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The Seven-day Weekend. Changing the way work works
by Ricardo Semler
review by Riccardo Paterni

Ricardo Semler became quite popular more then twenty years ago when he tragically and unexpectedly inherited Semco, the family company located in Brazil (originally operating in the naval technology field) from his father. Young and inexperienced he ended up making many mistakes until he realized that the entire traditional ‘military, command and control’ way to manage a company had to be totally and radically changed. He implemented the changes swiftly and Semco has been a successful, unusual, ‘radical’ company since then.
This is Semler’s second book, filled with ideas, practices and tools to implement meaningful changes within organizations; changes aiming to reorganize companies both physically and culturally “by constantly questioning the way that we do things”. What are these changes all about? Here is a quote that sets to tone of Semler’s ideas that have become common practice at Semco (a company with over 200 million dollars in revenues and with a double digit growth during the last 10 years): “Semco has no official structure. It has no organizational chart. There is no business plan or company strategy, no two-year of five-year plan, no goal or mission statement, no long term budget. The company often does not have a fixed CEO. There are no vice presidents or chief officers for information technology or operations. There are no standards nor practices. There’s no human resources department. There are no career plans, no job descriptions or employee contracts. No one approves reports or expense accounts. Supervision or monitoring of workers is rare indeed. Most important, success is not measured only in profit and growth.”
How can a company be run this way and endure, actually achieving growth and profits within today’s extremely competitive market’s dynamics? The book articulates ideas and practices that make all of this possible; ideas and practices that spring, according to me, from two pivotal concepts: Driven by Discovery vs Driven by Control; “Nothing but Intuitive Values in Place!”. Let’s explore them briefly.

Driven by Discovery vs Driven by Control

The key concept is to create a productive environment in which the people clearly perceive that are treated and brought to act as responsible and well informed adults. People should be brought to act driven by a sense of discovery tied to the self-interest (pay attention, Semler points out that the key is the self-interest, not the organizational one) to discover and express their talents (mostly the hidden ones!). Semler points out the concept: “We can’t train people to turn them into what we want. Mostly, we want nothing. We don’t like training manuals, nor do we ask people where they want to be in five years. We want them to amble and ramble. If they happen to be on a fixed path, we’ll gladly help them train for that, but instead of formal training, we encourage people to ask a colleague for explanations, demonstrations, and guidance. Information in any organization should be information on demand”. There are no big plans ‘from the top’ that manage strategically and operationally the organization, for this there is no need of control but simply the need of willingness and determination in making sure that a spirit of discovery spreads itself and it is constantly fueled within the company. “Treat them as responsible and well informed adults” is the powerful and controversial principle at the basis of Semco unique reality. A principle that is controversial because goes against many of the practices in place in most organizations. Semler is quite aware of this and traces back the problem to what he considers its root: the need to ‘de-program’ people from the habits created by society and culture, habits that often make of any job a meaningless chore, “Avoid routine and steer clear of habit”. At Semco self discovery and expression of the own talents at work is an essential part of working. Semler observes that many people know how to manage well their time and work on many task during their off time during the weekend, then when on Monday show up at work somehow they lose this sense of vitality. The title of the book ‘The seven-day weekend’ becomes the goal: make of the workplace an environment in which people are brought to express their passions, talents and skills just as they do during their weekends! Here are simple roots of discovery vs control!

“Nothing but Intuitive Values in Place!”

Semler defines intuition as “the fuel of choice for rambling through the seven-day weekend” adding “people have to be encouraged to act on instinct , because by-the-book management leaves companies vulnerable, or otherwise its potency as a tool will be lost”. Here it is the strong connection between today’s challenging market, societal and economic dynamics and the ‘discovery vs control’ mindset. This is why Semler asserts openly that “Semco’s most precious asset is the wisdom of its workforce, and our success grows out of our employees’ success”. It is important to point out that this not a rhetorical statement empty of its meaning in the day to day work within the company. The ideas and practices of the book are bound to shock many of us and fully demonstrate what it means to truly believe in empowering people and having owners and top managers give up control. Many managers and entrepreneurs from all over the world go to visit Semco trying to understand what the company is all about. They understand the concepts and practices quite well, yet few of them have the courage and the vision to actually implement them! When you make of intuition a key driving force at any level or your organization you truly make every single person to lever its decision making and work upon experience and knowledge. This process truly depends upon the development and utilization of people’s passions and talents driven by their own interest, the interest of the company comes second and it is a by product of the first. As Semler says this practice “is messy, inefficient, and hugely rewarding”. The ‘Semco approach’ cannot be implemented to bits and pieces, it is fully integrated with several key aspects, for example: the way that retributions are set (by the people!); time is managed (at Semco it is possible to ‘retire’ at 40 and go back to work at 60!); trust is nurtured on a daily basis in so many ways that are a joy to read about! All of this based upon the “treat them as responsible and well informed” adults concept.

When I learned about Semler (about 10 years ago) I was really intrigued by what they were able to do at Semco. I admired those practices and ideas and I enjoyed the spontaneous, open, straightforward, trial-and-error way they came about. I also though that Semco was some sort of ‘world apart’ and I felt that their practices were way too radical to become some sort of ‘model’ for other companies. Nowadays I believe that market, economic and societal trends are leading all of us to pay closer attention to the ‘quirky ways’ of that Brazilian company. May be this is why Ricardo Semler himself is at present a visiting scholar at Harvard... The key starting challenge (and too often the ‘show stopper’) is to have business owners and top managers understand and apply on a daily basis the ‘discovery vs control’ principle. Who is willing to take on the challenge? We are ready to help! Focusing on the relevance of INTUITION in today's organizations would be already a good start...

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