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The Seven-Day Weekend: Changing the Way Work Works

Ricardo Semler, based on some of his ideas, would probably be considered to be a “crackpot” (or something far less euphemistic) by “serious” business people. After all, here’s a man who has written a book, The Seven-Day Weekend: Changing the Way Work Works (Portfolio; $22.95), that includes observations like these:

  • “I believe the old way of doing business is dying, and the sooner it’s dead and buried the better off we all will be.”
  • “I believe the obsession with control is a delusion and, increasingly, a fatal business error.”
  • “People are considered adults in their private lives, at the bank, and their children’s schools, with family and among friends—so why are they suddenly treated like adolescents at work?”
  • “Why is growth necessary beyond the minimum natural expansion of the market being served?”
  • “. . .it is not about being virgins in a brothel. Rather, insistence on high ethical standards is simply good for business.”
  • “A five-year plan is ludicrous. We don’t want to follow a structure that might become nonsense in six months.”

Semler, in case you’re wondering, is the CEO of a Brazilian concern, Semco*, which his father founded in 1954. Although initially reluctant to follow in his father’s footsteps, he took over the company when he was still fresh in his 20s. “Within days of taking over, I fired two-thirds of my father’s most senior managers outright. A risky move that I felt was necessary to quickly implement reforms without foot dragging from the entrenched executives.” Semler doesn’t make this analogy, but “entrenched executives” sounds like a cadre with more than a foot each in the grave (trench), and that’s not conducive for moving forward. He continues, “I then spent the next two decades questioning, challenging, and dismantling the traditional business practices at Semco.” The questioning, challenging and dismantling serve as the basis of The Seven-Day Weekend.

“Serious” business people would undoubtedly choke out a gulp of coffee knowing that Semco “increased its annual revenue between 1994 and 2003 from $35 million a year to $212 million.” In other words, Semler is not some sort of management dilettante running a business out of his basement. (He’d probably argue with the point that he is, in fact, “running a business,” as his approach is one where the people who are involved in a business are the ones who are doing the running. He’s often off doing something else. Like thinking.) In the book, Semler examines what it is to be a person who works. He acknowledges that there are plenty of people for whom working in a factory or office is nothing more than something that’s done for the paycheck. But he also knows that there are people who have a true talent for things, and that they must be given the opportunity to discover those things if the organization is to prosper: “Our motives are purely selfish. Unless we click with a worker, unless he latches onto something he is passionate about, our productivity won’t be high.”

This book should be required reading for managers at all levels—of course, the trouble with this recommendation is that the physical book probably couldn’t withstand the numerous throwings against the wall that it would undoubtedly take from the aforementioned “serious” businesspeople.

* Semco, a privately held concern, is in a variety of businesses, from industrial machinery (which is where it began) to inventory control, from real estate to controls and facilities management (a joint venture with Johnson Controls). About the approach to which areas Semco will enter, Semler says that they must be sufficiently complex so that there are high barriers to entry; that they permit Semco to seize the premium position (“We want to offer a high-end product or service. That means we’re always more expensive because we provide the premium that stretches what the customer will pay.”); that Semco can be dominant within a niche and consequently nearly essential (“We want to be only in businesses where our disappearance would cause our disheartened customers to complain loudly.” He claims that 80% of the firm’s annual revenue are from repeat customers.).


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