Marvel at this visionary empowering of employees, says Pete Mason

Maverick! The success story behind the world’s most unusual workplace is both the biography of a business and the autobiography of its chief executive, Ricardo Semler. Under his leadership Semco became a manufacturing powerhouse. He radically altered its structure and questioned every procedure and cultural attitude, instilling a radical system of corporate democracy.

Many of these ideas would be innovative today, but in Brazil during the 1980s it really challenged the status quo. He gave responsibility and respect to all staff, from cleaners to senior managers.

Semler authorised factory employees to work flexibly, reasoning that because they were adults who knew the organisation’s goals the job would still get done. The management team, union officials and several workers were reluctant at first - but it resulted in an improvement in productivity and employee satisfaction.

Employees hire and appraise their managers and set their own pay and there is no organisational map, company rule book or dress code. Perhaps much of what we perceive as “essential” to our organisations can be dispensed with?

For many of us in large organisations, such dramatic change is not possible but Semler’s book does have several key lessons:

  • Treat individuals as mature adults capable of informed decisions.
  • Question things - why do we do that, what are the benefits to the people around me and my organisation? How can we do it better?
  • Don’t forget to ask the front line for their thoughts - they probably know more than you do.
  • Use common sense and encourage others to do so.

Pete Mason is a consultant at Lloydmasters.

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