A company culture that puts people first is difficult to achieve when managers still dictate what happens in the business – so the question of how to create a sense of ownership and responsibility among employees remains.
We came up with something a little out of the ordinary. Our WEIRD attributes (Wisdom, Emotional intelligence, Initiative, Responsibility and Development) put responsibility in the hands of employees, bearing in mind three important points:
1. People are assumed to be good (reliable, intelligent, motivated).
2. We spend a third of our day at work so we should enjoy it.
3. Value is created by maximising what we can do collectively.
We started with the elephant in the room – salaries – and flipped the whole concept on its head. Allowing everyone to choose their earnings was initially met with scepticism. But while we are now paying about 10% more than before there has been very little friction or outrageous demands.
The hardest part for most people to get their heads around was transparency. Some feared that knowing everyone’s wages would create mistrust among peers, or that people would be ‘labelled’ by their salary. On the contrary, almost all rumours and gossip regarding salaries disappeared, and transparency also ensured people were not unreasonable with their choices.
Financial freedom (including salaries, expenses and investment decisions) pushes people to evaluate their performance as part of the whole, rather than relying on a boss to tell them what the company can afford.
The salary proposal turned out to be very much in line with Pod’s existing policy on holidays. If you can do your work, your team is not disrupted, and the company won’t suffer then it’s up to you. Fixed holidays are a major sticking point in most businesses.
Employees feel trapped, and come to resent the organisation that defines their downtime. We have never considered this good practice because treating people with a lack of trust and respect means they manage their work the same way, and then nobody benefits.
In start-ups everybody does a little of everything and communication is easy. As a firm grows and gets departmentalised silos are created. This leads to important things falling through the cracks, communication breakdown, and a territorial ‘that’s not my job’ mindset.
At Pod we have job titles, but they are not used to categorise the daily work of the company – they are just for LinkedIn. The free flow of information (financial and logistical) means that everything is relevant to everyone. With adequate understanding of the business as a whole the best person for each task gets consulted, regardless of their title or department.
People then transcend their departments to become more knowledgeable generally, and more satisfied that their work is contributing to the growth of the wider company.
WEIRD is a work in progress but was always intended to grow organically as people get used to the idea of personal ownership and responsibility. Giving employees the power to decide for themselves, and not to defer to a manager or CEO, will take some getting used to. But as I like to remind ‘the Podsters’: going back to an environment without the freedom to manage your work/life balance would now be utterly unthinkable.
Charles Towers-Clark is CEO of Pod Group