In The Seven-Day Weekend the author describes the management practices and philosophies in his company Semco – a Brazilian company with about 3000 employees – with a lot of anecdotes.
The book is a fascinating and very thought-provoking read because it questions so many of the traditional management practices. While I completely agree with some of his ideas, I'm a bit sceptical with others. But that's probably simply because I never have seen and experienced them in practice myself.
The right approach to employees always creates profit.
It's very simple – the repetition, boredom and aggravation that too many people accept as an inherent part of working can be replaced with joy, inspiration and freedom.
Why are we able to answer emails on Sundays, but unable to go to the movies on Monday afternoons?
Why can't we take the kids to work if we can take work home?
Why do we think the opposite of work is leisure, when in fact it is idleness?
What Planet Are We From?
Success is not measured only in profit and growth.
Once you say what business you're in, you create boundaries for your employees, you restrict their thinking and give them a reason to ignore new opportunities. "We're not in that business", they'll say.
Instead of dictating Semco's identity, I let our employees shape it with their individual efforts, interests, and initiatives.
Our architecture is the sum of all the conventional business practices we avoid. It's easier to say what it's not, rather than what it is.
On-the-job democracy isn't just a lofty concept, but a better way to do things. We all demand democracy in every other aspect of our lives and culture. 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 suddenly treated like adolescents at work? Why can't workers be involved in choosing their own leaders? Why shouldn't they manage themselves? Why can't they speak up – challenge, question, share information openly?
Ask Why. Ask it all the time, and always ask it three times in a row. This doesn't come naturally. People are conditioned to recoil from questioning too much. First, it's rude and dangerous. Second, it may imply we're ignorant or uninformed. Third, it means everything we think we know may not be correct or true. Fourth, management is usually frightened by the prospect of employees who question continually. But mostly, it means putting aside all the rote or pat answers that have resulted from what I call "crystallized" thinking, that state of mind where ideas have so hardened into inflexible and unquestioned concepts that they're no longer of any use.
Employees must be free to question, to analyze, to investigate, and a company must be flexible enough to listen to the answers.
If people are afraid, they don't innovate.
Why do I have to wear a suit and tie, or why does that person make more than I do, or why does the company have to grow. Or why does the product only come in black, or why can't I exchange it after 10 days, or why do I have to stand in line for this or that. None of these quandaries will hold up over three consecutive whys. The first and maybe second pat answers will break down by the third time they're questioned.
Sure, it's wonderful to have money. But it doesn't change what it takes to get out of bed in the morning, go to work, and perform a job day after day.
Any written plan is dangerous. People will follow a plan like a Pied Piper – mindlessly, with no thought as to their final destination.
When visitors learn that our economic success requires replacing control and structure with democracy in the workplace – well, often those starry-eyed executives go home afraid or unsure, too wary to make it happen in their workplaces.
Balance is what we seek when we ask why. Balance ensues when people are given room to manoeuvre – so they can find out where their talents and interests lie, and merge their personal aspirations with the goals of the company. Once employees feel challenged, invigorated and productive, their efforts will naturally translate into profit and growth for the organization.
We want to be only in businesses where our disappearance would cause our disheartened customers to complain loudly.
The Traditional Weekend Ended Long Ago
Why is it a given that work is the last thing someone wants to do?
We talk so easily about how much we value our free time – but rarely make it a priority in our lives.
People believe the opposite of work is leisure. But it isn't, it's idleness. Work is activity, so idleness is inactivity.
Technology has encroached so deeply into our lives that I believe we must take deliberate efforts to beat it back.
My idea is to have a half-day, every so often, when the company is unplugged. What would people do if the whole system was down on purpose?
Unplugging the company for half a day would restore the primitive practice of thinking about what we're doing instead of just yammering non-stop with the world.
With our dependence on technology, we're standing at the top of a slippery slope – too soon we become slaves to gadgets and digital services.
People should be allowed and encouraged to re-arrange their week, drop the traditional notion of a weekend, and divide the seven days among company time, personal time and idleness. Then they should look for wasted hours and days.
Anyone who can eliminate the stress of an over-taxed schedule, arrange her work week so she can sleep according to her bio-rhythms rather than a time clock, and enjoy a sunny Monday on the beach after working through a chilly Sunday will be a much more productive worker.
Since work is so ubiquitous – since there's no getting away from it – we have to find ways to make it fulfilling.
People have learned to answer e-mails on Sunday evenings but they don't know how to go to the movies on Monday afternoon.
Companies hoping to recruit the best and the brightest must demonstrate that they trust employees with the freedom to work anywhere.
Status, power, and even money are sometimes not enough to make a job interesting.
If I insist on standard work hours, I may be sacrificing a certain amount of employee potential every day.
By changing the rules, we remove the obstacles that throw people's lives out of whack.
Stress is the difference between your expectations and your reality.
Freedom is no easy thing. It doesn't make life carefree – because it introduces difficult choices. It's much easier for people to give into a familiar system in which they don't have to make any decisions.
Punctuality is a mind-set.
You don't have to like people to work with them. And finding compatibility of purpose at work does not require surrounding yourself only with those you like. You can admire people, even if you don't like them.
It is hopelessly outdated to expect people to live freely in their personal lives but to comply with company rules during work hours.
If we want people to do only company work while they're in the office, shouldn't we also have a corporate police to make sure they're not working on company business on weekends?
Success And Money Are Distant Relatives
Why do people have to stick to a career choice they made as an unprepared adolescent?
Why doesn't money buy success if almost everyone measures their success in cash?
Why do billionaires greedily accumulate money, only to donate it to ethereal concepts such as world peace?
Topping Off The Tank
Sooner or later, pursuing personal or company goals must tap somehow into what I call the "reservoir of talent". Everyone has a wealth of instincts, interests and skills that combine to form their talents. Some refer to it as a "calling". Whatever its name, this reservoir can be deeper and more diverse than even the holder himself realizes.
No one works for money alone.
People don't come to work to produce an inferior product. To come late and leave early. To be bored and insubordinate. They must come to work for some reason, some kernel of interest that attracted them to their particular field or profession as a means of earning a paycheque. So let's create an organization that can find out what that is, and exploit it.
If an employee has no interest in a product or project, then that venture will never succeed.
I want people who are excited by their work. If they don't know how to create that passion, I want to help.
Employees must be reassured that self-interest is their foremost priority, one they must take care not to replace with company or other interests. We advocate that out of corporate self-interest – an employee who puts himself first will be motivated to perform.
If the people aren't motivated, they don't need to sign up for motivation training – they need a different job! They might rotate to another position, go to work in a different office, participate more in project meetings, or find another way to work for us on a part-time, commission or representative basis. We can adapt if they can.
We must acknowledge that it's human nature to lose interest in anything after time.
We are of the opinion that assembling special people is more difficult than finding something for them to do – or, as is our case – letting them find something profitable to do. We'd become famous for hiring people without having a job for them.
Happiness at a job cannot be bought with more money. That strategy always leads to the street.
The only legitimate source of power in a company is talent, because it generates followers.
We want people to be bosses due to their knowledge and leadership qualities, and not due to their titles.
It's better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.
Too Much Talent Is As Bad As Too Little
Too much talent leaves little room for more.
Work has to be customized to people's talents.
When employees do only what their job description instructs, they can cripple a company.
Organizations rarely believe they're to blame when an employee underperforms. But if the organization doesn't provide the opportunity for success, then people falter.
Unless we click with a worker, unless he latches onto something he is passionate about, our productivity won't be high. If someone is bored in their job, they should be able to move on to something else, even if it means giving several options a try.
It's Not About The Money
What is success, and what does it have to do with money or growth? Why are we so obsessed about? Why is success a culmination of talent and calling if it is measured in numbers?
Why is growth necessary beyond the minimum that comes with the natural expansion of the market being served? Why do we have to make more money every quarter or face demotion by analysts on Wall Street?
Profit (beyond the minimum) is not essential for survival. In any event, an organization doesn't really need profit over and beyond what is vital for working capital and the small growth that is essential for keeping up with the customers and competition. Excess profit only creates another imbalance.
Success is more than just physical, intellectual or economic performance. Or endurance. It also requires some sense of whether the activity behind and around it was worthwhile for the participants, and for those served by it.
The Fortunate 500
If money is not the barometer of success, then how does a company know when it's doing well? What if all the classic measurements we use today are faulty? What, if not growth or profits, constitutes success?
Wrong questions will generate wrong answers.
Management By (O)mission
Why do we tell our employees that we trust them, then audit and search them when they go home?
Why does our customized and carefully crafted credo look like everyone else's?
Why do we demand and go to war for democracy as nations, yet accept with docility that no one has the right to choose their own boss?
Order Of The Day: Give Up Control, Sir!
Moving an organization or business ahead by virtue of what its people stand for means removing obstacles like official policies, procedural constraints and relentless milestones, all of which are set up in the pursuit of quarterly or otherwise temporary success. It means giving up control, and allowing employees to manage themselves.
At a company, profit, growth and quality will happen only once employees feel it's worthwhile to get up for work. That's not going to happen if their outlook on the world is already shaped and restricted by a company mission.
You cannot have integrity, dissent, respect, or open communication without trust. You must believe those features are constructive, even when they are sometimes painful.
Shared values are those that evolve naturally over the years until one day you realize you're living by them.
Giving up control also means relinquishing exclusive rights to information. Privileged information is a dangerous source of power in any organization. Information that one person has that others lack can be terribly important, and can give them the upper hand. To annihilate information hoarding and illegitimate power, information must be shared.
Open communication is important enough that it should be tested, even if there is a price to pay. It's at the heart of shared culture. The only source of power in an organization is information, and withholding, filtering or retaining information only serves those who want to accumulate power through hoarding.
Open communication and truth are not only factors when dealing with employees. They're equally important with clients.
If we don't make ourselves clear, then we run the risk of being misunderstood.
Do It Your Way – See If I Care
The biggest mistake successful people and companies make is believing that their success immortalizes their way of doing things.
What traditional executives don't consider is that decisions arising from debate are implemented much more quickly because explanations, alternatives, objections and uncertainties have already been aired. Because of democracy, employees have had their say, and projects or ideas have been analyzed from every point of view.
Dissent and democracy go hand in hand.
If she wants to quit, that's up to her, but we can't fire her for dissent. We've always said dissent was important to us, and now we're being tested on that.
We did what we always do when there is dissent: nothing.
A person can be right for one job and a disaster in another.
As with long term analysis, it does no good to want to know, up front, what the real problem is, and where the solution lies. It can take years to find out.
Undressing Chairman Mao
Workers are so conditioned by society to accept a paternalistic hierarchy that at first glance, democracy looks like chaos. But declaring that we're all going to be democratic from now on isn't necessary anyway. If left alone, democracy will evolve. Organizations can nurture freedom by declaring it to be an abiding principle and then stepping back to let it flourish. But democracy cries out for diversity and diversity requires treating all people alike, and that is the hard part for most managers.
Only self-confidence makes freedom and dissent possible. An organization that insists that there's only one way to do something, brainwashes workers to think alike, and freezes a company culture to eliminate risk, will only breed complacency and make itself unappealing to anyone who might inject some oxygen into it.
Uniformity makes it easier to tame people, their ideas and expectations. Anyone who wants control will prescribe conformity. And outward appearance is a fine place to start.
Any adult welcomes freedom, flexibility and responsibility if it increases the gratification he gets from what he does for a living.
Companies respect conformity and uniformity, but fail to see how limiting they are. Without change and innovation, companies cannot adapt.
There is an assumption that the workplace is where most waking hours are spent, and therefore that tribal connections have to be made there. But this wouldn't be true if people were free to mingle work and personal time in a looser way.
It's easy to talk about respecting diversity, tribal characteristics and dissent. But when action is required, anyone who has tried to lead in a democratic manner knows how frustrating, slow and cumbersome it is. That is why business leaders take the short route; command and execute methods, tainted with a little show of concern for how employees feel and what customers think. The short route is a path to nowhere. It doesn't lead to the productivity gains that occur when people find it worthwhile – even inspiring – to get up in the morning for work.
A Long Line Of Pied Pipers
Why do we have a flock mentality and follow rams that turn out to be wolves?
Why do we think we are equipped to choose schools, doctors and mayors, but don't trust our capacity to lead ourselves at work?
Why do we continuously look for saviours and heroes to lead us?
Let The Followers Lead
No management works quite like self-management.
People who are motivated by self-interest will find solutions that no one else can envision. They see the world in their own unique way – one that others often overlook.
By letting people off the hook of grand policies, procedures and rules, we release them to be accountable only to themselves.
Organizations always suffer from the conviction that productivity is never high enough. What else can happen if workers are waiting for someone to tell them what to do, or they're following a formal plan, or confining themselves to the dictates of their job description? They're not taking initiative to increase productivity, or asking themselves three times, why? Why do we do things this way? Why can't we do better?
If people don't have a good idea of their role, if they don't grasp the purpose of a process, then the group will use only 70 or 80 percent of its talent and expertise. It will squander the amount that's locked up until people dip into their reservoir of talent. But they'll dip only in an environment that prompts them to.
Can an organization let people do what they want, when they want and how they want? Can it let them participate actively in the direction we're taking? Can it live with active dissent? Can it let them participate to the extent that they have the power to vote down company decisions?
People who choose their immediate surroundings are more inspired than those working in a building that is artistically grand.
Allowing employees to design their workplace may be cosmetic, but it's essential. So is letting them those same surroundings, almost at will. Sometimes this is possible only in small ways, given that office towers cannot easily be designed by three hundred pairs of hands. But the degree of customization and the amount of employee involvement in the process is largely underrated by management.
Sure, I'm the main shareholder, so I always have a loaded gun in a drawer and the right to fire it. Worker self-management can't stop me. Understanding the benefits of our system is my self-constraint. I know that there is only one bullet in that gun, and if I fire it off in a fit of pique, I'll only get one shot. One shot at overriding a popular decision, after which I'll be disarmed. I'll have lost everything I've worked for. People will know that democracy at Semco was fleeting, insincere, unreliable. That's too high a price to pay.
No one is obligated to attend any meeting at Semco. They're all voluntary. Everyone is invited, and people can come and go as they wish – it's not improper to get up in the middle of a meeting and leave. No one will stop the meeting to ask why. If someone's self-interest is served by skipping a meeting or leaving early, then they'll do that. If it's served by staying to the end, then that's what will happen.
We know when and if people are really interested. We also know that people who pretend to be interested, or who show up out of necessity will never be the ones with the energy and drive that we need. If they're not interested in this particular project or meeting, we'd much rather they conserve their energy for something else.
If Semco forced workers to attend meetings, we'd never learn when projects or subjects are of no interest to the company's employees.
What if we attempt a new project, but no one wants to work on it? Then that new service or product shouldn't exist. Not until someone really wants to see it happen – then it'll take off in no time.
If people aren't interested in being at a meeting, we don't want them there.
The real significance of mistakes is not that they occur, but how they're handled.
Sometimes it's not a question of avoiding mistakes, but of devolving power. Of letting people exercise their potential, at our risk.
By definition, self-management means the freedom to do good work – or not. It's the freedom to be actively involved in shaping the company or to simply report to work every day and do an assigned job. Freedom to be a "nine-to-fiver" is also freedom.
Every organization needs its share of indifferent and uninterested workers to balance its leaders, joiners and activists.
We don't dictate to people what their responsibilities are – we assume that, as adults, they can figure out for themselves what it takes to do their job, and that without guidelines to adhere to, they're more likely to test the boundaries of what they do. That testing often leads to new business practices or new ventures for the company, and new challenges for employees.
Because people work without a checklist of tasks or responsibilities, they have the freedom to decide for themselves what their job entails. They self-manage. They also control where they work, when they work and how much they are paid for their work.
We want people to self-manage as intensely as possible, leaving leadership to those whose talent resides in helping others get where they want to go.
Seducing Row Boats Onto The High Seas
Much of leadership involves instilling ideas and processes, and carefully choosing people who will want to champion them. The ideas serve as launching pads, the processes ensure that other ideas emerge and bloom (if the timing is right). Passion, of course, is something that a leader is always desperately searching for in others.
My record as an entrepreneur comes from having lived as one and taking all the chances I can – and arriving safely at port more times than I get lost at sea.
People who care about how they are led and about the company's productivity will not quietly endure a leader they disdain.
People will not follow someone they don't respect for long.
Democracy requires freedom, which requires acceptance of diversity, which cannot happen without respect.
The company will be weaker if I think only I can make decisions, and customers or partners believe they need me more than anyone else.
Unless you have arrogance borne of 100 percent success rate you have no business making colleagues or employees do something that they don't heartily support.
Democracy, freedom, and distribution of power are not synonymous with lack of hierarchy. Hierarchies will spring up wherever there are leaders, whether or not there is formal structure or an organizational chart.
Hierarchies evolve into a problem when people draw power from their box on the organizational chart. That's why we avoid the rights and perks that usually accompany the box – the corner office, the parking space, the executive secretary. We're in favour of hierarchy and opposed to everything that comes with it.
We tell people, write anything you want on your business card. Figure out why you need a business card in the first place, what's its purpose, and who is going to read it? Then put anything you like on it.
The best leaders choose people better than themselves as their subordinates.
Rambling Into The Future
Why do we think that the future "is in God's hands" and then pre-plan every moment of it?
Why do we think intuition is so valuable and unique – and find no place for it as an official business instrument?
Why do we agree that living well is living every moment, without reinforcing past or future – but then spend most of our work lives dealing with historical data and future budgets?
Management By Debating Your Dog
If I don't know where I'm going, any road is interesting.
Most people prefer control, rather than rambling and staring straight into the unknown.
To the dismay of accountants and executives, I've often said that business plans and budgets are nothing more than extrapolations of wishful thinking.
There is nothing more difficult than transmitting experience from one person to another, or from one situation to another.
Visiting The Future
Organizations must treat mistakes like luck – both are necessary, come at times when they're not expected, and add to existing effort.
The Wisdom Revolution: freedom, democracy and a new way to live
The first step toward creativity and confidence must include internal movement. Move people around from job to job, department to department, unit to unit. Mix and match.
Change also means that a company must be willing to shed or undo elements of itself that no longer have a future. It must be ready to unilaterally sell, spin off, or close units – it must be ready to cannibalize itself.
Much of the conditioning that makes change so hard for us comes from childhood.