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Maverick! de Ricardo Semler

Posted by Raul Barral Tamayo en jueves, 11 de agosto, 2022

© Tabletun, Inc. 1993.

The international bestseller that tells how Semler tore up the rule books, and defied inflation running up to 900% per year!

  • Workers make the decisions that previously made by their bosses.
  • Managerial staff set their own salaries and bonuses.
  • Everyone has access to the company books.
  • No formality, a minimum of meetings, memos and approvals.
  • Internal walls torn down.
  • Shopfloor workers set their own productivity targets and schedules.

Result, Semco is one of Latin America’s fastest-growing companies,  acknowledged to be the best in Brazil to work for, and with a waiting list of thousands of applicants hoping to join it.

Learn Ricardo Semler’s secrets and let some of the Semco magic rub off on you and your company.

Comments extracted from the book, they could be right or wrong, you decide for yourself:

  • Our Board meetings have two open seats for the first employees that sign up, and two more for any person in a leadership capacity that cares to show. And we will debate strategy openly, schedule meetings on a volunteer basis, and have leaders interviewed by their future subordinates.
  • Maverick is a tale of flying in the face of accrued business wisdom. But it is also a reminder that age-old truths about human nature, respect and integrity can be powerful allies of success.
  • As I tell our people constantly: we’ve all learned how to answer email on Sundays, but none of us has learned to go to the movies on Monday afternoon. Until we learn t hat, we are email slaves harnessed to the wicked ways of the Profit and Loss Master.
  • All financial information at Semco is openly discussed.
  • For truly big decisions, such as buying another company, everyone at Semco gets a vote.
  • We don’t believe in cluttering the payroll with ungratifying, dead-end jobs. Everyone at Semco, even top managers, fetches guests, stands over photocopiers, sends faxes, types letters, and dials the phone.
  • At Semco we have stripped away the unnecessary perks and privileges that feed the ego but hurt the balance sheet and distract everyone from the crucial corporate tasks of making, selling, billing and collecting.
  • I am pleased to report that more than once a group of Semco executives has been interrupted by people who wanted to use their conference room to hold a birthday party. It warms my heart to see vice presidents eating cake on little plates decorated with Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
  • I encourage other Semco managers to work at home. I also take at least two months off each year to travel, and I life to roam far. I never leave a number where I can be reached when I’m away and I don’t call in. I want everyone at Semco to be self-sufficient. The company is organized not to depend too much on any individual, especially me.
  • My role is that of a catalyst. I try to create an environment in which other make decisions. Success means not making them myself.
  • All that new employees at Semco get today is a 20-page booklet we call The Survival Manual. It has cartoons but few words. The basic message: Use your common sense.
  • At Semco, we want our people to spend whatever they think they should, as if they were taking a trip on their own, with their own money. There’s no department, no rules, no audits.
  • We have absolute trust in our employees. In fact, we are partners with them.
  • At Semco, profit-sharing is democratic. We negotiated with our workers over the basic percentage to be distributed and they hold asemblies to decide how to split it. It’s up to them.
  • In restructuring Semco, we’ve picked the best from many systems. From capitalism we take the ideals of personal freedom, individualism, and competition. From the theory, not the practice, of socialism we have learned to control greed and share information and power. The Japanese has taught us the value of flexibility, although we shrink from their family-like ties to t he company and their automatic veneration of elders. We want people to advance because of competence, not longevity or conformity.
  • At Semco we don’t even like to think in terms like worker or boss. We prefer Associate and Co-ordinator. And we encourage everyone to mix with everyone else, regardless of job.
  • We devised a new structure based on concentric circles to replace the traditional and confining, corporate pyramid.
  • We’ve also changed the way our departments do business with each other. If one doesn’t want to buy services from another, it’s free to go outside the company and by from someone else. The threat of competition keeps us all on our toes.
  • Before people are hired or promoted to leadership positions, they are interviewed and approved by al who will be working for them. And every six months managers are evaluated by those who work under them. The results are posted for all to see. Does that mean workers can fire their bosses? I guess it does, since anyone who consistently gets bad grades usually leaves Semco, one way or another.
  • We have had periods of up to 14 months in which not one worker has left us. We have a backlog of more than 2,000 job applications, hundreds from people who say  they would take any job just to be at Semco.
  • Is it better to have the company sink slowly in trustworthy hands than prosper through the efforts of strangers?
  • Like most self-made men, my father was a traditionalist. He treated his employees paternalistically and considered strikes and labour strife personal affronts.
  • To my father, the business and the family were intertwined and inseparable.
  • He finally said: «Better make your mistakes while I’m still alive». As it happened, I made all sorts of mistakes right under his nose. That’s the trouble with mistakes. You don’t recognize them at the time.
  • It’s easy to blame the managers when a business does badly, but often they haven’t had the freedom to manage or the motivation to perform as if the business were theirs.
  • We simply don’t believe our employees have an interest in coming in ate, leaving early and doing as little as possible for as much money as their union can wheedle out of us. They are adults. At Semco, we treat then as adults. We trust them. We get out of their way and let them do their jobs.
  • I realized that if I was going to find a cure for time sickness I first had to identify its causes.
    1. The belief that effort and result are directly proportional.
    2. The gospel that the quantity of work is more important that the quality of work.
    3. «Things are a little uncertain at the office right now. I’ll just have to work a little longer until they straighten out».
    4. Fear of delegation, and its cousin, fear of replaceability.
  • Time should be measured in years and decades, not minutes and hours.
  • When we look five years forward, we can ask ourselves whether we want to be in a particular market, or whether we should drop a product, or whether we will need a new factory, among ohter such questions. So a five-year view is essential. In contrast, we take an operational view of six months, because we found that in a conventional one-year plan people will invariably believe that conditions will improve just enough to compensate for the problems they know they’ll have in the first half of the year. Or vice versa. In either plan we try to think in «zero-based» terms. Budgets should always be based on rethinking the company; most of the time, though, they’re not much more than last year’s numbers projected forward, and are about as good as warmed-up coffee at two in the morning.
  • Nearly every company of any size has its own FBI. Some even have their own J. Edgar Hoovers. Yet these same companies tell their employees they’re all part of one big, happy family. What family searches its members for silverware as they leave the dinner table?
  • Dress codes are all about conformity. People want to feel secure, and dressing like everyone else is one way to accomplish it.
  • Today I am big believer in MBWA, or Management By Wandering Around. Popularized at Hewlett-Packard, it simply means taking time each week to walk around with no destination known.
  • Only after a few executives were forced to leave their cars outside the gates and saw to their astonishment that their instructions continued to be carried out by the workers who had parked inside the gates did they acknowledge that respect is not a function of the distance from car door to plant door.
  • Even in the largest businesses, it is rare that more than a half a dozen people decide corporate strategy and determine the destinies of employees. In the face of such a brutal concentration of power, workers feel infinitesimal.
  • I am at my best when I am doing the least.
  • It’s only when the bosses give up decision-making and let their employees govern themselves that the possibility exists for a business jointly managed by workers and executives. And that is true participative management, not just lip service to it.
  • That’s what’s wrong with bosses, I thought to myself. So many of them are better prepared to find error and to criticize than to add to the effort. To be the boss is what counts to most bosses. They confuse authority with authoritarianism. They don’t trust their subordinates.
  • All those rules cause employees to forget that a company needs to be creative and adaptive to survive. Rules slow it down.
  • Without rules all answers are suggested by common sense.
  • With few exceptions, rules and regulations only serve to: 1) Divert attention from a company’s objectives. 2) Provide a false sense of security for executives. 3) Create work for bean counters. 4) Teach men to stone dinosaurs and start fires with sticks.
  • The desire for rules and the need for innovation are, I believe, incompatible. Rules freeze companies inside a glacier; innovation lets them ride sleighs over it.
  • There is another, less obvious dividen to the banishing of rule books: people being to make more decisions on their own, decisions they are usually better qualified to make than their supervisors.
  • Let companies be ruled by wisdom that varies from factory to factory and worker to worker.
  • Paulo, our resident remuneration expert, who, as we might have expected, came to a radical conclusion. The only truly correct pay was an average of what a worker thought he should receive and what a company could afford to pay.
  • I had come to believe that labour unions were more than a necessary evil. They are one of the few legitimate agents of workspace change. Not all union leaders are sensible, nor is every union’s position reasonable. But to pretend a union doesn’t exist, or to try to defeat it whenever possible, with whatever means, at whatever cost, is hardly worthy of the term strategy.
  • We all know the usual ways of combating a strike:
    1. Take a stand. Show the flag. Don’t back down.
    2. Guarantee that anyone who wants to work can, even if that means calling in the police.
    3. Protect company property, with force if necessary.
    4. Make it hard for the workers by closing the plant and suspending benefits.
    5. Try to divide and conquer the strikers.
    6. After it’s over, fire the instigators and anyone else you want to get rid of, intimidating others in the process.
  • Recognizing the existence of unions does not automatically mean agreeing with them.
  • During a strike, we follow these rules:
    1. Treat everyone as adults.
    2. Tell the strikers that no one will be punished when they return to work. Then don’t punish anyone.
    3. Don’t keep records of who came to work and who led the walkout.
    4. Never call the police to try to break up a picket line.
    5. Maintain all benefits.
    6. Don’t block workers’ access to the factory, or the access of union representatives to the workers. But insist that union leaders respect the decision of those who want to work, just as the company respects the decision of those who don’t.
    7. Don’t fire anyone during or after the strike, but make everyone see that a walkout is an act of aggression.
  • Although we valued dialogue as no other company, we never negotiated during a strike. Under our procedure, there was only one end to a strike, the return to work by everyone, with no pay for hours not worked and no concessions made during the stoppage. Only after the workers came back would we resume negotiations.
  • The strike taught both sides large lessons. We realized that being participative was not enough. We would have to learn to communicate better., because as much as anything people’s perceptions generate strikes. The workers realized that walkouts were hardly any an effective method to solve problems, and they have become rare at Semco since then.
  • The era of using people as production tools is coming to an end. Participation is infinitely more complex to practise than conventional corporate unilateralism, just as democracy is much more cumbersome than dictatorship. But there will be few companies that can afford to ignore either of them.
  • It is impossible to feel motivated when you feel you are just another cog. Human nature demands recognition. Prisoners in his gulags were obliged to dig enormous holes in the snow, then fill them in. It broke their spirits.
  • You can’t try new ideas without taking risks or making mistakes.
  • Something curious has happened: computer-generated information, which was the means, has become the end. Instead of helping us organize data, computers are drowning us in it.
  • Factories that had become too large for their own good should be broken into units small enough to ensure that the people who worked in them would feel human again. In a small factory, it is possible to know everyone by their first name, to debate plans and strategies, to feel involved, to belong.
  • Through virtually all of human existence we have been part of small groups, usually of five to fifteen people.
  • Usually, people will perform at their potential only when they know almost everyone around them, which is generally when they are so more than 150 people. That is our experience.
  • I have come to believe that economy of scale is one of the most overrated concepts in business. It exists, of course, but it is overtaken by the diseconomies of scale much sooner that most people realize.
  • Just think how much better job descriptions would be if they included not only what employees do but what they want to do.
  • The companies wanted to motivate their workers, but at the same time retained the power to treat some employees better than others. This is a formula for resentment and division.
  • No one can expect the spirit of involvement and partnership to flourish without an abundance of information available even to the most humble employee.
  • A company that doesn’t share information when times are good loses the right to request solidarity and concessions when they are not.
  • We don’t tack lists of salaries on a bulletin board, but the information is mostly available for the asking.
  • With the union’s help we began classes to teach them to read balance sheets, cash flow statements, and other documents. I don’t know of another company with such a course.
  • Every Semco unit has always decided to split the money up evenly. That means everyone gets the same amount. Not the same percentage, the same amount.
  • Could we run our company without secretaries, receptionists, and personal assistants? I suppose I don’t have to tell you my answer to those questions.
  • My ideas was to phase out clerical positions, redistributing their necessary functions among everyone else. So I went from three to two to one, and, eventually, to no secretaries. I did my own filing, I found myself filing two or three documents a month. You can take more risks with your own papers than anyone else, I realized.
  • When we distribute a memo, we always list everyone getting it in alphabetical order, to avoid silly guessing games about prestige.
  • All our memos, minutes, letters, reports, even market surveys, are restricted to a single page. This has not only eliminated unnecessary paperwork, but it has also helped us avoid meetings that were often needed to clarify ambiguous memos. Concision is worth the investment. The longer the message, the greater the chance of misinterpretation.
  • Mark Twain once apologized for writing a long letter because he didn’t have time to write a short one.
  • If there is even a hint that hiring or promotion does not depend on merit, credibility with workers will be threatened. Fairness for employees is like quality for customers, it takes years to build up but collapses over a single incident.
  • Man is by nature restless. When left too long in one place he will inevitably grow bored, unmotivated, and unproductive. The cure, I believe, was to encourage managers to exchange jobs with one another. Someone in accounting, for instance, would arrange to swap jobs with someone in sales. They would start planning a year or so in advance, to give each time to learn the other’s duties and make the transition smooth.
  • We felt that a minimum of two years and a maximum of five years in a job were ample. Anyone who wanted to stay put longer could, provided he could continually create new challenges for himself. Otherwise, it was find a partner and dance.
  • As Semco changed, we came to stress two points about individual conduct: one, each employee is responsible for his own actions; and, two, what people do in their own time is their own business. We care only about an employee’s work, not this private life, so long as it doesn’t interfere with this performance on the job.
  • We don’t want to be a big, happy family. We want to be a business. No one should ever fall for that we’re-a-family line.
  • Occasionally, Semco will lend employees money, but only for unpredictable emergencies.
  • Many companies build them (running tracks, swimming pools, or gym) to help their employees cope with stress. At Semco, we try not to cause stress in the first place.
  • A touch of civil disobedience is necessary to alert the organization that all is not right. Rather that fear our Thoreaus and Bakunins, we do our best to let them speak their minds even though they often become thorns in our side.
  • Democracy has yet to penetrate the work place. Dictators and despots are alive and well in offices and factories all over the world.
  • One of Semco’s great strengths, our transparency. At our company people can always say what’s on their minds, even to their bosses, even when it’s about their bosses. It is instilled in our corporate culture that everyone should be willing to listen, and admit it when they are wrong.
  • Only if no qualified internal candidates come forward are outsiders considered. But not all outsiders are treated on equal terms. We make it a point to give ex-Semco employees and edge.
  • No responsible person at Semco would risk his own reputation by recommending someone who can’t meet our standards. But family members are out; only distant relatives are permitted to work for the company, and then only in different plants.
  • We don’t believe on stockpiling talent. People get unhappy waiting on shelves.
  • No one can get me to decide a thing; my goal es to get people to decide things for themselves.
  • Bureaucracies are built by and for people who busy themselves proving they are necessary, especially when they suspect they aren’t. All these bosses have to keep themselves occupied, and so they constantly complicate everything.
  • When payoffs are a way of doing business, people rarely feel the need to comply with arbitrary rules, since they believe all will be certified in the end, one way or another.
  • We are proud owners of a home that should be a museum, since it is probably one of the few structures in Brazil that meets every regulation.
  • Where does persistence end and obsession begin? How high too high? How big is too big? of course, some growth is necessary for any business to keep up with competitors and provide new opportunities for its people. But so often it is power and greed and just plain stubbornness that makes bigger automatically seem better.
  • Nothing is more corrosive to motivation and productivity than layoffs.
  • early everyone stops putting people on the payroll when business is down, and almost everyone eases up when it improves. This is another error. Semco controlled hiring with the same iron hand it used during lean times. Any alley cat can stay lean when food is scarce; the trick is to stay lean during the good times.
  • I like to think we don’t spend money unnecessarily even in good  times.
  • People who have a stake in their company are bound to be more involved in their work.
  • If we debate a decision forever, one we make up our minds we usually implement it much faster, since everyone is  totally committed to it.
  • No more are we victims of the adolescent urge for more people, more plants, more products, more revenue. We have outgrown the allure of growth, albeit after paying the price in money, time, and gastritis. Sure, some growth is necessary for nearly every business. But beware. Growth opportunities are always springing up and should be regarded the way Ulysses regarded mermaids. Much about growth is really about ego and greed, not business strategy.
  • The company you buy is not very similar to the one you thought you were buying, and never like what they told you.
  • Buying small, family firms is a certain way to skip the ulcers and go straight to bypass surgery.
  • I decided it was time to virtually eliminate another level of our hierarchy: mine. Instead of one person at the top, Semco would be run by a committee of our Counsellors.
  • I feel the company is too precious to run the risk that one of my children or grandchildren will badly manage it.
  • James Taylor: «The secret of life is to enjoy the passing of time». Most people live either in their memories of the past or their hopes for the future. Few live in the present.
  • A lesson I learned through the years of change at Semco: it’s always better to seek forgiveness than to ask for permission.
  • Most businesses today are still organized in much the same way as they were in 1633, with stultifying top-down management, close and distrustful supervision, and little room for creativity.
  • I’ll wager that it’s easier to invent a new generation of microchips than to get a generation of middle managers to alter the routes they drive to work every day. Technology is transformed overnight; mentality takes generations to alter.
  • There’s no doubt in my mind: technology has gone through the roof since 1633, but quality of life has gone down the drain. All we have done is accelerate our malfunctions and increase the intensity of our mis-communication.
  • We offer employees a chance to be true partners in our business, to be autonomous and responsible. That’s why many of our key people regularly spurn lucrative employment offers.
  • Discrimination will always exist, since it is tied up with tribalism, but there is plenty that can be done to diminish its effects.
  • Corporations have notoriously short life spans. Even in the stable and relatively prosperous United States, a company has a less than 5 per cent chance of being in a better position 50 years from now.
  • Companies will be the ones that put quality of life first. Do this and the rest, quality of product, productivity or workers, profits for all, will follow.
  • Semco is more than novel programmes or procedures. What is important is our open-mindedness, our trust in our employees and distrust of dogma. We are neither socialist nor purely capitalist, but we take the best of these failed systems and others to re-organize work so that collective thinking does not overpower individualistic flights of grandeur; that leadership does not get lost in an endless search for consensus, that people are free to work as they like, when they life; that bosses don’t have to be parents and workers don’t act like children. At the heart of our bold experiment is a truth so simple it would be silly if it wasn’t so rarely recognized: A company shuod trust its destiny to its employees.
  • Building organizations that accomplish that most difficult of all challenges: to make people look forward to coming to work in the morning.

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