Most work environments prioritize profits over people. But there are other ways businesses can look—if we’re willing to imagine them.
Most work environments prioritize profits over people. But there are other ways businesses can look—if we’re willing to imagine them.
Rachel and Travis Gertz are the founders of Louder Than Ten, a cooperative company on a mission to democratize the workplace through project management. Through their training and apprenticeship programs, they show digital organizations how to give power back to the people leading their projects.
When some people talk about this, it seems like such a radical idea, but it's actually so practical. It's just a very common-sense way to make sure that you're more sustainable. Worker cooperatives last longer, people stay longer, they ride out through the rough times. Because the first thing that a capitalist framework company is going to do is they're going to cut their workers, right? And then they're going to retain all the earnings up at the top. But if you're a worker-owned cooperative, everybody has to support and pitch in. So I just think it's just a very practical system.
—Rachel Gertz, CEO of Louder Than Ten
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Plus: in this week’s You’ve Got This, Sara offers tips for how to foster transparency in the workplace. How could you experiment with transparency, with authenticity, with honesty around something that maybe makes you a little uncomfortable? Who do you want to sit down with and explore other ways of working? For all this and more, check out https://www.activevoicehq.com/podcast.
Rachel Gertz 0:00 I believe it's magical, honestly, when you realize the function of something that is mostly invisible in your organization.
Sara Wachter-Boettcher 0:20 Hello, and welcome to Strong Feelings, the podcast all about the messy world of being a human at work. I'm your host, Sara Wachter-Boettcher, and today I'm talking with Rachel and Travis Gertz, the co-founders of Louder Than Ten, which offers training programs for project managers. Their mission: democracy through project management. Sounds interesting, right? Well, it is. And it's way more than a tagline because Louder Than Ten isn't any old company. It's a worker-owned cooperative, which means everyone who works for the company has a chance to buy into the company as an owner. They get to vote on company decisions democratically and share in company profits. When Rachel told me about this a few months ago, I was super intrigued because well, when you work in tech, you meet a lot of people who want to be billionaires or who've never really questioned the ethics of venture capital. You meet a lot of people who assume that scaling up big is the only way to go. And so in that environment, it's really easy to start thinking that there's no other way to have a company than to be profit above all else, that that's the only option.
1:21 But that's not the only option. Because co-ops, well, instead of putting wealth generation at the center of their purpose, they actually put worker and community benefit at their core. So Rachel and Travis are based in Canada where they got some government support to transition to being a co-op. But you can become a co-op in the United States too, and a bunch of other places. In fact, I started researching co-ops here in the U.S. since that's where my business is based, and I learned from the United States federation of worker cooperatives that there are more than 500 workplaces in the U.S. that are run this way. They have over 8000 people working for them, and they generate over 400 million in annual revenues. Many of them are things like, you know, your local natural food store. Increasingly, people are actually turning to co-ops in sectors like tech, it's a growth area.
2:06 But of course, that's still a tiny, tiny number of businesses, right? And I bet that part of the problem is that so many people who start small businesses, like people like me, to be honest, just don't realize or think about this as even an option, or take it seriously when they're doing their planning. You know, no one talks about these kinds of models when you tell them you're going to start a business. You don't get this advice from your CPA. You don't get this advice if you talk to somebody who's focused on entrepreneurship. Typically, you don't get people asking, you know, "Have you thought about the business setup that's going to most closely align with your values?" It's just not a question that's even on the table. And so I've decided that I'm going to spend this summer learning more about co-ops. There are a couple books Rachel and Travis recommend, you'll hear about them in the interview, but those are Owning Our Future by Marjorie Kelly and Companies We Keep by John Abrams, which I am committing to read as I have some downtime and think about the future of my business over the next couple of months.
3:03 And I hope some of you are going to join me, even if you have no plans to run your own business or go work for a co-op. Because no matter what specifically is in your future, and I don't even know what's in my future, I just think it's so valuable to widen our perspective and just start imagining other ways businesses can function, and to start seeing those as realistic options too. And so on that note, let's get to this interview because Rachel and Travis have made their co-op very, very real.
SWB 3:32 Rachel and Travis Gertz are the founders of Louder Than Ten, a project management training company on a mission to show digital organizations how to give power back to the people leading their projects. Rachel and Travis, welcome to Strong Feelings.
RG 3:45 Hello.
Travis Gertz 3:45 Thank you. Hello.
SWB 3:47 Hi. So first up, I would love if you could tell our listeners a little bit more about Louder Than Ten. What do you do? How did you get started?
RG 3:56 Yeah, you bet. So Louder Than Ten is officially 11 years old. We're pushing our 12th birthday. And a long time ago, we started out as a design and development studio. And I would do all the project management. And over the years, just through a little bit of happenstance, but also because we just really deeply cared about running a company in a different way, we kind of evolved into a project-management-focused company. And from there, it evolved even further into a training company, and we kind of landed in a place where we wanted to meld the worlds of both, you know, teaching and training because that's my history as a teacher and Travis is design and development.
TG 4:34 Design and development. Yep.
RG 4:36 And we wanted to take that and turn it into a thing that we could do anywhere remotely and a thing that would allow us to challenge and question the status quo of how people were running their projects. And I guess in a deeper way, how people are running their businesses.
SWB 4:50 Yes. Oh, gosh, we are going to talk about that so much today. And before we get into sort of, like, "disrupting how people run their businesses," I want to ask a little bit about one of the biggest differentiators I see in the kind of training you do, which is your apprenticeship program, and I'm curious if you can tell people just a little about what that is?
RG 5:07 Yeah, so it started out with this idea that apprenticeship, you know, if you look kind of back towards the Middle Ages, it was about this long, deep, focused learning, and that, you actually had somebody who had been doing it for years supporting the growth of the learner. It wasn't something where you throw someone in a boot camp and be like, "Good luck, like, I hope everything works out." So we actually wanted to take and adapt a model like this, that would work in, you know, modern times, and our approach was to allow and enable folks to be able to continue to work at work, to ask for that time during their week to learn, and have a trainer available that was doing just very small cohorts where it's not just about, "Hey, let's learn some theory. And then you're going to follow a checklist so that you can be a great project leader." It was absolutely about tailoring the learning to where folks were at in their projects, on their own teams, you know, some of the sticky, difficult conversations you needed to have, and just really making it about the balance between the hard skills of PM, which you can learn and, you know, and they're very important and I think all people need to actually have those skills, but also the essential or foundational soft skills, right? The stuff that takes time to deepen and you have to practice.
SWB 6:20 Yeah, it's interesting to hear you talk about it as something that sort of, like, needs to be slower. And that really flies in the face of a lot of what you hear in the tech industry, right, which is that everything needs to be faster. And I think that goes along with something else that I've heard you talk about which is this idea of democracy through project management. And I'm wondering, you know, can you tell me more about how that fits into this?
RG 6:44 Basically, we sort of look at it like: project leaders. So whether you're calling them coordinators, account managers, digital producers, they have 1000 titles, right? They're at the epicenter, the nucleus of all of their projects, all their process, and all the people. So they get an extraordinary amount of impact on the direction of those things when they realize what that power is. And they have this neat way of being able to very gently guide the direction of things to be a little bit more ethical, a little bit more sustainable and to question the status quo. And in a deeper level too, I think a lot of it comes back to just thinking about what is generative decision making? How do we get the people doing the work to actually scope and estimate the work, right? They should be involved in the process of crafting the project, not just brought in and then told, "Hey, get to work."
SWB 7:34 Yeah, you know, one of the things that I'm hearing in there, I think you said the word "power," recognizing what can be powerful about being in that role, and I think a lot of times project management ends up being perceived as or treated as kind of purely administrative or like, you know, you're just, like, sending emails and pushing papers around. Right? It's Gantt chart. What does it look like to value project management for what it can be and for the real impact that it can have?
RG 8:02 I am so biased, but I believe it's magical, honestly, when you realize the function of something that is mostly invisible in your organization, right? It's all the pieces between the pieces, it's all of the things that bind them together. And you see individuals who are using what we'd call "referential power" to be able to influence the direction of their project, not through direct authority, like you'd expect in a managerial position. But these folks are going in, and they are making room for conversation to happen. They are bringing designers and developers and researchers together to be able to teach one another how their trade works. And I think that that is such a beautiful thing. It's actually our job as project leaders to get out of the middle and make room for that space to happen, so folks can stand there.
SWB 8:48 Yeah. And I think it's so much of that kind of "glue work" that you hear talked about in the tech industry, but is often not valued, doesn't get people promoted, or doesn't get them great performance reviews. And it sounds like there's a big need to really recognize the value of labor that is largely invisible.
RG 9:03 Yeah, so PMs are often really mistreated. I've overheard conversations from owners and other folks in digital agencies that I wouldn't even repeat. I feel like they're infantilized quite a bit and given sort of, again, that task jockey responsibility, and they're told, you know, "Yeah, you just push the paper, you get the job done." But oftentimes, they take on emotional labor, they're there to manage people's emotions on the team. Women project managers are asked to carry out tasks related to, like, remembering birthdays and making sure that, you know, anniversaries are celebrated. It's wild to me to think about the sheer volume of effort that a project manager has to exert. It's not just the project that they're thinking about. They're thinking about the welfare of their team and carrying the weight of the organization's success on their backs.
SWB 9:54 Right. And so when we think about that, when we think about how much project management can mean to an organization, I think this goes into something I really want to spend some time on, which is how you started thinking about structuring your company because you're talking about some big shifts in values here. When did you start realizing or thinking about how your company structure did or didn't work with the values that you have and think about changing it?
TG 10:18 Had I known about co-ops or things like that in the beginning, I probably would have just joined one at the start, but I didn't. So it took a bit of a process for us to sort of develop this over the years. And I think it started with a lot of things. So when we started as a design agency, we subcontracted with a couple other agencies. But one of them in particular really touted a flat hierarchy kind of thing. It had, like, a sort of democratic feel to it. And in a lot of ways it was really good, it really was a positive working experience that is different than before. It made us realize a lot of things about what you know, having a say in the things that affect you most could have. But it was still owned by one person, so ultimately, power still existed and hierarchies still existed. But it just gets felt in, like, these insidious kind of ways. And you just feel the friction of it in a lot of ways. And so we kind of, like, learned it but still didn't know about co-ops. But we kind of had those things in the back of our mind what we, sort of, didn't want to be, and, you know, part of our initial curriculum was actually built on a lot of those sort of, like, democratic parts. But I think the first time I heard of it, there is a professor of economics named Dr. Richard Wolff, who is a big advocate for co-ops. So that's kind of where I first heard about it. And then it just made sense. It was a new operating mode that just, you know, we don't get taught those defaults at all when we start a business, right? Like, everything from your lawyer to your first accountant is going to steer you into, frankly, a traditional capitalist enterprise where you have one owner and several workers, and that one owner has say over everything, so it's anti-democratic.
SWB 12:02 Yeah. So I'm curious if you can say a little bit more about worker-owned cooperatives because it flies in the face of what so many people have known and experienced about work. And so for those who are, like, what exactly is that: what exactly is that?
RG 12:16 So I think the history of cooperatives, it centers, started back in the 1800's. There's a famous story about the Rochdale Company, and in response to the Industrial Revolution, this band of kind of gnarly folks got together and they wanted to buy and sell things like tea, and candles, and sugar, and things that just were really difficult to come by. But I mean, if you think about this, the way that you set up, and organize, and share the labor, and all of these other principles, I mean, they date back through history, right? So I kind of think that inherently worker cooperatives are tied to a socialist way of working, you have to be able to share and look after the people that work in the company.
TG 13:01 Yeah, ultimately, the workers own the company, and they have a say in the company. So there's two components: one is it has to be democratically run. So every one: one vote, one share per worker. And then they all have ownership as well. So they have equity, so when they leave the cooperative, they get their money back, or you have an equity system. But ultimately, what it comes down to is consent over coercion. And that's basically what you can tie the whole thing to. In my mind, that's what I think about when I think about a co-op.
SWB 13:37 Yeah, that's so powerful. And I'm wondering, when you went down this process of, like, researching co-ops and figuring out how to become one, what did that look like? Like, what did it take to get to where you are now?
TG 13:49 We're political people, and that's always been a sort of foundation of kind of work. And we always wanted to make something like that. We started off looking at B corps because that was, like, the next obvious thing in front of us that we could do. We were a little small at the time, but then I think a turning point was, I read a book called Companies We Keep by John Abrams. And what it does is it really envisions the company he helped found and turned into a co-op, it's been running for over 40 years, right now. They design and build houses, and green energy, and things like that. But anyway, it's a beautiful story of what it could be, and it's a healthy company that's run by us workers. Very profitable, but the profits just don't go to one person. They actually build equity over time, they have their own pension fund. So when, if someone's worked there for 40 years, they get taken care of, they get paid out over a period of time for their time that they put in. So it's kind of like a best of both worlds in a lot of ways. And we just saw that and thought it was beautiful and matched really a lot of the principles that we had as a training company in education.
RG 14:56 It's wild because you know when some people talk about this, it seems like such a radical idea, but it's actually so practical. Like, it's just a very common sense way to make sure that you're more sustainable. Worker cooperatives last longer, people stay longer, they ride out through the rough times because the first thing that a sort of capitalist framework company is going to do is they're going to cut their workers, right? And then they're going to retain all the earnings up at the top. But if you're a worker-owned cooperative, everybody has to, kind of, support and pitch in. So you're gonna say, "Okay, well, like, we had a rough quarter, we're going to temporarily lower our salaries, and then we're going to talk about, like, r&d, what are we going to do to make sure that we can ride this out? So I just think like, it's just a very practical system. And I feel like so many of these concepts, kind of, just get twisted in, you know, mainstream news and other places.
SWB 15:46 Yeah, well, I think one of the things I notice is that there's such a default setting around a very traditional capitalist business, that when we talk about a business, I think that's what people are envisioning, right? Our mental model is so deeply ingrained in that system. And I'm curious, how did you need to, kind of, break that model in your own brains in order to become a co-op?
TG 16:09 It really is the default. For us, it was really, I just happened to be interested in other things that that sort of like popped up on my radar, but I had to dig for it. And when we started, we took a cooperative boot camp about a year ago with our local provincial BC Co-op Association. And so, like, that's one of the first things they told us too is like, yeah, it's really hard because you have to find accountants that are familiar with how this works. You have to find lawyers that are familiar and aren't gonna try and talk you out of it. The fears that come with it, especially if you're an owner of a business, and we know a lot of owners being in this business, it's always things like, "Can I be voted out?" You know, "Am I gonna get kicked out of my own company? Am I gonna lose money?" or whatever it is, right? You're losing something.
RG 16:59 And the fear of the loss of power I think.
TG 17:01 Yeah.
RG 17:01 It's something that is inherent to a lot of businesses.
TG 17:05 Yeah, and that's very real. And to be truthful, yeah, you have to be accountable to your workers. Like, you can't, you can't be a jerk, right?
SWB 17:13 That's kind of the point, right? Yeah.
TG 17:12 Yeah. So that's part of it, but at the same time, it also comes with shared responsibility as the owner of a company, too. Like, it's an incredible amount of stress and responsibility that also comes with that too. But being able to share that and not be responsible for everything is actually a plus anyway. But like, so there's a lot of mental hurdles that we have to break. And there's a great book called Owning Our Future by Marjorie Kelly, it's like a spiritual companion, I think to Companies We Keep. But it really talks about the concept of ownership in our society on a whole, right, and talks about a lot of co-ops or different ways to shape it. One of the core principles that is a default woven into every, like lawyer, accountant, business school, every talking head you see talk about business, or running a company, or entrepreneurship thing, what it comes down to is a simple operating system rule, and that is: maximize profits and minimize risk. And those two things, they basically dictate the whole scarce mindset, the hierarchy that comes with a capitalist system, and we have to flip that. We have to actively put in rules that, not so much eliminate them, because you should eliminate risk and increase profits, but it's adding to those like, what does that impact have on the community? What does it have on the workers that work for you? What does it have on the environment? Things like that.
SWB 17:15 Yeah, yeah. So I'm hearing there, it's like, not just increase profits, but like profits for whom? That is a big piece of it. And then if it's purely around profit, then there are so many other values that you're leaving out of the equation. So it sounds like the co-op model doesn't necessarily mean you're going to have, like, I don't know, an environmentally-sustainable organization. But it feels to me like, it's going to make those questions more possible to answer because you're building something that's not so narrowly focused on the financial piece.
RG 18:44 Yeah. Each individual in the company, if you think about their full capacity as a human, you're thinking about the needs that they need to have met, then the idea is that as a company, you meet those needs. And so we have needs for a healthy climate and a healthy environment, and we have needs for childcare, and all of these things, you know, you vote on them. And because those votes are not just, like, one person's needs being met, it's like you're actually creating really cool research and development initiatives that then do trickle out into other areas that you might not normally have considered. Like, we haven't formalized these; we're so early in our journey. We're just actually working on memorandums and rules, like, the sort of governance structure, but I mean, I can picture a future with Louder Than Ten where we're able to support and grow PMs who can then go and activate on very serious, very big project problems like climate change, or if there are issues with, like, clean water, and food, and housing, and we have PMs that are like, "I can do this," and we can actually activate those PMS, because that's a shared community structure that we make.
SWB 20:18 Oh, yeah. So that brings me to a question: you started going through this process, you've come out the other end as a co-op, you're still kind of finalizing some pieces, right? So I know, there's lots that is still to be seen. I'm curious how has this already changed the way that you run your business and the relationship you have with your team?
RG 20:37 As you learn more layers, you start to realize, like, you have to fundamentally go back, review the things that you're teaching, and keep refining them. Luckily, we're very much based on continuous improvement, so that's not it's not a problem. But I think part of what we're wanting to do and increasingly are doing is building in more of this, like, generative decision-making process built into the curriculum, and just, like, some how-to's for people, so they're not like, "That's great. I love that you're talking about this, but what the heck do I do? My organization runs this way." Right? Because that is a conversation that you need to hold space for. And again, a lot of project leaders, they have the voice, but it's been shut down. It's been repressed, it's been really reduced to just, "Well, I mean, did did you finish the project? Is it on time and on budget?" And it's such a small ounce of what we're talking about when we really look at the health and sustainability of an organization. Your org is its projects. If it doesn't have projects, you don't have an organization, right? If you don't have people doing the work, you don't have an organization. Unless you’re like a shell company with, like, a robot arm that does burgers or something.
SWB 21:47 I don't think a lot of our listeners run shell companies.
RG 21:49 Okay. Okay. That's great to hear.
TG 21:52 Like Rachel said, like, it really is about the people and the reflection of your process and everything else. I know we're not going to change any companies into co-ops, or many of them, but we can push the democracy part in them. And I mean, it's also good for business. Rachel, you touched on it earlier, but most co-ops are more profitable over time. They last longer, they're just healthier, especially in rough times like this because they are a little more agile with that. But that requires the "all hands on deck," like, everybody has to care about it. Right? They can't just escape to another company in two years once they're done. And equally, they can't just be fired easily either. It has to go through a bit of a process. And so although ownership is a big key to that, the democracy part is, like, a step towards that model, and the more democratic we can be, the better we can shape those projects and the pieces in them and make our companies healthier.
RG 22:50 One thing I wanted to add too was if you look at executive versus non-executive pay differentials, I think, what's the rate now? The ratio is like 1 to 320 or something?
SWB 22:58 Sure. It's something just absolutely outrageous.
RG 23:00 Mind-boggling. There's, like, the world's largest cooperative is called MONDRAGON, and it's in Spain. It's the largest cooperative in the world. And their pay differential when they started was like a 1 to 6 ratio. And I think it's only gone to like a 1 to 22 ratio.
TG 23:01 They're like a co-op of co-ops. So there's manufacturing, there's even a university there, and there's things like that. But there's 80,000, over 80,000 employees there, I believe now, it's wild.
RG 23:26 Yeah, hugely sustainable organization, and they're not going anywhere. And so yeah, I mean, for us in the products that we create, you said that, "Oh, I don't think we'll change many company structures." And you know what, I think that actually, we could. I think we could definitely influence how people want to run their companies because owners are coming to us, and people who are project leaders are coming to us, and then they're turning into owners. And that's what it's about. If you're good at project management, and you get this idea of equity, then you're going to make a terrific business owner.
SWB 23:56 Well, I'm curious then too, I mean, it seems also like it would be powerful and also not necessarily easy to invite new people into the ownership of your company, right? Like, as somebody who also runs a business that is "me," is very much tied to my ideas and my history, whatever, how did you get to a place where you could, kind of, invite people into that more fully? And what do people who do that need to be ready for?
RG 24:23 Okay, this is interesting, because for me, I've never felt like I had all the answers, definitely not having all the answers in business, not having all the answers in PM. So it's sort of like the kind of quintessential imposter syndrome. But you know what, in a way, I feel like imposter syndrome is good for us because it teaches us how to let go of needing to have all the answers. I know that's kind of a counterintuitive idea. But for me wha I found was that being able to talk with other folks who are really smart in their respective areas, like our other trainer Abby is hugely smart. She's got a whole window of experience that I will never have. And she has a way of looking at the curriculum and a way of looking at our road-mapping that I do not have. So the challenge of, like, "I have to get this right, or we have to get this right," is kind of, like, lessened by the idea of, "Look at how much better we can make things when we enable folks to be able to speak up and, like, openly challenge the direction." It's kind of fun to be able to say, "Poke holes in this, and let's see what we can do."
TG 25:25 And let's be real, there are safeguards for this kind of thing, too. So for example, in our co-op, well, we have a two-year probationary period, and then you actually buy a share or a class of shares into the company over time at an equivalent to about the price of a decent used car. So it's like, it's a hefty investment, but you know, we have ways to finance it that's accessible and everything else. But so you’ve got to work for us for two years, and when you're ready, it's totally optional. You don't have to be an owner, but you have every right to be, and no one can stop you from doing that if you've been around that long. And so you can finance your share ownership, and when you do, you are an owner, just like any of us. We have no more ownership than you do. But it's a big mental barrier that we really had to work through and be sure of right up front. And still there's things like, even now creating policy, you start thinking about, like, "I've got to buy this little piece of equipment for my workspace," right? Is that okay? Like, what's my budget for this, is all of a sudden a little more important, because you're thinking about the whole instead of just your own needs as, like, a business owner.
SWB 26:39 Yeah, that brings me to something that Travis, I saw, you actually write a little bit about on Twitter, which is how this shift is not necessarily easy, it can be uncomfortable. And you also said that it can be slow. I can see how it would be slow, right? It's like decision making, you can't just go well, "I want this thing. I think we can afford it. I'm going to do it," right? So I can see the slowness. And I'm curious, how did you learn to be okay with that, and to sort of, like, find the good in that?
TG 27:05 We get a lot of things done fast. And we've done a lot as a two-person company for a lot of years, and now bigger, three or four people. So for us to change is not a huge leap. But really it does take a different mindset; we still get impatient when, you know, if business isn't picking up as fast as we think it should, or, you know, we're wired to think faster and faster these days. But one of the core principles that I think we constantly remind ourselves from the Companies We Keep book earlier is he uses the metaphor of "you are building a cathedral." So for us, we really think about this, this is a large structure that is going to take beyond your own lifetime to build, and it's going to be beautiful. But like, I hope we don't see the end of this company, I really don't. We're both like, almost 40, we got you know, a couple more decades in us, maybe three, who knows what happens. But we do want to bring in fresh owners through the whole way. And we want this thing to extend beyond this. And when you start thinking about those timeframes, you know, if something happens in a year, instead of six months, it's not a big deal. In the long scheme of things, it's really not a big deal. And it gives you that chance to really get consensus from a group, make sure you're not making bad decisions as a company or things that are detrimental to your community, and you just are building something to be proud of that you're hopefully not regretting later in life. So it's just about doing a good thing rather than a fast thing.
SWB 28:40 Which is all too rare. When you think about that mindset, that sort of slower mindset. How do you feel like that shows up in the way that project managers who go through your training kind of come out the other end? Like, what's different about them because they go through something like this?
RG 28:56 Yeah. So I mean, I think the biggest thing is that they realize that a lot of the best decisions that folks make on projects are done in the spaces that they create, not in the harried moments. I'll actually go through different, like, role playing exercises. And so I'll say, "Okay, I want you to actually practice your eight-second pause," and they're like, "I beg your pardon?" And so I will, I will ask them to say something, pause and then hold that space, and it is the most uncomfortable thing. They're like, "This is awful." I'm like, "Yeah, but do you feel the power in that? Do you sense that you have given that place for people to just think?" Because we rush everything.
SWB 29:39 I love this eight-second pause. It's definitely something that I only learned how to do a couple years ago, to say something and then really and truly wait and give people space. There's the people who are going to be ready to pipe up right away, sometimes me, but there's the people who are going to say the stuff that needs to be said, that's the most mind-blowing, the most powerful, the most helpful, who are going to need a moment and need to feel like there is truly space for them. And I think so much that that silence can really actually lead to empowering different people than otherwise get heard. Gosh, I love that.
TG 30:14 There's an assumption that speed is more profitable, or like, you cram as many projects in as much as possible, run people to the ground with 40 projects and grow for the sake of growth in all of these things. But I think that's really a fallacy. Like, it can be faster to slow down, which isn't always clear. But that's one of the more counterintuitive things that comes down to I think, like, a really democratic and well-processed project is being able to meet deadlines, but do it in a way where it's not crowded out by a ton of other projects and things like that. So that's one of the, I think, big revelations for companies that we work with too is like, a goal is to reduce the amount of projects at once, and usually it's to decrease the number of clients not increase them. And so it's those, sort of, counterintuitive balances that really make a big difference.
SWB 30:50 So if there are folks out there listening who are interested in project management training or maybe just interested in learning more about Louder Than Ten and how you run your org, where should they go for that?
RG 31:21 You can come and find us at https://louderthanten.com/. And we've got a whole bunch of different training options for you, whether you're looking for something that's short for three months or longer for eight. Travis is much more active on Twitter than I am these days, so he's always got something fun to say on there. And honestly, like, if anyone just wants a little support to know, "Am I doing things in a sustainable way?" Because I think again, a lot of project leaders learn very unsustainable ways of practicing their craft. And it's like, "Is this normal?" and we will actually go into what's healthy. And I'm happy to do that.
SWB 31:52 I love this so much because I know project managers who have started to feel like "Oh, my gosh, it's normal for me to constantly have to work at 9pm in order to keep up. It's normal for me to feel like everything's on fire all the time." And I love that you're out there saying like, "No, it doesn't have to be that way."
RG 32:13 Yeah, we created this, right? We created and constructed this. And so if we want something better, then we need to imagine a better future. We always joke about this, Trav and I, but we talk about how, you know, you look at all the movies out there, they're all about end of the world and zombies, right? Everything is like, "It's all coming to an end." It's like it's easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to design and invent a new future. Like, we have to come up with these ideas, and we have to believe in these ideas because I mean, speculative fiction designs the future. Our ideas design the future, right? That's what we're here to do. I am so excited and so curious. And I know Trav, this journey that we're on, I would not want to do it with anybody else. I'm really excited to be here.
SWB 33:04 Okay, so we've talked a lot about how you remade Louder Than Ten into a cooperative. And so now I want to shift briefly here at the end and talk about some advice for our listeners, for the people out there who are thinking, like, "Yes, I want more of that kind of vibe in my life." So after the Basecamp fiasco this spring, Travis, I saw you tweet, you know, we fight like hell for electoral democracy, but then when it comes to the institutions where we spend half of our waking lives (our jobs) the default mode is dictatorship. And we just settle for that. And I read that, and I was like, "Ouch." So, for workers, for people who are working in organizations, what does it look like to stop settling?
TG 33:45 Ultimately, it does mean we have to organize. And we have to get together. And we have to talk to one another about what a new future does look like. And it's not going to be from someone at the top. You know, we can have, like, a Basecamp situation, for example, where from the outside it looked like it was pretty good. Like, you can't argue with the numbers of people being there for seven years, ten years, nine years, like something was working at that point. But it was ultimately a dictatorship. It was a benevolent dictatorship until it wasn't, right? Things happen to us as individuals, and so an individual is always at risk of compromising the lives of a lot of other people.
34:27 So in order for us to do this, we have to work together and start talking with our coworkers, being transparent about things like salary, what we're getting paid, what our working conditions are like and could be like. Are we all working overtime? Why are we working overtime? And so it might mean exploring unionization. And in a lot of cases, in many cases, that's the only option or the best option. In other cases it might be as simple as joining, like, a local meetup for your industry. So we have our local PM meetup. We just had a conversation last week about salaries in our province, in our city and how they're extremely low compared to Canada and the United States. So it's those kinds of things, and it's working together that is ultimately going to get us there. So it has to start from the bottom.
SWB 35:11 I know there's a lot of fear, I think, with folks around being more transparent because there's a sense of vulnerability, right? Like, if I tell you my salary, it's like, "Oh, now you're gonna, maybe you'll judge me, maybe you think it's too high, and I'm not worth that." Maybe you think, you know, "Gosh, you must be really bad at negotiating," whatever, right? And I know that there's so many barriers that come up with this sort of sense of transparency and the sense of like, talking about things that maybe we've been taught are unprofessional, or impolite. How do you work through some of those feels in the process?
RG 35:45 Not easy. That's for sure. And it does have to allow for the idea that there is privilege in that. Like, some folks may not feel safe to do that, right? And we do talk a lot about finding folks at your work where you do feel safe enough to talk about these things with and just even maybe doing some research together as a company or having a few folks that are kind of dedicated, like an advocacy group in the company, where they can just bring that data into the company and say, "Here's what the findings are." Here's what the evidence says about folks who do have transparent salary frameworks, for example, in terms of efficiency or productivity, if you need to tie it back to a business metric.
TG 36:22 I think things with salary transparency, there are mental hurdles with it. Like Rachel said, there's privilege. There's also a thing that we have to really understand, like, the only person that should be embarrassed about bad salaries is the person who sets the salary, not the person receiving it. So there's a lot of practices that we have to work through as an industry. So for us, like, in our role at Louder Than Ten, it might be convincing owners that they should adopt more transparent policies or eliminate the need for salary negotiations altogether, things like that.
RG 36:56 The one thing I think that we have working in our favor, so I just saw a recent research poll, I think Promethean Research, good folks, they put out some research like digital agencies and what they were charging, and think it was like something like 70, or 80% of them were like between $100-150 an hour. And then there was like a small pocket that charged over. And their whole thing was based on the data and the fact that salaries are increasing up to 30%. So for folks who are making lateral moves, that that increase in salary is sometimes the only way that they can get compensated, right? So in this way, their whole thing was, if you do not start charging above the equivalent of $150 an hour, you will not be able to compete in the market because nobody will work with you. And so there is going to be pressure in a job-seeker market where they're like, "We are trained, and we are skilled, and we want better for ourselves." So that's why we're, you know, huge supporters of, like, education and training because you can imbue not just the literal hard skills of PM, but we can also talk about fairness and transparency and what works better for teams in that education.
SWB 38:05 Yeah, I'm hearing in there helping people through that develop a deeper sense of self-worth.
RG 38:10 Yes. Like what you do.
SWB 38:12 Yeah, gosh, which is hard work. Well, and so okay, so speaking of the other side of this, too, like when we start talking about companies, right? For those people out there who run small businesses, let's say maybe like me. I'm working with some contractors, and I've definitely been thinking like, "Hmm, what would it look like to have a little bit more of a team?" And I have a lot of big questions like typical structures I don't want to participate in. Also some fears, like, "Oh, my gosh, but this is so much of me, and what happens?" And how can we start shifting some of our ideas about what it is that we're building and how we're building it?
RG 38:49 There's this idea, too, that's kind of slated around the collective, right? So this comes up a lot, there's a company called Enspiral out of New Zealand, and they actually are like a cooperative of cooperatives that all work together. And some of them are, like, just one- or two-person businesses. But the amount of support they get within that network, they actually have, like, a financial sharing model where they take and distribute money. So I don't think that a person has to entirely give up, like, your own personal brand, for example, or, you know, whatever is the thing that you're, like, "This is really tough to let go." But just in solidarity, to start communicating with other folks who have similar ideas, that is going to dampen the insecurities and bolster the confidence that you have in looking at redistributing some of that power, whether you just find great partnerships with folks who do similar types of things or complimentary things, or you do literally want to convert into a worke- owned or some sort of producer-owned co-op.
TG 39:45 Yeah, that's right. There are, like, producer co-ops as well, which are like groups of individuals. So this was super famous, they're not common anymore. In some places they are, but for agriculture, especially, you'd have farmers who needed better prices for their grain or equipment, things like that. And so they would bind together and be able to collectively bargain for better prices for things like that, or better land deals, if you're a fishery. There's all kinds of ways to do it. And so for us, we have a real opportunity as an industry of freelancers and contractors to, instead of atomizing ourselves into effectively gig workers with very little power, if we start working together, we can still have sort of the best of both worlds and start, you know, doing things like maybe building group health insurance, or getting better access to legal support and accounting support, and being able to share those resources a little easier with our community.
SWB 40:47 I love this so much. Because I think, you know, for people who do a lot of, like, freelancing, particularly, it can feel like you're in competition with all the other freelancers out there. And I love that this sort of moves folks to a sense of collectiveness with others who are doing similar work. And I think there's something about that that's really powerful. It's like, it is actually really hard to be in it alone and to feel like everybody around you is your competition. And it feels so much better to think of them as like, peers, and we have some shared values, and we have maybe some shared tools and resources.
TG 41:23 Yeah, it's a lot easier when you're working with other people, I tell you that much. You're no longer the salesperson, the marketing person, the accountant, let alone the person who has to produce the work. So being able to divide those responsibilities, it's liberating. It really is and being able to do so in an ethical way where you know, it's not your responsibility even just to be the perfect human being at all times, you allow room for messiness in there. And that's okay.
SWB 41:51 Yeah, it's like having some checks and balances, like I want to do right, and I want to make ethical choices, and I'm human, and if I'm the only one who can sign off on choices, it's like, I'm gonna screw a lot more up than if some other people are like, "Hey, Sara, hold up. Wait a sec."
RG 42:10 It flies in the face, too I think, of some of the larger organizations who are de-risking their own corporate structures by putting the risk on gig workers and freelancers, right? So in our own way, by coming together as a collective, we're doing our own risk analysis. And we're being like, "You know what? We're going to minimize the risk because we're going to share it." And I think that that's kind of a beautiful way to push back against these larger entities that are just extracting so much wealth and taking so much of our time, right, the only two things that we really have in this world.
SWB 42:40 If there was one thing that you would hope a listener would do something out of this, kind of like, take their knowledge further or start thinking about something, what would that be?
TG 42:49 For me, there's two things. One, if you run a company or are thinking about one, read Companies We Keep. It's easy. It's amazing. But the other thing, if you're looking at more the social aspects of what a co-op can do, or a series of co-ops, I would highly, highly recommend it searching on Google and YouTube for Cooperation Jackson. So, Jackson, Mississippi, the Black community there has developed an incredible solidarity economy is effectively what they call it, but it's a series of co-ops. They've managed to buy up a bunch of land, create cooperative farming, education institutes, things like that, and it's a really beautiful way to see a micro-economy just blossoming and starting out, and it's not a new thing, but it's like a modernized version of something that was effectively disappeared earlier in the century. So that's a whole other podcast episode.
SWB 43:43 Yeah, I'm definitely gonna check that out myself.
RG 43:46 I think if I could add one more thing, I think individuals who are feeling kind of lonely and feeling like they only have this one path, like, whether it is work at a company, give up your life or start out on your own and be completely, you know, isolated, just know that there are lots and lots of other folks out there that are sick of the way that things are running right now. They're excited to talk about new ideas, and they're excited to start forming new business models. These business models formed out of enslavement and out of the Industrial Revolution. They are so outdated, this capitalist framework can totally be remodeled and rewritten. And so again, the way we start doing that is by getting together for some beverages or something and just starting the conversation. And knowing that we don't have to know everything, we don't have to know how to do it all, but you know, the best conversations are the ones that we leave the space for.
SWB 44:37 Oh, my gosh, what a note to end on. There are different ways of being, and we just need to start imagining them and talking about them to get there. Rachel and Travis, thank you so much for being on today. It's been such a pleasure.
RG 44:52 Thank you so much, Sara.
TG 44:53 Thank you.
RG 44:54 We really appreciate you so much, and all the work you're doing, and just, what a cool way to kick off the summer.
SWB 44:59 Oh my gosh, okay, everyone go to https://louderthanten.com/ to get all the information on everything that Rachel and Travis are up to, their programs, and definitely check out their company publication Coax, which you'll get on that site because they have some posts there about this shift to being a co-op that I found so useful and helpful for myself.
SWB 45:22 That was inspiring, right? I am not joking, when I say I'm going to spend the summer reading up on co-ops and looking at different models for more equitable businesses because as I think about hiring and growth, which is something that's on my mind, right now, I need to be as informed as possible, I want to see the possibilities. So with that in mind, let's talk about this week's final segment, You've Got This. This is where we look at something we heard about in the interview a little bit more closely, and to then challenge ourselves to apply it to our lives.
45:49 So today, I want to talk about talking, about being transparent and open and talking about those issues that are often taboo like money, or our fears, or vulnerabilities. So as Rachel and Travis said there at the end, we get systems that work better for workers, for all of us, for humans, when we're less isolated, when we share more. But opening that door, that can be really scary. For example, just the other day, someone I know from the design world who's also getting into coaching work asked me a salary question and expressed some fears over being able to leave a comfortable full time job to do their own thing. And we ended up having this conversation where I shared precisely how I make money, and what percentage comes from what, and where b2b fits in, individual stuff fits in, and how that's changed over time. And it was a little uncomfortable if I'm honest. I was a little scared of judgment, like, "Is it too much money? Is it going to seem too low? What are they going to think?" But it was also really freeing just to say it out loud and to say, "This is how I do it. This is what I'm trying to do next. These are the things I'm thinking about. These are the things that have worked for me or not worked for me." And let go of the outcome of that in terms of, like, what they might think about me because this is just what it is. And it's fine.
47:04 Being able to talk about this, I have found really helpful because it's a way that I can hold myself accountable to making sure that I am actually living my values, that the people who work with me get paid and get paid well along the way. And so you know what this person, they were really thankful to get real information because so much of what they were seeing was so vague, and they needed actual info to help them make an informed decision at this point in their lives. And so I didn't feel judged. I felt so supported. And I think we need more conversations like that. So that is my challenge to you. It doesn't have to be about money or about business structure, but where could you use more transparent conversation, more honest information? Where do you want to start having conversations with your peers about the systems that you're working within and whether you're okay with them? Who do you want to sit down with and explore other ways of being, other ways of working? Identify one person or one situation where more real talk might open up your world and give it a try. How could you open that door, even if it's just a crack? How could you experiment with transparency, with authenticity, with honesty around something that maybe makes you a little uncomfortable? I can't wait to hear what you come up with. You've got this.
48:22 And that is it for this week's episode of Strong Feelings. I'm your host, Sara Wachter-Boettcher and Strong Feelings is a production of Active Voice. Check us out at activevoicehq.com and get all the past episodes, show notes, and full transcripts at strongfeelings.co. This episode was recorded in South Philadelphia and produced by Emily Duncan. Our theme music is “Deprogrammed,” by Philly's own Blowdryer. Check them out at blowdryer.bandcamp.com. Huge thanks to Rachel and Travis Gertz for being our guests today, and thank you for listening. If you like the show, please make sure to subscribe, and then rate us wherever it is that you listen to podcasts. See you next time. Bye.