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Inside The Ready: A Laboratory For The Future Of Work

Aaron Dignan
Written by Aaron Dignan May 29, 2021

In this article I’ll show you how we work inside The Ready—an organization transformation consultancy. Our purpose is to change how the world works by helping our clients realize a more adaptive, meaningful, and human way of working. We’re a self-managing company; there are no bosses or managers, our team members set their own salaries, and we make decisions collectively.

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We like to think of ourselves as a laboratory for the future of work. If we suggest a client overhauls the way they decide, budget, or hire, we can genuinely say we’ve tried it ourselves.

The foundation for how we work is based on five principles: 1. Transparency, 2. Autonomy, 3. Consent, 4. Decentralization, and 5. JEDI (justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion).

Below, we’ll share how these principles show up in the way we work.

How we govern

Everything about the way we work is captured in transparent, written-down agreements (we currently have 35 of them).

When people have a question, tension, or issue, they make a proposal. Everybody needs to agree to this proposal using a consent process before it may go ahead.

We’re so excited about the power of agreements that we recently spun out a software company called Murmur, designed to support this process for teams everywhere.

How we make decisions

When it comes to decisions and authority, there are two possible flavors: a permission-based system (where nobody can do anything until they’ve been told they can) and a constraint-based system (where people can do anything until they’re told they can’t).

We try to be the latter and have found that if you treat people as thoughtful and conscientious, they’ll behave that way.

When it comes to day-to-day decisions, decision rights are specified in roles, which can be held by one or more people. For example, people holding the Guardian role have the final say about our branding guidelines. In some cases, a role holder needs to seek advice from others before they can make a decision.

We try to be the latter and have found that if you treat people as thoughtful and conscientious, they’ll behave that way.
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How we staff projects

In most consultancies, there's either a staffing manager, leader, or a team that’s figuring out who goes with whom on which project.

At The Ready, we don't staff projects like this. Rather, we have a two-way marketplace where everybody has a right to say yes or no to a role opportunity on a project, and every project team has a right to say yes or no to a member of that team.

If a team is unhappy with one of its members, it can ask them to step away. If a person is unhappy with the team they're on, they can choose to step away.

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How we pay ourselves

Our approach to remuneration has evolved into a transparent, self-directed compensation stack that starts with a guaranteed base salary. This base salary is the same for everyone and can be built upon (see diagram).

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Our approach has eliminated the need to manage raises, bonuses, annual assessments, performance management, rank, and more.

Consultant rates

Team members that take on client work set their own rate, after seeking advice from the people around them.

If one team member wants to charge $4k/month and somebody else feels comfortable charging $20k/month, we're open to that. People who pay themselves too much may experience lower demand and be required to either sell their own projects that can yield that rate or choose to lower their rate.

As questions arise about values, bias, and market value, some people struggle to set their rate. We’ve learned how to advise on how to set rates so that everyone feels recognized and like they're getting a fair deal.

Key role pay

If you’re holding one or more of our 20 internal (“key”) roles that we find especially valuable, you’re compensated for that work. For example, we pay a monthly fee to people who enable our hiring and training processes.

How we handle money

Generally, people are allowed to spend company money. Every team member is offered a credit card without a limit, and anyone is free to spend up to $3k per trimester in service of our purpose. Anything above this amount requires advice.

The only controlling factor in the financial system is a project margin target. Each team runs their project as a micro-enterprise with its own P&L. At the end of every month and trimester, we look at the numbers together to see if we're steering in the right direction.

We pay our bills and make sure we have enough in the bank for a few months if things slow down. After that, we fund initiatives, share profits with members, and pay dividends to the shareholders (all current or former team members).

What's left over is subject to the guidance of the whole system. We make those decisions collectively.

How we hire and onboard

Up until one and a half years ago, The Ready was a predominantly white workplace. This wasn't because we didn't care about diversity. Rather, it was because we hadn’t changed our operating system to reflect that value. People tended to select the people who looked like they did and seemed similar to them. We no longer find this acceptable.

Several members of our team worked together to create an anonymized hiring process where we don't know who someone is until we're excited about the way they think and what they're capable of. This has completely changed who we're attracting and who we're hiring.

It was because we hadn’t changed our operating system to reflect that value. People tended to select the people who looked like they did and seemed similar to them. We no longer find this acceptable.
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How we meet and retreat

We’ve tried to find an operating rhythm that is as lean as possible. Our current status quo is our Friday ritual. Each Friday, we have a 90-minute meeting slot that we rotate among four themes that allow us to get things done:

  • Governance: for making collective agreements about roles, policies, and processes;
  • Operations: for steering our business, growth and hiring activity;
  • OS Coffee: for diving deeper into topics proposed by participants (run as a lean coffee);
  • JEDI: for talking about how justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion show up in our work, our culture, and the issues and tensions we’re struggling with.

Since the company’s founding, we’ve gone on a retreat (our “Ready Week”) every four months, during which we pause from client work and reflect. We gather for four to six hours a day and enjoy a mix of scheduled sessions and open space conversations.

During the pandemic, we’ve been continuing our tradition via virtual reality!

How we innovate

In a company like ours where no one person sets a central strategy or centrally control funds, we’ve had to figure out how we innovate and move forward.

During our retreat, we have an open discussion about what we might want to try and where we might want to invest our money. Whether you want to start a podcast, spin out a software company, serve a new client in a different way, you can propose an initiative. If the group consents, it's funded.

The people who steward those projects have the ability to pay themselves and other team members to bring them to life. During the average trimester (3x per year), we invest about $110k in initiatives.

It’s been a massive learning curve, but on the whole, our way of doing things appears to be working well. We feel we’re moving in the direction of our purpose — and that we’re doing the best work of our lives. And you can’t ask for much more than that.

Written by Aaron Dignan
Aaron Dignan
Founder The Ready and Murmur, Author of Brave New Work and co-host of the Brave New Work podcast.
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