What is the pay system you dream of? Beyond the taboo of money

As an employee for 16 years, I was thankful for my regular pay checks. I never really gave a thought to how I would dream of being paid.  In 2007, I co-founded my own company and I was faced with the freedom and possibility of all that compensation could potentially be. A journey began.

At the start, submerged in the business of starting a business, my associate and I agreed on a model that was a cinch to administrate, though somewhat naive: equal salary. No need to waste time tallying up who is bringing in more business or debating who has more value. All company earnings go into a collective « pot » and equal pay comes out, irrelevant of what each person put in. A bit idealistic you might say? Yes. The model requires similar work experience, similar weekly work hours and similar vacation time. And of course it also requires sufficient revenues for all.

As the company grew, we realized we wanted to offer freedom and possibility for people to create the working rhythm and pace that suits their needs and desires. We didn’t want to systematize any obligations, giving preference to diversity and modularity. This meant that we needed to move on to a different compensation model.

Initially, we were attracted to an algorithm based compensation model. We were inspired by Buffer’s approach. They even have a transparent salary calculator whereby you can find out how much you would make if you worked there.   What were the variables that could help us establish our own contextualized formula?

After a bit of in house exploration we crafted a proposal for the team with our percolab variables as complexity of the work, experience and risk. We held a team workshop and each of us plugged in numbers to try to see if the formula would work for us. Major flop! The process revealed that working abstractly with numbers caused us to create a collective salary budget much higher than the funds available. We were operating from a dream scenario rather than reality. This is when it started becoming clear that the path to fair and equitable pay required the whole team to understand money flows of our company.

But how could we do this? The regular salary model offers stability and regularity of bi-monthly pay checks of fixed amounts as well as benefits. We generally have little influence or involvement in this approach as it is directly linked to an organisation’s budget and pay scale.  The freelancer model offers flexibility and autonomy around our earnings as we are responsible for negotiating our own contractual agreements. The latter model usually comes with extra administrative burden and stress to be able to ensure regular and sufficient pay. Was there a way to blend the advantages of these models together?

Things were becoming clearer. Not only did we want self-set salaries but we also wanted to allow for variance from month to month in the amount each person was earning or wanted to work. As simple as that, we broke free from our fixed salaries and stepped into a negotiated agreements model that we also call variable self-determined salaries.  In so doing, we each gained control over our earnings, began benefiting from a shared administrative system and were better able to leverage the collective work opportunities amongst ourselves to help ensure regular and sufficient pay for all.

Our percolab model goes like this.

  1. Each project has a project lead and project budget parameters (projects can be client based and others not)
  2. A fixed percentage of the project goes to the company  to cover our collective services  (our beautiful office, insurances, web services, resources, business development, accounting, work tools etc.) and development.
  3. Together, the project team (anyone in the team) discusses and makes financial agreements based the project honorarium budget, with full transparency. We strive for a feeling of fairness and there is freedom in how agreements are made
  4. Administration of the compensation model is carried out in a distributed, collective way.  Percolab team members keep track of their agreements with standardized tools and are responsible for their own data entry into the online book keeping system (WaveApps). The project lead takes care of all agreements, invoicing and billing with external contractors, clients and suppliers.
  5. Any challenges with a project that have consequences on the budget are managed within the project with the team and do not overflow onto the company.

Each month any percolab member is involved in multiple projects (as lead, team member or business development).  Therefore your salary is the sum of the work you accomplished that month in each project as per your agreements.

For the system to work, everyone needs to make explicit their work availability and skills they can offer or wish to develop within projects.

Suddenly it was if each person was injected with more space, freedom and creativity to sculpt their ideal professional world. A new service went from idea to reality and the team was stepping up to greater challenges  than ever before. Having control over ones earnings reveals itself as a key lever for empowerment and leadership. Services and business development grew. With hindsight it seems evident that for people to be in their full potential having control over their pay is a key condition.  

Underlying principles

  1. Engagement is commiserate with our power to self-determine our own salary and expenses. Each person is responsible for the salary they want to earn.
  2. Practicing conversations around value helps us to better own our own value.
  3. Our relationship with money is not a taboo, but a skill that can be developed.

Impact

This flexible compensation model has supported us getting beyond our assumptions and fears around pay. It helps us get to deeper conversations around value and to work with money without it being the finality. The potential of a team is strengthened through this compensation as practice approach. More specifically:

  1. Individual: We are all even more responsible and engaged. Each person is finding her own balance with how much she wants to be working, earning, learning, playing and making their personal projects come to action. We are each developing skills around money, business and value.
  2. Teams: More solidarity, mutual support and good spirit.
  3. Organization: More initiatives and entrepreneurship and more revenues.

Lessons

1. A compensation model is meant to be energizing a team forward – if that is no longer the case, then try out a different model. It’s as easy as that.

2. A compensation model can be flexible and self-managing

3. A flexible negotiated compensation model can be an enormous driver of individual, team and organisational development.

If you want to know more about this model and the tools that support its functioning, contact Samantha Slade sam@percolab.com

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PLAR: the shift to an « asset-based » approach to learning 2

Just back from Canadian Association for Prior Learning Assessment (CAPLA) annual workshop in Toronto, Canada. In many ways, it is a meeting of educational change makers, and well I love change making.

Should it really be so far fetched to imagine that one day soon, a potential student pondering about applying to a post-secondary program is invited directly on the institution’s web site, not hidden, but right up front, « Thinking of coming to our college? Have related life experience and learning? Click here to complete your self-assessment. » A simple direct process allowing individuals to be exempted from parts of the program based on their diverse and rich life-work-education experience. It still astounds me that we are not there yet.

I would dare to take that dream one step further though (why not?). The actual record (or portfolio) of learning built for such a process of recognising prior learning should not be a snapshot in time but rather continue to grow and evolve, becoming a living document supporting lifelong learning – minimally till the completion of the education program. Basic common sense, no?

To advance such dreams, we need to bridge the e-portfolio community and the prior learning community – and that is slowly taking place. This event is testimony to just that. It is all part of the larger shift towards « asset-based » social policies focusing more on personal assets than personal deficits, helping people recognise their own capabilities, thereby contributing to increased confidence and all round well being.

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Learning of today and tomorrow

During the past month I had the opportunity to « hang » with students in two completely different types of learning institutions in France. One, an « alternative » private school (students age 21- 48) and the other a standard university (students at masters level). Beyond the french context, the lessons I learned apply everywhere (I believe).

The first school is an innovative business school in its « birthing » stage, Team Factory. I spent a day there with Marc Tirel of In Principo « helping » the students in their process of setting up their collaborative working environment and working tools.

This years cohort of 6 students are all dynamic souls determined to be part of a new and better tomorrow and in the process make the careers that feed their dreams and sense of self. They are brave because they are engaging in a « school » that is not yet clearly set up and is still without formal recognition – but they know that this school has something to offer them that they can’t find elsewhere.

Of course, we did not meet in a classroom, but in a company working space. We did not « teach » but simply coached students through their process that they own and are engaged in. A lot of listening and open explorations interspersed with some practical decision making and prioritising. It’s a workflow in tune with the real world.
These students are taking on responsibility, tapping into their collective competence, leading their own futures. Inspiring!

Elsewhere in France, in a more conventional university setting I « gave a lecture » (not very comfortable with this term, the expectations are strong) on the subject of « social innovation ». In my « North American style », I refused to provide a definition and theory, but worked the concept via a smorgasbord of examples.

Students had the task of identifying the common elements in the initiatives and figuring out their own definition of social innovation. And yes we were in a classroom, and yes they were told that it would be on the exam…

Here, the students are looking in on a concept – visiting it, playing with it from a critical intellectual approach. In their place of learning (university), they are following « someone else’s program ».

In Team Factory, the learners are turned on because the program connects to them and their personal and professional future. There is theory and critical thinking, but everything ends up relating to them as individuals who can act and who have their own project. This is the learning of tomorrow. When we talk about competence based approaches, Team Factory is walking the talk, students are confronted on a daily basis with novel challenges that they act and reflect upon, in a continuous process of learning and competence development.

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Digital identity pay back!

About a year and a half ago I embarked on a process to develop my eportfolio – though it was a personal, introspective process, I decided to allow public access to my site as it evolves. I was rather uncomfortable with so many people potentially seeing so much information about me, however, since the line of work of percolab is eportfolios and collaborative processes and I was frustrated that we could never see the result of each others « private » process, I had no choice. So there I was, in a place of discomfort – but deep down I knew that such visibility might have its rewards. And indeed it does.

Darren Cambridge, international researcher and author on eportfolios, chose to analyse my ePortfolio for a book he is writing and he sent me a draft of the chapter that refers to my work. Darren links my process to concepts of « integrity » and « employabilty » in ways that only someone from outside looking in could. He points out ideas that I share:

Knowing what one’s capabilities, values, dispositions and relationships are or could be is not enough. Rather, individuals must develop organizing principles to help them prioritize their attention and to establish the boundaries between their roles, developing a holistic understanding of their identity as a coherent system.

Darren gets what I was trying to do, a self-representation that is « more than an aggregation of discrete reflections on specific experiences, pieces of evidence of isolated competencies, or a repository of goals ». Darren sums up my vision for me:

..learning is a lifewide and lifelong process, requiring individual motivation to take personal responsibility for one’s holistic development. By embracing their curiosity, values, and passions, individuals can grow into more effective family members, workers, and community leaders. This learning is best supported in resource-rich environments that are welcoming to diverse people and personalized to each person, inviting connection and collaboration. Rather than being divorced form daily life, these environments should be integrated within them. Learning technology in its broadest sense – composed both of electronic tools such as wikis and conceptual tools such as competency frameworks – is most powerful when it adds flexibility and broadens access, serving as a heuristic that stimulates and guides, but doesn’t constrain individuals in their efforts to better themselves.

But Darren goes even further, he sees how I am was trying to go get somewhere different, and indeed this is part of the foundation of percolab.

Slade’s use of competencies differs from the typical approach in many employability-orientated eportfolio programs, doing more than just identifying competencies, matching them to the needs of the market, and engaging in learning that makes for a stronger alignment of personal skills and organizational needs. She goes further to document and examine both the personal and professional elements of her life using an overarching theory of how she wishes to develop as a person and to contribute to the development of others. While her approach places personal choice and personal responsibility front and center, it suggests that there are other factors that need to be taken into account in making good choices beyond what potential employers or clients say they want. In this way, it differ from the dominant discourse of employability and lifelong learning in most Western societies, which frames the individual role as shaping the self in ways that strengthen the economy.

And Darren understands also how, without ever saying it, I used my eportfolio to develop my professionalism and capacity to innovate in my area of speciality, learning design. The structure and process I developed is in line with the theory « supporting self-sponsored learning through cultivating distributed, flexible, content-rich spaces and tools that connect learners ».

Darren thinks that my portfolio is « a powerful example of how integrity, the linking of private and public life through systems thinking, is important to defining excellence within a profession » and that in general:

The health of a profession should be judged by how well it enables its members to do « good work ». The meaning of « good » in good work is two-fold: good in the sense of expertise, doing work well, and good in the sense of ethics, doing work that serves the good. » Defining the good that a profession should do and enabling it s members to do it requires more than occupation-specific competencies. It also requires taking into consideration the values, beliefs, and commitments held by its members, considering commonalities and conflict in relationship to the public’s expectations of the profession.

Darren and I both see the potential of eportfolios to help many under-appreciated professions (from waitresses to welders) that in fact involve « considerable, multiple intelligences and cognitive sophistication » to « argue for their right to the means for professional self-definition. » Indeed , percolab has been looking at how eportfolios can help develop the professional identity and credibility in the field of youth workers and volunteers.

And so my little eportfolio undertaking is put in a larger perspective, a gift Darren offers me, serving to clarify, solidify and enrich ideas that were were searching to be formalised. His words inspire me forward. Thank you Darren. I will no longer doubt that making my eportfolio publicly accessible was the right decision.

Note: The text of the book, once published, may differ from that in the passages quoted above.

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Éclosion

Récemment, j’ai assisté au séminaire « Éclosion« , organisé par l’association française Team Factory. Quel évènement rafraîchissant ! En quoi était-ce différent des séminaires habituels? Et bien, mis à part le fait que nous avons travaillé dehors, sur la pelouse, sous les arbres, avec des équipes composées de professionnels et d’étudiants, de participants de différents pays, à la fois en anglais et en français, et ce en toute légèreté – ce qui est déjà énorme -, la spécificité de ce séminaire est venue de la priorité qui a été donnée à la mise en place d’une zone de confiance et de soutien aux groupes, pour pouvoir travailler ensemble sur les sujets que chaque participant tenait à coeur. Donc, pas de conférence avec des participants passifs, pas de programme de transmission de connaissances. Non, plutôt un enchaînement d’activités à réaliser collectivement qui permettent à chacun de réfléchir sur ses préoccupations de fond et sur sa connaissance de soi. Pourquoi, dans la vie professionnelle comme dans les situations de formation,  doit-on écarter tout ce qui a du sens chez l’individu? Il n’y a aucune raison valable. À Éclosion, on peut constater comment avec quelques ingrédients de base – scénarisation futée de la journée, logistique impeccable, personnes expertes en dialogue et travail d’équipe -, on peut réussir à installer cette ambiance de confiance qui permet un lâcher prise  permettant  le « deep learning ». Je remercie et je félicite les organisateurs. Je vous invite aussi à explorer le programme d’études alternatif « Team Time », pour créer les entrepreneurs humanistes de demain.

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Réflexions sur l’organisation d’un événement

Dernièrement a eu lieu l’évènement Conversations sur les compétences, organisé par percolab avec la collaboration avec ses partenaires. L’objectif premier consistait à partir de récits de praticiens et de la participation d’un auditoire multilingue, issus de secteurs et de pays divers, de susciter des conversations et d’avancer des réflexions autour de l’apprentissage tout au long de la vie, de l’employabilité et des organisations apprenantes. Mon rôle d’organisatrice a pris fin avec la mise en place du site de documentation de la journée (voir vidéos, audios et document résumé des projets). À moi maintenant d’identifier mes apprentissages de l’expérience.

1. Le moment d’arrêt pour identifier les thématiques sous-jacentes aux portfolios numériques qui les relient a été révélateur. Qui parle portfolio parle en fait de :

  • apprentissage, dans son sens le plus large, tout au long de la vie, tous les types d’apprentissage et l’apprentissage individuel autant qu’organisationnel;
  • connaissance de soi, actualistation et réalisation de soi;
  • un travail et une vie avec un sens. Faire l’ouverture de l’évènement m’a forcé à rendre explicite ses trois thématiques avec lesquels je fonctionne depuis un certain temps, et c’est tout ça qui me motive dans mon travail (et pas seulement avec les portfolios numériques).

2. Réunir des personnes pour apprendre nécessite une ambiance de confiance – une ambiance où l’on peut se permettre de prendre des risques, de se laisser aller. Une foule de petits détails contribue à sa mise en place : le lieu, la lumière, la nourriture, une animation douce mais ferme, un formule démocratique, respect des langues des personnes, etc.  Il faut créer le rire et nourrir le plaisir.

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