Ricardo Semler – Seven Day Weekend

by Jeanee Andrewartha

Ricardo Semler’s Seven Day Weekend does not suggest that people work more but that people should be encouraged to pursue their passions and find balance between work and personal life. Unconventional and ludicrous to some, Semler challenges conventional business models. His company records 40% growth because its people are challenged to innovate, given flexibility and treated with respect.

Ricardo Semler’s ‘Seven Day Weekend’ tells organisations to give up control, to trust their employees. This manifestation comes in many forms;

Employees choose their bosses . Rarely are managers and supervisors appointed at Semco, they are chosen by subordinates. Semco also uses alternative interviewing methods like setting customized tests to gauge technical skill and group interviews where candidates are interviewed concurrently and questioned by Semco employees. These methods prove to be very useful and Semco enjoys extremely low staff turnover.

Why do so many businesses cling to outdated models of resume and CV writing? Technical skills are important, so too experience, personal skills, responsibility and being able to work with other people but the acceptance of a new manager is fundamental.

Management Positions are not secure

Semco’s managers and executives are evaluated by their subordinates and results posted. Consecutively, poor scores usually means that managers either leave voluntarily or they are dismissed. The staff satisfaction survey unlike many surveys is prudently worded to find out what employees really think, rather than many surveys today that are worded to produce a certain result.

No desk, no title and no secretary. Semco has large shared office spaces where people are free to sit wherever they want. Employees are encouraged to work from home, the local café, a bush retreat, client’s premises, wherever and whenever they feel like. Not only do employees manage their own time but their own space. Semco treats its employees like responsible adults. Semco has even built a large garden where hammocks are strung, so that factory workers can rest if they need to during the day. Making people work when they are tired only leads to mistakes, accidents and even fatalities. Treat employees like responsible adults and they will behave like adults. Self management also means that Semco does not have to pay for people or systems to watch over employees. Semco does not have a Human Resource Department. Trust leads to higher morale, greater productivity, and employees that grow with the business. Employees are encouraged to be creative, undertake training and explore personal interests. Work becomes an avenue for self expression; commitment and passion and this leads to innovation and ultimately profits.

Company books are open.

Employees can at any time participate in budget planning meeting, view quarterly profit and loss statements and understand the company numbers. Semco even offers training so employees can understand the financial statements of the company.

Company profits are shared

Although giving bonuses and shares is commonplace for directors and sales people, Semco differs because profit sharing is distributed according to business units and employees vote to decide how these profits will be shared. All employees, not just management participate in profit sharing. As a private company, easy profits cannot be generated from fluctuations in the stock market, so the impact of employees’ contribution has a direct and tangible effect on the performance and profit of each Semco business unit.

Company Structure

Traditional Companies are modeled on a corporate structure; which is the structure of the military. The generals represent the Board, and various layers down. Semco is organized in concentric circles, senior management are free to move within the organization and Semco encourages managers to be challenged by changing positions and undertaking new ventures. Senior managers are the core of the business. They are your traditional managers that use instinct, experience and knowledge to make decisions that directly affect the future of the company.

The company does not write 5 year plans or hire expensive consultants that have no vested interest in the future of the company. Employees do not have business titles and the company car park is worked on a first come basis. Semco values democracy, respects employees privacy (emails and internet usage are not monitored and employees’ expenses are not audited). Semco values innovation and trust their employees to work for self interest, which naturally aligns itself to company interest. A favorite saying is ‘it is better to beg forgiveness than ask permission’

Building Cathedrals

Fredrick Taylor, one the forefathers of industrialization, argues that employees tasks should be highly specialized and rudimentary. Work under Taylorism is divided into itty bitty units and follow a mindless process line. Employees are to see themselves as stonecutters, painters and dirt shifters, not cathedral builders.

Semco removed the process line and organized workers in small units. The underlying observation is that people work well in small groups and these groups finish the entire product and are therefore free to innovate.

In an age where corporations are pouring money into staff motivation courses, counseling and stress management, the idea of building cathedrals of feeling part of the whole rather than a clog in the machine, surely this is a better way to motivate and inspire people.

Employees enjoying what they do, rather than spend the weekend recovering from a stressful week at the office.

Contrary to popular belief, stress does not bring out the best in people. Modern managers recognize that encouragement and praise boost morale, encourage innovation and bring out the best in people. A happy workforce is not only productive but innovative.

Final thoughts

Ricardo Semler encourages people to ask why, ask why and ask why again?

Most people don’t ask why, they simply follow everyone else. Why? Because the grass is green and the sky is blue. Unfortunately, complacency and mediocracy is widespread in most organisations and many businesses fail to see the threat of the internet or are unwilling to believe that their company 30 + years on, could fall. Rather than looking forward and planning for the future, embarking on new ventures and servicing existing customers, businesses are relying heavily on past achievements. Unless a business looks forward and wants to be competitive, and invests in talented, self motivated people, it will not rurvive.

People are central to each and every business. Read more.