Democracy is something we often take for granted, particularly in this country. We assume that we are free to do whatever we like whenever we like and no one can dictate to us what to do and how to live our lives. How very wrong are we? Has anyone ever considered that our work lives are often stuck in a corporate dictatorship, restricted by rules, strategies and hierarchical structures?
Ricardo Semler spotted this ‘military culture’ a long time ago when he took over his father’s manufacturing business Semco at the young age of 21,and ever since his philosophies have lead him to be a true business leader of our time. His ideas about how we should approach work challenge conventional ideas and make the workplace a truly democratic place beyond imagination.
His ideas have ironically been deemed ‘radical’ and are demonstrated in his book ‘The Seven-Day Weekend: A Better Way to work in the 21st Century’. From what I can see his ideas are only radical because he dared to question why things were done in such a rigid militant way in a contrasting ‘democratic’ country. He changed the whole concept of work and what it means to work in an organisation in the 21st century.
So what are these concepts? Well the title of the book is a pretty good indication of his philosophies. He wants employees to work when they want and where they want. Semler believes that we only learn things when we are very interested at that moment in time and when there is someone passionate on the other side. I guess what he’s saying here is that by forcing someone to work you are actually decreasing productivity and by employing hierarchy or scare tactics you are not inspiring or positively motivating anyone.
Imagine a seven day weekend? Heavenly don’t you think? Semler however, thinks that even weekends are restricted by things you have to do rather than things you want to do. He argues that no one has idle time anymore and without idle time we can’t re-think anything. I think he is right; we all lead such busy lives that even our weekends can become a chore. We need to take a step back, breath and let go.
That is exactly what Semler did with his company Semco. He let go and gave his employees complete control of their destiny in the company. All decisions are made together, meetings are optional and schedules are made by the individual. But that’s not the ‘radical’ part. Semler is a real believer of democracy, so much so that he doesn’t allow management power to divert the recruitment process and actually hands this process over to the subordinates of the potential manager. Just imagine being able to choose your own manager! I suppose in a democratic state we choose our political leader so why should it be any different in the work place?
But wait until you hear this. Semler lets his employees set their own salaries! I will have £1 million a year please! Ok so obviously you can’t milk it that much but Semco company books are available for anyone in the company who wants to see them. All salaries can be seen, money made by the company and money made by division. That way a fair salary can be requested based on factual information.
So, the real question is how successful are these philosophies in practise? Well Semco not only turnover over $200 million a year and average 40% growth per year in an unstable Brazlian economy but they are considered one of the best companies to work for with thousands of applicants at a time. I would say that is more than successful.
Ricardo Semler’s ideas aren’t radical but evolutionary and the book not only provokes thoughts about your own business but also your personal life. It’s truly inspirational and is well worth the read.