DevOps Zone is brought to you in partnership with:

Jurgen Appelo calls himself a creative networker. But sometimes he's a writer, speaker, trainer, entrepreneur, illustrator, manager, blogger, reader, dreamer, leader, freethinker, or… Dutch guy. Since 2008 Jurgen writes a popular blog at, covering the creative economy, agile management, and personal development. He is the author of the book Management 3.0, which describes the role of the manager in agile organizations. And he wrote the little book How to Change the World, which describes a supermodel for change management. Jurgen is CEO of the business network Happy Melly, and co-founder of the Agile Lean Europe network and the Stoos Network. He is also a speaker who is regularly invited to talk at business seminars and conferences around the world. After studying Software Engineering at the Delft University of Technology, and earning his Master’s degree in 1994, Jurgen Appelo has busied himself starting up and leading a variety of Dutch businesses, always in the position of team leader, manager, or executive. Jurgen has experience in leading a horde of 100 software developers, development managers, project managers, business consultants, service managers, and kangaroos, some of which he hired accidentally. Nowadays he works full-time managing the Happy Melly ecosystem, developing innovative courseware, books, and other types of original content. But sometimes Jurgen puts it all aside to spend time on his ever-growing collection of science fiction and fantasy literature, which he stacks in a self-designed book case. It is 4 meters high. Jurgen lives in Rotterdam (The Netherlands) -- and in Brussels (Belgium) -- with his partner Raoul. He has two kids, and an imaginary hamster called George. Jurgen has posted 145 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

The Merits System

  • submit to reddit

It is clear that the annual bonus system doesn't work. A tremendous amount of research says that it demotivates people, destroys collaboration, and causes dysfunctional behavior among managers and employees.

What also doesn't work is the flat system, where everyone simply gets the same compensation or bonus. This also demotivates most people. And it makes organizations inflexible in times when agility is needed.

What we need is a merits system...

Merits system color

5 Criteria for Fair Compensation

Coins colorIn an agile organization, working in an uncertain environment, I believe workers should have asteady salary that is predictable and slightly conservative. On the other hand, they should also get extras depending on the unpredictable part of the environment. Both salaries and extras should be brutally fair and based on merits, not equality. This has led me to suggest the following practical constraints, for better compensation systems, based on the five problems listed in an earlier post:

  1. Salaries should be expected, but bonuses should not. 
    Always keep it a surprise. When bonuses become frequent and anticipated, they ought to be converted to regular salaries.
  2. Earnings should be based on collaboration, not competition. 
    When determining how much people should earn, the main criteria should be their contributions to a common goal, or shared purpose.
  3. Peer feedback is the main performance measurement. 
    Contributions to a shared purpose are best detected and evaluated by peers, not by managers. Only the whole system knows all details.
  4. Use creative thinking to grow the compensation system. 
    Expect that people can (and will) game any system, and tap into that creativity by inviting and supporting it, instead of driving it out.
  5. Use compensation to nurture their intrinsic motivation. 
    Make money a reflection, not a competitor, of people’s curiosity, honor, acceptance, mastery, and all other intrinsic motivators.

Of course, implementing these suggestions for a compensation system is not a trivial thing. But I discovered different ideas that seem to work pretty well for various creative organizations, and which turned out to be quite compatible with each other, and with the science of behavioral economics Predictably Irrational].

A Better System

The elevator-pitch-version goes like this…

  1. You start by setting up a virtual currency, such as credits, points, or hugs. And every month every employee gets an equal share of the virtual currency.
  2. Employees are then required to give all their credits to co-workers. They can use any criteria they want, as long as they don't keep any credits themselves.
  3. Employees accumulate earned credits (received from co-workers). At random moments they can exchange credits for real money, using an exchange rate.

This is a payment system based on merits. It satisfies all criteria for fair compensation:

  • Big bonuses cannot be anticipated.
  • Peer feedback is the main performance measurement.
  • Earnings are based on collaboration, not individual performance.
  • Creative thinking is used to game and tweak the system.
  • The earnings reflect purpose, mastery, status, etc…

Run a Safe-to-Fail Experiment

Hugs colorMoney and emotions are tricky things and therefore any system that involves both will have to be set up in a way that is safe to fail. With small increments (such as weekly or monthly experiments instead of quarterly or annual outcomes) the feedback cycle is shorter and people will learn faster how to improve the system. The use of valueless virtual currency instead of real money will allow people to experiment more comfortably, and it will be easier for them to decide that a chosen path is not working, and change direction, or start from scratch. We must also realize that creative people will game the system. But this creativity can be exploited to grow a more resilient system. The short iterations and valueless currency should help people to adapt to each other’s strategies, and management can tweak the constraints, all in favor of collaboration and working towards a common purpose.

If you are interested, I have a 20-page article about Merit Money available for download.

Merit-money-mini-150This text is part of Merit Money, a Management 3.0 Workout article. Read more here.
Published at DZone with permission of its author, Jurgen Appelo. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)