May 27, 2022

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Salaries: this company has chosen pay transparency

Officience, a company located in Vietnam and created by Duc Ha Duong, a Franco-Vietnamese follower of shared governance, defines itself as “a community of inspired workers”. It has set itself the goal of providing its employees with the highest level of autonomy possible.

After having tried holacracy, they decided to follow their own path organized around the valuation and circulation of non-market flows (information, human relations), using in particular the sharing of intentions and increased transparency. When these principles were firmly established, Duc Ha Duong proposed to extend them to the wage-setting mechanism. The approach adopted had to meet a dual objective of equity and efficiency.

A collective decision-making process

In any organization, topics related to money, especially salaries, can trigger strong emotional reactions. When he chose to delegate his power to set salaries, the co-founder was aware of the potential difficulties. The risks were paralysis, if employees could not agree on the salary levels demanded, demotivation or resentment, if some failed to ask for what seemed fair to them. How to ensure that all employees adhere to the proposed system and adopt the behaviors necessary for its proper functioning? (…)

The method adopted is described by Frédéric Laloux in his book Reinventing Organizations, under the name of “solicitation of opinions”. Officience chose to change the name and replace it with “shared intention”, to better emphasize that the responsibility rests entirely with the employee himself. It is based on two techniques and one principle:

· The influence graph. Each employee is asked to identify the five or six people who influence him the most within the company, because of their charisma or their skills. The software then makes it possible to establish a graph of the cross-influence relationships. It is thus very easy to distinguish who are the opinion leaders within the company. The games of influence that are traditionally implicit and hidden are thus revealed in broad daylight: this is the principle of increased transparency.

· Increased transparency. When an employee feels they deserve a raise, they make the decision themselves and post it transparently on the company intranet. He will have taken care to talk about it beforehand with a few influencers (identified thanks to the graph) who can, in return, advise him to moderate his claims, refine his arguments, or on the contrary encourage him. This consultation step gives boldness to those who, without it, might not have dared to publicly announce their intention.

Once the decision is posted on the intranet, all employees can react, approve, disapprove, or ask questions. The influencers contacted beforehand will be able to testify to the performance of the contributor, his skills, the value he brings to the company. Conversely, they can warn: “I warned you that it was too much, and I regret that you did not take this into account. To prevent all employees from being constantly solicited by decisions to comment on, an algorithm modeled on that of Facebook selects the ads that a person may receive at a given time. Technology anticipates the risk of infobesity (over-solicitation of everyone at all times) while ensuring wide distribution of information.

· The principle of non-market flows. For such a principle to be accepted by all without endless discussions on the fairness and profitability of the decision taken, it was necessary to create an organizational culture in which economic criteria are not the only acceptable ones. As surprising as it may seem, at Officience, it is perfectly conceivable that an employee explains that he needs an extra five hundred dollars a month because his father is on dialysis. If he is appreciated by his colleagues, it can pass!

Respectful mode of communication

In a country where talented IT developers are in high demand, such a system, which results in fair value sharing among all employees, can only help attract the best. It is therefore a strong argument in terms of recruitment. The transparency of the decision-making process also makes it possible to authorize high salaries for people with high potential, which would undoubtedly be done discreetly in a traditional company. According to Duc Ha Duong, this transparency, which he calls “liquid information”, is a factor of resilience and empowerment of all, which brings to the organization a very appreciable level of stability.

The first year, a conflict arose when one of the employees proposed to increase his salary to unacceptable proportions for all of his colleagues, with the obvious intention of demonstrating the absurdity of the system. This deliberate provocation and the fiery reaction it provoked on the intranet have entered the collective memory of the organization, thus helping to constitute safeguards. The provocateur left the company on his own (a decision he had already made before).

Gradually, this memory was transmitted to new hires, who adjusted their behavior to this corporate culture based on responsibility and transparency. No one wanted to be the subject of public flaming on the intranet, all adopted a style of communication that was respectful of others and ensured that they had the support of a number of influencers whose advice they sought before publish their decision.

In addition, so that unrealistic salary increases do not endanger the economic survival of the company, employees have at their disposal a number of indicators that allow them to assess the impact of their decision. In the event of a downturn in the economy or results that are less satisfactory than expected, they can readjust their salary or their bonuses downwards.

Exemplary leadership

A few years after its introduction, the system is working well. Despite the renewal of staff, the transmission of experience has taken place from person to person, to the point that the principles are now integrated by everyone and quickly communicated to new hires. The announced decision is implemented automatically by accounting on the 25th of the month.

The entrepreneur, passionate about collective intelligence, adds: “Liquid information and the importance given to non-market flows put trust, knowledge, gratitude and emotion at the heart of the system. By allowing everyone to be fully themselves, according to the principle of “wholeness”, or completeness, described by Laloux, we allow them to deploy their full potential and the organization benefits greatly from this. »

The company’s digital system is an essential condition for the success of the increased transparency system in a company of two hundred employees. Knowing that your announcement and your comments can be read at any time by any employee is a condition of the transparency of the discussions. Everything is laid on the table, the arguments are exposed publicly.

The principles of self-governance are not reserved for the associative world or for a small avant-garde of very “advanced” companies. They can be applied gradually, step by step, to one team or one decision at a time. On the other hand, the exemplarity of the leader in terms of behavior is essential to success. It takes a total and genuine commitment on his part to the proposed new organizational culture, because everyone will model their attitude on his. Finally, there must be a corporate culture that sees employees as sovereign subjects and not as resources.

Robert de Quelen, author of “Collective intelligence”.


Robert de Quelen is a coach, teacher and trainer in intercultural project management, founder of the Liwanag firm, which supports companies in their transformation through collective intelligence. this text is taken from his book “Working differently with collective intelligence”, published by Alisio, 334 pages, 20 euros.