It sounds like the ideal place to work: flexible hours, a decentralized, anti-hierarchy office environment and at least two retreats per year in the mountains—all expenses paid, of course.
Based in Boulder, Colo., Namasté Solar—a company that installs solar panels—seems to be just like any other organization trying to attract young talents, but this company's culture goes beyond conscious business practices with a democratic culture that's basically unheard of anywhere else.
A Fair Compensation Policy
Discussing one's salary is a sensitive topic and often considered taboo in most workplaces, but that doesn't stop people from wondering how much their colleagues make.
Blake Jones, co-founder and CEO of Namasté Solar, says that all of this information is transparent at his company, and the disclosure means that those in charge of assigning salaries have to be "thoughtful and justify why they're paying one person more than another."
The salary package is no longer between the boss and the employee, but rather between the boss and everyone in the company.
"Usually, salary is an emotional and sticky situation," Jones says. "They have an emotional impact on all of us and in the end, people actually waste more time and energy wondering how much Bob or Jill is making and thinking the worst."
Seven years ago, the company adopted a compensation policy in which no employee is allowed to make more than twice another employee's salary. Since then, the company has grown to 108 employees and its compensation policy has changed to say no employee can make four times as much as another, but this includes all benefits in the salary package, which is converted into dollar amounts. To avoid further competition amongst colleagues, the company also pays equal bonuses to everyone.
An Egalitarian Voting System
In order for the company to change any of its policies, including compensation, proposed policies must be approved unanimously by the board, which is made up of basically everyone in the company.
Every employee is given the option to buy stocks and acquire one voting right. This system meant that Jones and his co-founder Ray Tuomey had to give up a lot of ownership, but it also produced a sense of responsibility for every person involved.
Since everyone is essentially a co-owner, if the company loses money, everyone loses money, and if the company succeeds, everyone succeeds.
"We're all employee owners, and we love it," Jones says. "We wanted to have an elite team that's going to contribute. When you have different people weighing in with different decisions, you create this team-oriented, open environment."
Long-Term Goals Are Transparent
Every month, Namasté Solar conducts "big-picture" meetings to discuss finances and productivity.
"When everyone knows how his or her role fits in with the larger goals and missions of the company, they work on their own assignments better," Jones says. "And if you know what's going on with your company, you can make better decisions."
Jones says that the company policies and culture isn't always the easiest route to take. After all, it's expensive to bring everyone to the mountains twice a year, but the co-founder stands by the practice, saying that "It's worth it and produces a healthier, stronger and tighter culture."
Learn more in OPEN Forum's Company Culture 2012 series.
Photo credit: Namasté Solar