While coaching top executives, I often paraphrase contemporary philosopher Ken Wilber to the effect: I have found that most of my trouble comes from trying to control things that, if left alone, would take care of themselves.
We have all heard the advice to empower self-directed teams, push responsibility down close to the action, give authority over service decisions to the person in contact with the customer. Implicit in all these dicta, however, is the assumption that it is properly the executive who has the power, responsibility, and authority being meted out. What is it about showing up for work that strips people of agency? Maybe management should stop ignoring the fact that people are doing a fairly good job of managing their lives and consider that these skills can be used at work?
Before you agree or insist that you are already implementing this insight, consider what it would look like to thoroughly apply it. Ricardo Semler has and Semco has been prospering. Hear more about it on this NPR podcast: The Kojo Nnamdi Show
Brazilian businessman Ricardo Semler has been radically rethinking business management styles for years. Now, he’s trying to convince the rest of us. A look at his often controversial suggestions.
Ricardo Semler, CEO of Semco; and author of The Seven-Day Weekend: Changing The Way Work Works
If you prefer text (and do not want to buy the book) read this excellent article in Booz-Allen’s strategy+business: Ricardo Semler Won’t Take Control by Lawrence M. Fisher
João Vendramin Neto, who oversees Semco’s manufacturing, explains that the workers know the organization’s objectives and they use common sense to decide for themselves what they should do to hit those goals. “There’s no covering your ass,” says Mr. Neto. “The intent is to get straight to specific targets.”
Semco’s 3,000 employees set their own work hours and pay levels. Subordinates hire and review their supervisors. Hammocks are scattered about the grounds for afternoon naps, and employees are encouraged to spend Monday morning at the beach if they spent Saturday afternoon at the office. There are no organization charts, no five-year plans, no corporate values statement, no dress code, and no written rules or policy statements beyond a brief “Survival Manual,” in comic-book form, that introduces new hires to Semco’s unusual ways. The employees elect the corporate leadership and initiate most of Semco’s moves into new businesses and out of old ones.
Of the 3,000 votes at the company, President Ricardo Semler has just one.