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Decision making doesn’t need to be painful, even when you’re remote

By Harry Robbins, 25 Jun 2020

Last week Outlandish changed its policy on paternity leave – doubling it from two months leave @ £2k/month to 4 months leave – and we made the decision in less than 20 minutes. We really like how we make decisions and are increasingly supporting the organisations we work with to use similar approaches.

Outlandish uses a consent-based decision making system called sociocracy. It’s based on the quaker organising/decision making methodology. Anyone can make any proposal they like and, if no one opposes the proposal, it becomes company policy. Consent-based decision making is different from consensus-based decision making in that we don’t all have to agree the proposal is the best solution to the problem at hand, only that it is “good enough for now and safe enough to try”.

The reason for this proposal was that I’m about to go and have a baby and was considering furloughing myself under the government furlough scheme. Like many companies, Outlandish has been affected by Covid-19 and I was eligible to furlough myself and have the government pay me £2,500 per month not to work. I could have taken the leave for July/August and come back part time in September/October with Outlandish paying me for the time I worked and the government paying me for the time I didn’t. I quite liked the idea of getting something out of Comrade Sunak and seeing as many tax-avoiding billionaires are taking advantage of the scheme (with the government’s blessing) I didn’t feel bad about it, despite the fact I could find myself work to do if I didn’t furlough myself.

However, we’re doing a pretty intense project for the Sanger Institute helping them to eliminate malaria and covid which really needed my attention before the baby arrives. This is important work and I really wanted to get the project off to a good start but, with Outlandish’s policies as they were it would have meant me doing a lot more work for a lot less money. I’ve done a lot of prioritising Outlandish’s mission and those of our clients over the years, but the arrival of my first baby also seemed something worth prioritising.

So that I could do right by Outlandish, our client and myself I proposed that we should double paternity leave which (according to the cost/benefit analysis carefully prepared by my partner) meant that I ended up doing more work for more money, which seemed a lot more attractive than more work for less money.

I proposed that we back-dated the increase to include each members last child, as otherwise it would have been rather unfair on Rasmus and Mateus who both recently had children. The total cost to Outlandish was therefore £12,000, plus an extra £4,000 for each future child of a male member (women already get six month’s leave and were unaffected by the proposal).

I called an extraordinary members meeting (video conference) with the eight members of Outlandish, explained the background and put forward my proposal. I made it clear that either outcome was fine for me as a worker (e.g. not working and getting paid, or working more and getting paid more) but that as a business owner I thought it would be better for Outlandish and our broader mission to agree the proposal. As specified in the sociocratic decision making process, I then asked each person in turn whether they understood what I was proposing and answered any questions (this is known as the “clarifying questions” round). Once all the questions were resolved I asked each person in turn for the their initial reaction – e.g. a few words about whether they think it is good/bad/scary/confusing/etc. I then asked each person in turn whether they had a critical concern to the proposal passing – in other words, do they think it is not “good enough for now and safe enough to try”. In this case no one had any critical concerns, and so the proposal was adopted as policy, but if one or more person had raised concerns I’d have had the opportunity to try to resolve them by modifying or clarifying the proposal.

The whole process took about 15 minutes and everyone felt very positive at the end. We’d found a way to meet our business needs while making sure that everyone felt fairly treated and we’d not spent ages discussing it. As an encore we went on to use a similar process to change everyone’s rate of pay the following week, but that’s a different blog.

Thanks to everyone at Outlandish for making this possible and giving me more time with my daughter who should be arriving any day!

Update: Lara Isobel Harries born on 11th July. Everyone doing fabulously 😀

 

Minutes from the extraordinary members meeting:

9 June 2020 – Extraordinary Member Meeting re: paternity leave

Context:

Harry is eligible for furlough which would give him more money for less work than paternity leave. However, the timing is not ideal – furlough would have to start tomorrow (Wednesday) and there are a few things it would be useful for him to finish up. He feels conflicted because he’d normally do whatever suited Outlandish best, but in the context of having a new baby and a partner with no maternity leave it seems right to prioritise family needs.

The proposal below would make paternity leave roughly equal to furlough in terms of benefit to Harry. There’s a higher cost to Outlandish in terms of direct costs of this and other paternity leave, but potentially benefits in terms of delivering work to clients and promoting fairness.

It’s a shame that the pay process is still ongoing, but a decision about furlough needs to be made today.

Proposals:

Increase paternity leave:

  • Increase the amount of paternity leave from two months to four months. 
  • Maternity leave (currently 6 months) is unaffected.
  • Allow the paternity leave to be used flexibly – allowing for a part-time return to work, for example. Leave would be considered as 80 days @ £100 per day, instead of in months.
  • Back date this to include most recent babies (e.g. Felix and Ezra).
  • Manage time as a project in CoPitch. People bill fractions of days if CoPitch and other systems don’t support different rates in different projects. E.g. Harry would bill ⅓ of a day for each day of paternity leave (@£100)
  • Harry to take paternity leave when baby arrives rather than starting furlough now

 

Outcome: Proposal passed

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash