Review: Maverick by Ricardo Semler

"The issue of tribal co-existence is, I believe, critical for survival in modern times. Up until now it has been cast enough for the First World to keep its distance from the Third World and view the Southern Hemisphere as very far away. But technology is drawing everyone and everyplace closer together. Like lava from a huge volcano, tribes are moving towards areas where the standard of living is higher. In a few decades all that will be left of the First World will be a few ghettos of the super-rich, islands of luxury surrounded by misery. There will be a lot of Cairo in Paris, Mexico in Colorado, and Syria in Switzerland. And as the Third World makes its glacial movement north, it will leave behind places like Somalia, Bangladesh and the Ivory Coast, which will become an even more abject Fourth World." Richard Semler, Maverick.

This paragraph of the book has sparkled a lot of questions in my mind. I found it unrelated to the context of the book, to some extent, but very a interesting projection of the future from a very wise and successful man.

Mavrick Richardo Semler

I have enjoyed every page, idea and initiative of this book which was written in 1993. Unfortunately, until now, so many companies, including large and successful enterprises, are far away from implementing some of Semler's great ideas to transform the workplace into a human-place. Ideas such as the following are still very revolutionary and many organizations have to go a long way before they are able to implement most or some of them:

  • Workers make decisions 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

Some of the ideas within the book that caught my attention were:

  • My role is that of a catalyst. I try to create an environment in which others make decisions.
  • We’re thrilled our workers are self-governing and self-managing. It means they care about their jobs and about their company
  • We simply do not believe our emplyees have an interest in coming in late, leaving early, and doing as little as possible for as much money as their union can wheedle out of us. After all, these same people raise children, join the PTA, elect mayors, senators, and presidents. They are adults. At Semco, we treat them like adults. We trust them. We get out of their way and let them do their jobs.
  • Before I could reorganize Semco, I had to reorganize myself. Next, I resolved to delegate furiously, and to summon up the courage to throw unneeded papers away.
  • The (false) belief that effort and result are directly proportional
  • The (false) gospel that quantity of work is more important than quality of work.
  • Things are a little uncertain at the office right now. I’ll just have to work a little longer until they straighten out (false).
  • Fear of delegation, and its cousin, fear of replaceability (False)
  • Nearly every company of any size has its own FBI. Yet these same companies tell their employees they’re all part of one big, happy family. (False)
  • Today I am a big believer in MBWA, or Management by Wandering Around. taking time to walk around with no destination known.
  • There were no special rewards for new ideas. 
  • It isn’t unusual for middle managers to be more zealous with authority than those at the top.
  • In their quest for law, order, stability, and predictability, corporations make rules for every conceivable contingency. It works fine for an army or a prison. But not for a business.
  • Without rules all answers are suggested by common sense. Some of our people stay in four-star hotels and others choose lesser digs. The point is, if we can’t trust a manager to use good judgement about such things, we sure as hell shouldn’t be sending him off to do business in our name.
  • Rules and regulations 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 sad truth is employees of modern corporations have little reason to feel satisfied, much less fulfilled. The era of using people as production tools is coming to an end. Participation is infinitely more complex to practice than conventional corporate unilateralism, just as democracy is much more cumbersome than dictatorship.”
  • Get too big and you quickly discover the diseconomies of scale.
  • Semco’s structure was a functional system [hierarchical]. European companies seem to prefer a matrix system. Decisions in both take too long and are often the wrong decisions.
  • Anyone who applies to be a machinist will be interviewed by a group of machinists, not an executive.
  • On worker decided profit sharing: “What would you rather have, the tail of an elephant or an entire ant?”
  • Read it, understand it, act on it, and throw it away, that’s our motto.
  • Semco’s Headline Memo: The crucial information is at the top of the page. If you want to know more, read a paragraph or two. There are no second pages.
  • We are great believers in sabbaticals. Professionals can take a few weeks or even a few months every year or two away from their usual duties. They can spend the time reading books or articles, learning new skills, or redesigning their job. Or they can just think.
  • 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.
  • We always try to speak the truth and nothing but the truth. When the truth cannot be told, we say nothing.
  • A touch of civil disobedience is necessary to alert the organization that all is not right.
  • We developed a program to insure that bosses were ratified by the people who work under them. Subordinates evaluate their managers twice a year.
  • An employee who meets 70% of the job requirements [for a new job posting] will be chosen instead of an outsider.
  • We don’t believe in stockpiling talent. People get unhappy waiting on shelves.
  • Bureaucracies are built by and for people who busy themselves proving they are necessary, especially when they suspect they aren’t.
  • A pyramid is rigid and constraining. A circle is filled with possibilities; 3 circles: 1. Small innermost with half a dozen people: Counselors. 2. Second circle would enclose the seven to ten leaders of Semco’s business units and be called partners. 3. Last immense circle would hold virtually everyone else at Semco. Triangles? They would be scattered around that last, big circle, each enclosing a single person we would call a Coordinator [first crucial level of management].
  • Because coordinators could not embellish their titles with phrases such as “of Engineering”, we would avoid the confusing mumbo jumbo of appellations and ranks common in corporations. Because there would be limits on the number of coordinators, associates would have to take on more responsibility.
  • Asked everyone to choose their own salary. On an evaluation form, they listed age, how long they had worked, how they spent their time, and so on. Then the form was given to their boss to fill in. Asked to consider what they could make elsewhere; what others with similar responsibilities and skills made at Semco; what friends with similar backgrounds made; how much money they needed to live.
  • 3 Reasons reasonableness prevailed [when choosing own salary]: 1. Everyone knew what everyone else was paid 2. Top people are modest about their pay 3. self-preservation. People know salaries account for most of our operating costs. No one wants to stick out during a budget problem.
  • Wanted to contract out many operations to other businesses. Instead, helped own employees start their own business in a Satellite Program.
  • Workers who fight for every extra minute of a coffee break will toil late into the night if it means keeping their own company alive.
  • Our people did not want a bigger company, they wanted a better company
  • Centralized power is a high-risk proposition.
  • Instead of one person at the top, Semco would be run by a committee of our Counselors.
  • While most CEOs insist they enjoy 70% of their jobs, I suspect its more like 30%.
  • [Technology rapidly advances] And yet most businesses are still organized much the same way they were in 1633, with stultifying top-down management, close and distrustful supervision, and little room for creativity.
  • Technology is transformed overnight; mentality takes generations to alter.
  • The truly modern company avoids an obsession with technology and puts quality of life first.
  • We offer employees a chance to be true partners in our business, to be autonomous and responsible.
  • One of the biggest misconceptions about modern man is that he is somehow different from his ancestors.
  • To survive in modern times, a company must have an organizational structure that accepts change as its basic premise, lets tribal customs thrive, and fosters a power that is derived from respect, not rules.
  • Semco isn’t a model, with programs to be followed with precision. Semco is an invitation. To forget socialism, capitalism, just-in-time deliveries, salary surveys, and the rest of it, and to concentrate on building organizations that accomplish that most difficult of all challenges: to make people look forward to coming to work in the morning.