what’s important now, and what’s great now is companies have an opportunity to [00:09:00] document it and to share it. So when a candidate is looking to join a company, they know what they’re signing up for. And so if they’re signing up for a company that pays differently every city, they know that they’re signing up for that.

William Tincup: I love that. So you mentioned the word bias just a second ago, but it was in in context with something else. But you’re probably being asked a lot these days about bias, about, about equity and pay equity biases and things like that. So what, first of all, I don’t wanna assume that if I’m wrong about that, please. Please correct me, but if so, what are you hearing from customers as it relates to comp? What are you hearing in terms of bias or how do we, bridge the pay equity gap, et cetera?

Jafar Owainati: Yeah I think that, bias does exist and I think the key thing about bias is part of it is systemic.

It may, it’s not intentional. I think that’s the one thing that’s really important to note in a lot of cases. I think it comes down to even, small behaviors and rules that you have to put in place. We’re seeing more and [00:10:00] more companies have a known negotiation rule that they’re gonna post their salary band from a pay transparency standpoint, and when they put in an offer, they don’t negotiate that offer.

It is what it’s, yeah. And one of the reasons why they would do that is because, one gender may actually be more likely to negotiate and negotiate aggressively. And what’s, sorry, go ahead.

William Tincup: No what’s I apologize for interrupting, but it’s interesting and you know this because of what you do.

It’s what does negotiation have to do with Java development? In my case demand generation, like again if it was, if you’re being hired to negotiate again, like that’s your job. Yeah. I could see to some degree your ability skill your skill level as a salesperson, like chief revenue Officer.

Yeah. I’d probably want to be that Gal or that guy or whatever. I probably want them to be a pretty adept at negotiating, but outside of that, the 1%. What, [00:11:00] why does it negotiate? Just historically, why have we allowed that? Why is that even a part of your buying skills, experience, potentiality?

Like why is negotiation come

Jafar Owainati: into that? Go ahead. I think it makes sense that it’s historically been there and in a lot of cases it will continue to be there. Is because the historical perspective is that employers are trying to get to quote unquote, as you mentioned, buy skills for the lowest amount possible.

And then the people providing the skills want to get the most. So there’s an unequal balance that, but doesn’t that

William Tincup: just, but doesn’t that just create an equity? They think like that. I, you’re right. I know. You’re right.

Jafar Owainati: It is. And that’s, and quite frankly, that’s the power of the new pay transparency legislation, and avoiding things like asking someone what they’re currently making because that creates an anchoring effect. All of these anchoring effects are like part of psychology and negotiations, and the goal with this legislation is to mitigate that. And so when organizations are transparent about their pay, not only do they have [00:12:00] to share a band, but you also have to understand how to describe why someone might be at the bottom or the top.

So there needs to be some form of justification in terms of building that trust. Pay equity is something you need to also be proactive about. At Barley we provide, in our platform a pay equity dashboard that shows a

William Tincup: breakdown. Tell me more about that. That’s cool.

Jafar Owainati: Yeah, so we pull in all the different gender identities, whether it’s men, women, non-binary folks, right?

And be able to see the distribution of pay across base, salary, total comp, or even what the pay looks like across different job levels as well, right? And so you can immediately see a few things. One, Are people within similar roles getting paid differently? But also do you, is your company lopsided in terms of where higher paid employees are from a distribution standpoint of men versus women?

Versus lower paying roles. And helping you be more intentional in how you make those decisions. Those things are critical. And, you mentioned customer stories. Something that I had not [00:13:00] considered initially was the fact that negotiations even happen as part of a salary increase process.

You, if you look at if you were to give an increase to a man and they’re not happy with it, and let’s say the increase was they were getting a 3% increase there are times when they would negotiate to say, oh, I’m not happy with the 3%. I actually want six.

But what they don’t understand or what they, even the manager doesn’t appreciate that decision was intentional because maybe relative to them, they were trying to do an pay equity adjustment for a counterpart who’s a woman. And so in them negotiating and the woman not, you’re just reintroducing that pay equity inequity all over again.

I think at the end of the day, it comes to better communication and using tools that have those guardrails. And that’s a really big part of the use case for a solution in compensation is the comp management solution provides the guardrails and the warnings. So that people stay within budget, but also staying [00:14:00] within guideline to avoid any potential internal pay gaps.

William Tincup: You, you mentioned the dashboard in showing where they’re, where they’re doing well and where there’s opportunity. Has, have any of your customers yet asked you if they can render that in a way publicly, like to their employees? Has anyone been that? Bold.

Jafar Owainati: Not yet.


William Tincup: yet. You know what I’m saying? You know what I’m saying

Jafar Owainati: though, right? Yeah. I think where we all wanna strive is in a place where you can put your pay equity in front of the entire company, right? And people knowing that you are doing right by them. I think the challenge comes to what are you being transparent about?

Like for us right now, our pay equity dashboards can go pretty granular. And go down to understanding the gaps on an individual level. I do see that there could be a version of it that is more like, Hey, this is how we’re doing overall from a pay equity standpoint. But the challenge with pay equity is it’s also one that requires a lot of [00:15:00] context and education.

So there’s two ways to look at pay equity. One, there’s what’s considered the unadjusted pay gap, which is, Hey, let’s take the average pay for all the men at the company. And all the women at the company, and let’s see what the gap is. And let’s say for example, you did that analysis and your gap was that women were making 75 cents on the dollar. That is horrible. And, but what that’s communicating is it’s horrible. Not necessarily because two people in the same role are getting paid differently. It’s horrible because your highest paid people may be men. That’s right. That’s right. The other lens on pay equity is doing a more of a regression based analysis to say, Hey this person has five years of experience and has an MBA and has been in the company for three years, versus this person just started in the job and doesn’t have an MBA and they have a pay gap.

Then in that case, it’s explainable due to these other factors, and you can actually [00:16:00] rationalize why someone may be having a bit of a pay gap and to take that into account. The point here that I’m making is in using pay equity software solutions, a lot of it comes down to education on what are the metrics that you’re displaying and what are you trying to close out.

For us at barley, what we focus more on is the unadjusted gap. And the reason being is we focused on companies that are in the a hundred to a thousand employee range, right? That don’t have enough repeatability in roles to do that kind of more technical pay equity analysis. So

William Tincup: one of the things that happened at the end of 20 is women were laid off and disproportionately African-American women were laid off.

And the question I have for you about that I is how do, how should your customers use kind of the way in that dashboard in terms of pay equity as a lens in which. If they’re going to do a riff, if they’re going to do, and we [00:17:00] can even use the positive if they’re gonna do a huge promotion, et cetera.

How should they be looking at comp data and kind of those inequities or things that come up in the dashboard? How should they be using that to inform what they do?

Jafar Owainati: Yeah, to your point, we don’t have anything in our platform that supports the decision making process on a layoff for a riff.

In a way, there is such a thing as a more equitable riff. I appreciate where you’re coming from there and Right. Unfortunately typically minority groups are disproportionately impacted with layoffs. In terms of what we do today from a platform standpoint. We don’t currently introduce gender data into or ethnicity data into the compensation review process right now.

Where you’re able to make informed decisions is once the compensation review process is completed, then like the administrators call it, like the VP of people or the more senior people leaders would be able to see the decisions that were made and then see how [00:18:00] much of that is placed on a.

For men versus women, on average are men getting higher percentage increases than women, and then being able to revisit the numbers before finalizing them.

William Tincup: Okay, good. Buy side stuff. Let me ask you a couple of questions there. Sure. When you’re or your team showing barley to to prospects for the first time, what’s the what’s that magical moment?

The aha moment where you get, you get to this part in the demo and you’re gonna be dazzled.

Jafar Owainati: Yeah, I think a lot of the pain and compensation is on workflow and configuration and management when they go through our compensation review feature and they see that they can configure and set up a review cycle in a matter of minutes, that’s when they’re like, wow.

We usually spend weeks getting this set up and different spreadsheets and guidance and analysis, and that’s a huge lift. As well as the sigh of relief to know that barley manages all the access and controls so that only the right people see the right data, that to them is like a [00:19:00] big aha moment.

In addition to that, we have a feature that we call Talent Pulse, which empowers recruiting teams to capture candidate salary expectations and then use that to build. Basically another data set and a pulse of the market and that to them they’re like, oh wow, like we used to capture this stuff in notes in our applicant tracking system.

It all gets lost. And at times when there’s a specific role where we don’t have enough benchmarking data, that would be so valuable to understand what is the market sentiment that we can take into consideration when we set up our salary ranges. So what

William Tincup: questions should practitioners be asking of barley?

Like buying questions, like they’re either coming off of some type of proprietary system, Excel, Google Sheets. What should they’re making this move. They’ve obviously been dazzled by the demo. What buying questions should

Jafar Owainati: they ask you? I think for me, one of the biggest things that anyone [00:20:00] can be doing when they’re evaluating any compensation solution is looking, I’d say looking under the hood.

And what I mean by that is asking questions on how the integrations work. How do you actually configure and import your data? How do you be able to configure a compensation cycle? It’s really easy for me or for any solution to do a demonstration and just show them the end product or the end outcome.

But it’s the nitty gritty stuff is what bites you when you implement a solution like this. So for me, like I welcome those questions where people go deeper on Hey, can you show me how you set up location-based pay? What happens if I decide to pay for every single city? What happens if I change my mind?

Those are the questions that we love and welcome in evaluating just the robustness of our solution, because one of the big value propositions that we provide is the configurability and the ease of configurability from a time and [00:21:00] implementation standpoint. You can, yeah.

William Tincup: Obviously with this group of people that you’re serving, you can start this, you can stand this up pretty quickly.

Exactly. Love that. Okay. Last question is kinda your favorite customer story without telling names or any of that type of stuff, but just, a story where, you know, again, like kind of something that makes you remind you of why you built this why you’re here, why you’re doing this.

Jafar Owainati: Yeah. A customer story that stands out is One of our early supporters they actually helped in providing feedback and involving the platform. And a really cool moment was them using everything they helped to put together for the first time. And it was like this wow moment of, they had to use spreadsheets in the past and they’ve even used a compensation solution that was more of an add-on.

So this is a thing that exists in some HR platforms. You can buy compensation as an add-on, right? The challenge with that is an add-on is usually an afterthought. [00:22:00] And so almost always, yes, almost. So they don’t get the depth or the breadth of what they need. And sometimes it’s extremely cumbersome to configure.

And so when they used our compensation review feature for the first time, they were like, wow, this is like night and day from anything I’ve ever used. And it was just this sense of pride as well. That their feedback was considered as part of what they’re using every day. It’s like a win-win in that we get to build a really great platform and then they get to use a solution that not only solves their problem and drives ROI for their business, but they even have a sense of pride that they have the ability to influence that.

And that’s a big part for us right now is we really look at all of our customer relationships as partnerships. And I know it’s cliche, but we literally. Do design sessions with them and get on calls, and that’s a really big part of what we’re doing right now, especially at our stage of our journey

William Tincup: jobs.

Mike walks off stage. Jahar, thank you so much for coming on the Use Case [00:23:00] podcast. I love what you’ve built and our building and it’s super, both useful and it helps everybody. So thank you so much. Thanks,

Jafar Owainati: William, I appreciate it. Thanks for having me, and

William Tincup: thanks for everyone listening to the podcast.

Until next time.

The Use Case Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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