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Working for a liberated company in France is not yet very common. In this article, I would like to share my experience with you.
I have been working for Ferpection for almost five years now. It is a liberated company specializing in user testing and in the study of user experience. In this company, I chose my salary, like each of my colleagues.
How do you get to a structure in which it is possible to let an employee decide his salary?
Ferpection is a managerial experiment! Is it possible to achieve team excellence while respecting individuals' freedom and well-being? We believe so and our ever-evolving culture is our way to achieve this.
This quote comes from our documentation, and I find that it gives the beginning of an answer to our question. Ferpection has been around for almost nine years and the culture — driven from the start by the founders — has continued to evolve to try to achieve this goal.
No vertical management
One of the things you immediately notice when you arrive at Ferpection is the absence of vertical management. We follow the principle of “leader-leader”, which implies flattening the hierarchy to the point of having very little difference between the CEO and any employee.
It is theoretical because legally in France, there will always be a difference between the president of a company and an employee. Likewise, the stress and social responsibilities of the boss – even in a liberated company – will not be the same as those of the employee.
On the other hand, we have done everything so that in terms of tasks and responsibilities internal to the company, the CEO is only a cap or a role like the others.
This means that by implementing the leader-leader principle within Ferpection, we allow each employee to take the lead in the tasks that interest them. They will lead the work to be done on these tasks, do some of them, and potentially delegate some work to other employees who are themselves leaders on other topics.
There are several advantages to this method:
- employees mostly work on topics that interest them
- a reduction in the need for support positions
- a sharing of responsibilities throughout the company
- no middle management
- allow more fulfillment at work
Concretely, how does this translate today? I would mainly talk about my case as a developer, but I know that it can be transposed to all jobs at Ferpection.
There is no project manager. Of course, project management cannot be removed, and it is the developers and designers who are their own project manager.
Besides the fact that I'm a developer, I don't just do development or IT project management. I regularly work on what we call at Ferpection “transversal tasks”. These are all tasks that must be done for the proper functioning of the company, but which are not part of our core business.
For example, I took care of the company's social networks for two years. When the need to take care of this task arose, it interested me, so I volunteered. Two years later, it didn't really interest me anymore, so I passed the torch to a volunteer colleague. I was the community manager of Ferpection for 2 years.
I also took care of the organization of the company's Annual General Meeting. Which is for once a rather administrative task.
To cite the case of non-developers, I have a fellow UX Expert who also deals with human resources. Another colleague, a sales representative, manages everything related to occupational medicine, in particular medical visits. We're not going to review them all, but you get the idea: everyone does a little bit of everything according to each person's needs and desires.
Taskforces: Ferpection's shock teams
As we have seen recently, each Ferpection employee can decide to take responsibility for a task even if it has no connection with their core business. But, there are tasks for which it takes more “brain juice” or tasks whose responsibility is difficult to carry alone.
For these particular tasks, we have the taskforces. These are small work teams that almost always contain a representative member of each Ferpection team (the sales team, the consulting team and the product team).
These taskforces exist only to respond to a given problem, a task. Once the task is complete, the taskforce is “dissolved”. An employee can be part of several taskforces at the same time.
This way of working in taskforces allows each employee to have a significant impact on the company and its operation. This allows us to move very quickly on certain tasks that would have taken a lot more time if they had to be handled by more people.
It also allows us to spread a lot of responsibility over all the employees, instead of doing it over a few employees. This is important because it can become cumbersome for these employees to manage. The investment of the greatest number would be strongly limited. Gradually, we would find ourselves again with support positions and middle management.
This means that the founders do not make all the decisions at Ferpection. They assimilate themselves to employees and participate in certain taskforces. Some decisions are therefore taken without their intervention, even if they are, of course, consulted during the work on complex tasks or which call on their legal responsibility.
Let employees choose their salary
The absence of vertical management and working in a taskforce are two things that are important to know in order to understand what follows, I think.
Some time ago, I would say between a year and two years ago, it emerged that the employees of Ferpection had frustrations regarding their salaries. After a while, it was decided to set up a taskforce to address the subject. I was part of this taskforce. It contained no founder.
The work was long and tedious. We started by doing research to discover the state of the market at that moment and to realize the gap between the wages of the company and the wages of the market.
Then, several possibilities presented themselves to us. The one we had chosen was to collect and review all the frustrations of the employees. This allowed us to discover that the amount of salary was not the only frustration.
The salary grid itself was problematic, as it led to differences in location and position. For example, if you were a developer at Ferpection at the time, you would have been paid 15% more than the others. Same if you lived in Paris rather than in the other cities of France.
Another problem: we valued experience and loyalty too much, but not enough the skills of the employee.
With all these issues in mind and a few more, we started working on a new version of the salary grid at Ferpection that seemed fairer to us.
A new pay scale designed by employees for employees
After analyzing the frustrations, here are the components we wanted to have in the salary grid formula:
Skills had to become the main component of the formula. So, we decided to take inspiration from the classic model (junior, intermediate and senior) to represent the skills of employees. We have assigned a base salary to each of these levels.
The second component to have in the formula is experience. To do this, we have defined a multiplier coefficient. We differentiate experience from loyalty, so when we talk about experience, it is not about the experience acquired at Ferpection but rather the total experience of the employee in his field of activity.
The last component we wanted to show in our formula is loyalty. We didn't want a new employee with equal skills and equal experience to be paid more than an employee who has put his trust in Ferpection for a longer time.
But at the same time, we are convinced that a reasonable turnover is healthy for a company. This renews the brains, allows you to have a renewed motivation, etc.
It is for these reasons that we did not wish to make it a multiplier coefficient as for the experiment. Instead, we opted for a loyalty bonus that increases every year.
This bonus increases more quickly in the first few years so that newer employees have more “reward” for staying a few more years. The employee receives 1,000 euros more per year for the first 5 years, then 700 euros up to his 10 years of seniority, and after that 400 euros per year.
Last detail, we are a 100% remote company. We don't have an office because the majority of our employees don't feel the need for it. It also gives them more flexibility on working hours and location.
However, this generates additional costs for the employee (energy, layout of the workspace, telephone package, internet package, etc.). These are costs that are usually supported by the company and not the employee.
To make these costs supported again mainly by Ferpection, we have added a fixed “home office” bonus of 2,500 euros.
Which gives us the rough, but final, following formula:
annual salary = skills * experience + loyalty + home office perk
A new review process designed by employees for employees
I clearly chose my salary because I was one of those who chose this salary grid, but how can I say that all my colleagues also chose their salary?
As explained above, the most important component of the salary grid formula is skill level. You also understood that at Ferpection, we didn't have a manager.
Since there is no manager, who can decide where an employee falls on the pay scale? Will it be junior, intermediate, or senior? Our taskforce decided that the employee would be their own manager and would choose their own level on the grid.
You can imagine that this is not an easy task for all employees to do. We have therefore defined a self-assessment grid that would allow each employee to easily classify themselves in one of the levels.
This is an Excel with a skills list classified according to 4 major groups:
- quality of work
- attitude at work
- sense of the collective
- sharing company values
For each skill, the employee self-evaluates and gives themself a score from 1 to 9. At the end, the Excel file advises them of a competency level that corresponds to all of their scores. I say “advise them” because it is only a decision-making aid and the employee can decide a level different from that advised.
To further simplify the decision, we have changed the employee review process. It works as follows:
Reviews take place twice a year. Every six months, the employee has a scheduled instance to self-evaluate, measure their progress and establish clear objectives. They will do it with the help of two colleagues.
Each year, employees vote to elect those who are called ambassadors. They are three and before the evaluations begin, they will agree on how to evaluate the others and distribute all the reviews. They are there to bring fairness during reviews.
The second colleague is chosen directly by the reviewed employee. We call it the joker. He will do the same job as the ambassador, but being directly chosen by the reviewed employee, they are there for different reasons: depending on their progression objectives, they will choose people who know their job or not. They can also choose a person, whom they think, will be favorable to them. It's their joker.
First, the three will complete the review grid for the reviewed employee. The Excel file will return the recommended skill level with the ratings given by the employee, their ambassador and their joker.
Then they set up a meeting where they will discuss their grades, what the employee can do to improve, etc.
After this meeting, the employee is in possession of their self-assessment, their ambassador's assessment and their joker's assessment. They also know joker's and ambassador's opinion on their situation, since they have discussed it face-to-face.
Equipped with all these elements, the employee must choose their own level. And indicate it on the company's messaging system. This level will then (along with his experience and loyalty) determine their salary.
For three years now, we have succeeded in reinventing the individual review process without a manager while offering a fair and equitable salary scale for all employees.
That, in 2,205 words, is how my colleagues and I chose our salary.
To allow you to test the formula and learn from it, I made a quick simulator on Excel (this file isn't available on the blog's shop):