It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book on business that has kept me captivated through the whole thing, but Ricardo Semler’s The Seven-Day Weekend: Changing the Way Work Works certainly did.
Semler is the CEO of SemCo SA, a company in Brazil with a pretty crazy management model by conventional standards. A complete democracy. People choose where and when they will work. There are no permanent desks, no dress codes, and employees select their own salaries and bonus structures. Most ideas for new business for the company comes directly from its employees. The bottom line, the company is run on the base assumption that their people can be trusted to (and actually are motivated to) do what is needed to keep the business running and growing.
This is, oddly, the complete opposite of the normal viewpoint seen in corporations today that employees are not trustworthy, must be monitored, must be in the office during a certain timeframe and dress a certain way to ensure that they are “behaving professionally” and “productive”.
Semlers philosophy may seem weird to some, but it also seems to work, as according to Semler the company has grown from $4M a year when he took over the company from his father in 1982 to, as of 2003, an annual revenue of $212M. Reading the book, its hard to figure out what SemCo actually does, but the model in which it is run is so intriguing that by the end of the book you don’t really care.
Some of the most interesting assumptions, behaviors, and programs that I found while reading this book that SemCo pioneers:
- People are inherently good and trustworthy – Sure, there will be bad apples, but if you create a culture in which the social norm is trust, the “bad people” will be pushed out by their peers and/or subordinates if they violate the social norms. An interesting idea.
- Management positions are not guaranteed – All managers are evaluated openly by their teams. Think of it as a Digg.com for managers. Repeated low scoring usually results in the manager either leaving or being dismissed. I found this to be a very intriguing example of giving the teams the power rather than the management structure.
- Employees set their own salaries – SemCo’s books are completely open to their employees so that they can see the impacts of their salaries on the companies bottom line. Each knows what the other makes, and requests for salaries that are out of the whack are run the risk of being rejected by colleagues. Its an interesting concept to allow social norms to keep behavior in check, rather than the traditional approach of hiding information from employees. Given all of the information, employees are able to make decisions based on the impact to the company.
- Retire A Little Program – The company did a study on work productivity and found that the peak of physical capability is in ones twenties and thirties. Financial independence, on the other hand, usually occurs between age fifty and sixty, while “idle-time” peaks after seventy. The conclusion was reached that when you are most fit to realize your dreams, you do not have the money or leisure time for them, and when you have the time, and money on hand, you no longer have the physical energy to realize them. Semco allows their employees to buy early retirement time, from the company, allowing you to do the things you are passionate about while you can still do them. Another twist on the program is that for all of this time you take off, you receive a voucher for time to work, so that when you are older, you can come back and work at a proportional pay level. Brilliant.
Its extremely hard to characterize the thoughts contained in this book in a review. They are so different, and so people oriented, that the best thing you can say is once you read this book you will more than likely begin thinking about how to relocate to Brazil to be a part of it. The book is really well written and Semler has a great conversational style to his writing. It isn’t your typical business book, which would be expected being written from someone who is not the typical CEO.
Do yourself a favor and pick this book up. It will completely change the way you look at your employees and your company.
- The Semco Way – section of their web site detailing their management and company philosophy