Unfolding plans 195 – let them get on with their jobs.

I finished ‘Maverick’ by Ricardo Semler a week or so back.  Mike had lent me the book some time ago and it had been sitting on my shelf waiting to be read.  There was something about the cover that made me leave it.  Perhaps it was waiting for the right time.

Any book though that promises to reveal the success story behind the world’s most unusual workplace had to pique anyone’s interest.  The world’s most unusual workplace no less.  I was expecting something along the lines of Lee Iacocca and how I turned round a billion dollar enterprise but I couldn’t have been further from the truth.  The story was truly fascinating.  It told of how the author and his colleagues tried and succeeded to create a very different organisation, one which is self-organised and the people are free from hierarchy, location and dogma.  Where have I heard this before?

This paragraph from the book sets the tone beautifully:

‘We simply do not believe that our employees 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, governors, senators and presidents.  They are adults.  At SEMCO we treat them as adults.  We trust them.  We don’t make our employees ask permission to go to the bathroom or have security guards check them before they leave for the day.  We get out of their way and let them get on with their jobs.’

It is not a rags to riches story.  Things go great yet things go badly as well.  Not everyone buys into the new philosophy.  It just doesn’t work for some people and parts of the organisation fail along the way and in many ways that is the point of the tale.  Change is difficult.  Change requires a vision of where it is that you want to be. What works today is no guarantee that it will work tomorrow and a clear vision does not provide clarity for everyone.

I loved the book.  I stuffed it with shredded Post-It notes to mark all the bits that I wanted to remember.  It reinvigorated my belief in what I am trying to do.  The type of organisation that I want to be part of can exist where ‘the driving force of productivity is motivation and interest, not predetermined routines and hulking foremen’.

Trust is a key theme throughout.  Trust between managers and employees, trust between colleagues and trust between the business and its customers.  Trust is something we talk about a lot yet don’t always demonstrate.  No, we don’t make people ask for permission to go to the toilet yet we still authorise holidays, check start and finish times and sign off expenses. We pile on rules and regulations, policies and procedures rather than expect people to just get on with it.  We focus on prevention of the wrong doers rather than celebrate the efforts of those who do right.

The book reminded me I still have a lot to do.  It furthered my resolve to try and make it happen.

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