What Are You Worth?
Who knows best what you should be paid? Your boss? Some HR goon? A company policy (aka an algorithm)? Your colleagues? Or you?
I have for a very long time believed that people should be treated with respect at work (and not just at work, of course). What would it mean to take that belief to its logical conclusion – to “turn it up to 11”, as the XP folks (and Spinal Tap) are wont to say?
- choose their own terms of engagement – from sub-contractor through to indentured serf
- choose their own hours, place(s) of work, equipment and tools
- choose their own salaries and payment rates
Most people I’ve mentioned this to over the years have shrugged it off as just something weird. Generally, too weird even to engage in discussion about. Weirdness bordering on random madness.
But there was a method to our madness. A very carefully considered method. Yes, I had a hypothesis, and it panned out well.
My hypothesis ran like this:
We want folks to feel valued. And that their opinions are respected. And we’d like them to act responsibly – making good decisions without referring everything “upstairs” all the time. We want to build a community of trust and mutualism. (See also: our Credo).
Further, without excessive intrusion into their personal lives, how could we tell what people’s needs were with respect to e.g. income, free time, distractions, etc., at any given time? “From each according to their capabilities, To each according to their needs” seemed like a very reasonable (ethical) stance for a community to take (its Marxist roots notwithstanding).
So, how about we demonstrate trust, respect and mutualism by placing the “ultimate” questions into folks’ own hands? Questions like:
- How much should folks be paid?
- What hours should folks work?
- Who should decide working conditions?
- Who decides who gets to work on what projects?
Some doubted that folks could be trusted. I myself felt that if salaries and payments stayed secret and confidential, then that would be at odds with the trust and mutualism we were trying to foster. So we also instituted an open-book policy so that everyone (including clients and suppliers) could see all the accounting information, including payments to staff.
I’d just like to repeat: all this was a rational response to an ethical and practical conundrum. A conundrum that I have never seen any other business address adequately or effectively. A response invented from first principles (rather than a solution blindly copied from the playbook of the traditional management mythos).
The most intriguing consequence we observed was that folks chose to be paid less that we thought would be the case. Most often, at or below prevailing market rates. Even with awareness of those rates.
The second consequence was that it encouraged open and healthy discussion about value – and in particular, customer value.
The third consequence, slower to emerge, was that folks began to consider and discuss their own self-image. This blossoming self-awareness was, of course, the real benefit – and very congruent with our declared purpose as a community.
In summary, I think the “experiment” proved – at least to my satisfaction – that “No one know’s what you’re worth – or what you need – better than you.”