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Changing the World of Work: The Story of Fortress and Flourish

Fortress and Flourish is an HR & OD Strategy firm with a focus on sustainability, equity and community in the workplace that was founded in 2018. I actually started the company while I was on a trip to Mendocino, CA doing a wood firing ceramics workshop. When I look back at the original business plan, I smile thinking about how much has changed since that time and how much I've learned. One of the quotes from the plan that still rings true for me today is:

When the remedy you have offered only increases the disease, then leave him who will not be healed and tell your story to someone who seeks the truth. - Kabir

Fortress and Flourish started out as a way for small businesses to outsource their HR function to a part-time HR consultant. I worked with local architecture firms, construction companies, non-profits and fitness studios. Usually I would start out establishing HR systems and then help with things like payroll, employee relations, performance reviews, hiring and interviewing. Things started out slowly, and I had time to dedicate to working with the City of Santa Cruz on Economic Development in Downtown, to Co-Chair our Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness, and spend a lot of time making art.

Then in early 2020 everything changed. Overnight there were new laws about what business owners could and couldn't do, not only with their staff but how they engaged with the public. I became a local authority on COVID changes for employers and was featured in many of our county's local TV information sessions for small business owners. During that time, I gave away many hours of work to help support my community as we struggled to survive before grants and financing became available. 2020 gave me an amazing opportunity to respond to the needs of my community with my expertise in a way that helped my business to grow.

Through this time, I learned about what the small business/non-profit market was looking for from an HR professional. This is work that I still do to this day: helping to establish standard operating procedures so that all humans are treated the same in their company with regard to hiring, onboarding, corrective action, performance reviews, emergency preparedness, and ending employment.

As I spent time with more organizations I realized that establishing these processes was important, but there was another aspect of the world of work that I was drawn to help with. That is compensation. It's all well and good to have SOPs, but if the compensation system is unfair, then people don't care about the rest of it. So I leaned on what I learned in HR school about how to do compensation studies, and helped organizations establish and update wage ranges and tiers. This is the kind of compensation system that you see in the government, where the pay is transparent and everyone clearly knows what they will be paid and how they become eligible for pay increases.

I had been doing this work for a few years when California decided to pass laws around pay transparency, so now all employers with more than 15 employees in my state will be required to post pay ranges with job ads starting January 2023. I am interested in how this will affect the labor market.

My company is going through another shift as I am coming to understand that compensation analysis is an incomplete tool to use to develop systems of pay. For example, a client of mine is finding that compensation analysis alone would dictate that they give 10+% raises to their two most highly paid employees, and keep pay the same for the rest of the staff. One of their values is equity, and giving raises to the two most highly paid staff is not equitable for them. So, we're looking at other systems of compensation.

One compensation system that I am very interested in and that works well with me and my team is a collectivist model. In this model everyone on the team, including myself, all make the same amount. It recognizes that the work of my staff is not less important than my own work. I couldn't do what I do without them. The amount is based on MITs Living Wage in the county where I live, which is currently $27.44 an hour. My goal for the future of compensation in my company is for everyone to make the equivalent of our Area Median Income of $43.26/hour.

Fortress and Flourish is coming up on its 4th birthday, and I am proud of how the company has grown, changed and adapted to the shifting landscape of work. I look forward to helping businesses, nonprofits and local governments meet the needs of their teams. I see the future of work as creating safety, having challenging conversations, developing new systems, and connecting with those who are interested in doing this work too.

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