ConsciousU’s Money Talk: money, inner work and new pay

Lisa Gill
17 February 2021

A browser with payroll beside a todo list and calculator

Two examples of new pay models from betterplace lab and Decathlon Belgium

This is a blog summary of a live streamed event hosted by Nadjeschda Taranczewski, co-founder of ConsciousU, about money, inner work and new pay. You can watch the event recording here. The two speakers were:

  • Joana Breidenbach, founder of betterplace and betterplace lab, who six years ago began a process of her stepping back as founder/boss. She and her fifteen colleagues have developed a deep process of setting their salaries together once a year.

  • Sébastien Cauchy is HR manager and change consultant at Decathlon Belgium. He worked for four years on Decathlon’s salary policy, resulting in 160 employees in Belgium setting their own salaries so far.

How they developed their processes

Betterplace Lab

Joana read Reinventing Organisations by Frederic Laloux in 2014 at a time when she had already been thinking about how she could “phase herself out” as the founder/boss in the team. The book inspired her and the team to develop a fluid, competency-based hierarchy, starting by taking the processes she was responsible for (resolving conflicts, raising money, hiring people, negotiating salaries) and redesigning them. They crowdsourced ideas, read a lot online, and formed a working group in particular to explore what their salary process could look like in the future. There weren’t many other companies experimenting with this at the time, but they knew they wanted full transparency and a radical way to negotiate salaries together as a team each year.

Decathlon Belgium

Four years ago, Decathlon began a transformation process with an ambition to become more agile and pushing more responsibility down to all colleagues. Sébastien started out as a store leader and had the autonomy to decide everything about his store except for one thing: his team members’ salaries. He could make proposals, but didn’t have the ultimate decision authority which was a great frustration. And so began an experiment.

What the processes looks like

Betterplace Lab

“Salaries are very much tied to the DNA of how we self-organise. We rely on good, precise, open and honest feedback… There’s no one who could tell anyone else to leave the company. Somebody leaves only if there’s dense enough feedback that they’re not a fit.”

— Joana Breidenbach

Once a year in autumn, Joana and her fifteen colleagues do feedback rounds. Everyone who has worked with you during the year can write down feedback for you — how they perceive you, what they value, what weaknesses they see, expectations they had of you (met or not). Each person reads the feedback from their colleagues and completes a salary form.

The form consists of six or seven criteria such as: How much do I contribute to the financial wellbeing? The team wellbeing? How much do I support my teammates? Have my circumstances changed (e.g. Have I just had a new baby)? Did I bring in a lot of money to the company this year? Individuals can choose which criteria they invoke, it doesn’t have to be all of them.

Then there is a public forum where each person pitches their salary and what they’re committing to for the next year and responsibilities they will take on. Team members can respond and even challenge – “I think you’re being modest, you contributed so much last year and should earn more”, or “I was actually a little disappointed with you this year based on what you promised you would deliver.” Of course, this is vulnerable spot to be in and Joana says people need “so many inner competencies and inner clarity and assertiveness and also listening skills in order to be able to lead a fruitful, non-violent discussion about this topic because many people attach their salary to how much they’re worth as a human being.” She and her colleagues have learned a lot about how to communicate with each other, how to have conflicts but still stay in relation to each other, and at the same time be frank with each other.

Another prerequisite is that everyone sees the budget and financial forecast so they aren’t pitching fantasy salaries. There is always a delta between what is forecast and what might materialise and so colleagues have to decide how high they want to pitch their salary based on how much they are willing to stake on being able to bring in the business to support this remuneration.

After practicing this for six years, the team has become better at this process. Taking just a few days per year to hold this deep process has a big impact on people’s lives. But more than that, Joana says it’s a way to reflect on other important aspects as well such as: Who are we in the team? How is our self-awareness? What are our competencies? What competencies might we need to hire for? It has become a “process for the company to become aware of itself, seeing itself from the outside.”

Decathlon Belgium

After working on Decathlon’s salary policy for four years, 160 employees in Belgium now set their own salary with that expected to double this year. For Sébastien, an important principle has been: “Each person lives with money differently and we want to respect each person.” Store leaders are now effectively HR for their team and support their colleagues in their annual performance conversations to review their salaries.

Decathlon has agreed a legal framework (an increase of 1.1% in salary increase each year) within which store leaders can manoeuvre. Team leaders can decide salaries with their colleagues in the annual performance conversations, or if individuals want to decide, they start an Advice Process. Over a period of around two months, they seek advice from three or four colleagues on their proposed salary increase. In the spirit of transparency, they record who they have asked for feedback in an open document, as well as the feedback they receive. Having collected feedback, the decision is then down to them.

Some individuals haven’t felt confident enough to decide their own salary, requiring more support from their manager. Sébastien says that allowing people to “go at their own pace” and giving them this choice is key.

  1. There is no “one solution to rule them all” — Joana’s small team, with a highly developed climate of trust, self-awareness, and open communication, has resulted in a deep, ‘public’ yet sensitive process. In Decathlon Belgium, Sébastien and his colleagues have designed a more ‘private’ process that is flexible enough to allow individuals to go at their own pace. Every constellation of humans is unique and therefore requires a process that acknowledges who you are and where you are starting from.

  2. Talking about money benefits from an embodied process — Peter Koenig, whose money work was part of Sébastien’s inspiration, commended the process Joana’s team had developed commenting: “You can’t just do it with your head, you need to do it with your body as well. You need that level of consciousness.” Creating the space for people to share how it feels in their body when they are pitching a salary to their colleagues (“my heart is facing”, “butterflies in my stomach”) can support more meaningful conversations and learning about how we relate to and talk about money.

  3. I’ve spoken to a few small companies who’ve adopted, for example, Buffer’s salary formula but discovered that you can’t design a formula for fairness. There is so often a human and intuitive element missing in these processes that is incredibly valuable to tap into.

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