Why are we able to answer emails on Sundays, but unable to go to the movies on Monday afternoons? – Ricardo Semler, the man. End of book.
OK, that’s probably not much of a description, and I guess the point of writing these things is to encourage you to read stuff that I think is worth your time.
I went and found this book after listening to Ricardo’s interview on the Tim Ferriss Podcast. He’s the Brazilian CEO of a Sao Paulo company called Semco. The book is about how he created a workplace of democracy. As in, full-blown, theory-into-practice, I’m-the-boss-but-it’s-not-up-to-me, democracy.
People are considered adults in their private lives, at the bank, at their children’s schools, with family and among friends – so why are they all of a sudden considered adolescents at work?
Semco makes industrial machinery, assembly line stuff – but their factories don’t run like most. The idea that the people doing the work, know the best way to do it, or will figure it out soon enough, gets applied everywhere. Staff choose their own salaries after analysing the company’s profit/loss books and looking at what people doing similar roles elsewhere get paid. “That’s all the information anyone needs to make that decision,” Ricardo says.
One of the first things he questioned was why do we dictate when our workers turn up to work? He took away shifts in an assembly line factory, and all hell broke loose. For a few weeks. Then people started talking to each other and figured out the best times to be there.
Why? Why? Why? – Ricardo uses the ‘three whys’ on everything. Questioning things three times to get to the root cause. Not a new idea, but one worth remembering.
The staff hire their own leaders after interviewing them, sometimes a dozen times. If the people they’re going to be leading don’t believe in them, the relationship will never work.
Some of the ideas and philosophies would be just that. Ramblings on an ideal way of life. The difference is, this crazy dude put those ideals onto the assembly line.
The company has grown 27.5% every year, for the last 14 years. So it’s obviously working well for the business as well as the employees – who regularly turn down higher paid roles in other organisations because they prefer the ‘Semco way’.
We promptly did… nothing
The overarching idea at work is democracy. Ricardo takes his hands off, and in a lot of the stories through the book he reiterates how hard that actually is.
He reminds us that there will be periods of uncertainty, maybe panic, and for somebody who is used to being in charge or in control, that leap of faith is hard. But, he argues, if you have the right people who know how to do the job, they’ll figure it out. Because they know best, not their manager or leader. A lot of times, the problem is we don’t let people figure it out for themselves – so they never flex that muscle.
Reading the book after the podcast first was good and bad. Good in that it meant I read each line in his choice sounding Brazillian accent, which probably made everything cooler. Bad in that a few of the big ideas he talks about in the book, I’d already heard. Likewise with the TED video below.
Stress is the difference between expectation and reality – unrelated to the above or below paragraphs, just something he wrote in the book which is true and deserved to be in quote format.
He talks a lot about fulfilment and happiness at work and how he’s seen that come to life. Being able to work in a role that exhausts your talent reservoir is the key, he says. Ie. doing a job that makes use of the stuff you’re good at. (Elsewhere) “Campaigns to motivate staff are needed because boredom, repetition, and company constraints block out the reservoir of talent, snuff out natural inclination.”
The sad truth is, when you’re most fit to realize your dreams, you don’t have the money for them, and when you have the most time and money on your hands, you no longer have the stamina. Aren’t we avoiding the obvious?”
Retire-a-little program – the curve of human health means in your twenties and thirties is when you’re most physically and mentally capable of doing the things you love, but it’s when you have the least time because you’re too busy working. When you retire, you have all the time and financial independence, but less of the health. So Semco started a program where you can buy back a day or an afternoon of your work week, for below its salary value. You then get a voucher back for working after your retirement if you like. “So, if you took off 100 Wednesday afternoons, you are entitled to redeem such vouchers after your retirement, in essence showing up to work one Wednesday a week, for two years, and receiving your pay.” This is a good idea right? What makes it crazy-good, is that it’s been put in place by your work-place to make your life better.
At the end of the book, he asks some questions about schools, and questions our current systems. If you watch the TED video you’ll see where he took that questioning. It’s worth a watch.
The book is a really good mix of philosophical wonderings, and stories or initiatives that tell how those crazy ideas were brought to life. In essence, he’s woven some really solid life philosophies into the working structure of his company. Or, he’s allowed the workers in the company to come up with how to turn those philosophies into frameworks. Give it a read and you might question the way you work, better yet, you might come up with a better way to do it.
Let me know what you think Pera
Oh yeah, why did I post this? Good question. I punctuate and edit these summaries for you, but I write them for me. I take notes when I read books that I think are noteworthy, it’s the easiest way for me to remember the good stuff after I’ve closed the book. If I’ve gone through the hassle of formatting and proof-reading those notes, then posting them here, it’s because I also think the book is good enough to justify the time in recommending it to you.
I’m always keen to hear what you think so let me know in the comments below.