OFFENBACH -- This is what salary negotiations look like at CPP Studios, a media group in Offenbach, Germany. At years end, the whole company gathers and decides together what theyre going to do with profits. How much will be invested, how much will be put back into the company, and how much employees will be earning in the year to come. Bonuses are handled the same way, as are salary cuts if business is not going well. All 32 of the people working at CPP, including the two bosses, have one vote each. Decisions are made by majority vote.
And the system works because everybody at CPP earns exactly the same amount, whether theyre 50 or 25, whatever job they do. Only the two general managers Gernot Pflüger, 46, and Thomas Lutz, 49 earn more because they bear the financial risk.
The one-salary idea occurred to Pflüger more than 20 years ago. A musician and journalist, he and some friends started an event technology company back in the 1980s. It evolved into CPP Studios, which creates and implements multimedia productions and events and has an annual turnover of over 5 million euros.
When we started out, there were just a few of us, and we all earned the same amount, Pflüger explains. Even though the company grew, that approach to salaries didnt change. Only once was it challenged, when some older workers said they thought it was unfair. Discussions continued far into the night, and the upshot was a decision to pay younger employees a fourth less. It didnt work. Younger staffers started leaving early, no longer felt a spirit of ownership, and refused to take any responsibility, leaving that to the older, better paid workers. There was a lot of conflict. It wasnt long before the single salary was re-introduced.
No unions, but everyone has a say
There are no union members or employee organizations at CPP Studios. "This is grassroots democracy," says Pflüger. "Participation goes a lot further than it does with the unions. But Pflüger stresses that the company isnt some namby-pamby collective; we are very competitive and want to be better than the competition, he says. So people work hard at CPP, sometimes far into the night when they have a project deadline to meet. People can stay over at the office if need be: its equipped with guest cots and showers.
Salaries are not the only thing CPP staffers can decide on they also have a say in hiring. "With hiring, a simple majority is not enough. If we get two or three people voting against hiring somebody, we wont do it," Pflüger explains. "Its important, because we work very closely together on projects and spend many hours together. The chemistry has to be right. The hiring of new people often goes through unopposed, which is why when there are objections the group discusses the matter at length.
Pflüger wants people to feel responsible for what they do, which is why there is no hierarchy at CPP. "The boss is whoever is managing a project. On the next project its likely to be somebody else," he says. Staffers also decide on their own leave. "We take as much time off as we need to, Pflüger says, adding that so far nobody has abused the system. "When you give people responsibility they are much more careful and reasonable than is commonly assumed, he believes. If there is a problem with staffers its a tendency to overwork, he says.
CPP Studios is located in an old factory. Graphic designers, filmmakers and camera persons work in the red brick building in Offenbach just outside Frankfurt. Contrary to many expectations, not everybody is young: the youngest staff member is 25, the oldest 52 and fluctuation is minimal.
Michael Wiederhold is 50. He was in banking sales, and met Pflüger when they played music together. He liked the concept of the company, and started helping out. That was 20 years ago. Today, hes in charge of everything from controlling to personnel and has power of attorney. The others smilingly refer to him as our big management head.
Embracing 21st century freedoms
In its 1600 square meter space, CPP has a small screening room and several recording studios, but the heart of the company is what Pflüger calls the penguin colony. Hes referring to the large open office space where he, Lutz, and everybody else work desk to desk. Its practical, he says: if you have a question you just call it out and get an immediate answer.
The atmosphere here is one of ordered chaos: desks piled high with DVDs, papers, notebooks, files, sweets, empty coffee cups, and a lot of full ashtrays. But its quiet: people are concentrating on the screens in front of them, working on a huge project for a car manufacturer the communication strategy for a new car, says Pflüger, but more than that he will not say.
Pflüger is a complete believer in the way CPP functions as a workplace. "Our people have a lot of freedom: thats why theyre so creative, he says. In his opinion, most companies havent made it past the late Middle Ages. "Many people leave 21st century freedoms at the door when they enter their place of employment. They let themselves be treated like children. Its crazy, he says. Hierarchical leadership styles serve nothing but getting people to work to rules companies cant go anywhere under conditions like that.
Unions function along exactly the same power principles, he says, and are guilty of neoliberal thinking, instead of working in their constituents interests. Which is why, Pflüger says, theyve lost relevance even though things are more propitious now for unions than they have been in a long time.
People are afraid for their jobs, and many doubt that their kids will have a better life than they do, he adds. So its an ideal time for unions to get more members.
Read the original article in German
Photo - CPP Studios