A journey to the coast in Australia and SEMCO in Brazil LO30144

From: Mark Spain (mark.spain@bigpond.com)
Date: 04/29/03

Dear LO readers around our world

Thank you for your dialogue. I value your participation and reading your
contributions. I have not contributed for some time and so am pleased I
now feel moved to share my current enthusiasm with you.

Last week I was at the edge of the Pacific Ocean on the sandy beaches of
the coast of south eastern Australia with my family during school
holidays. My daughter also invited many of her teenage friends. The
atmosphere was abounding with positive youthful energy and excitement.
There was joy in swimming, surfing and snorkelling as well as learning
about living and interacting with others. I wanted to collaborate with my
daughter and my wife to design an organisation where I could follow the
advice of Chinese Emeperor Hang Jing Di 157 - 141 BC - Do nothing in order
to govern. We all had a great and demanding week and self management on
the whole prevailed.

I have also been greatly enjoying reading Ricardo Semler's new book (The
Seven-Day Weekend, 2003) about how he and his colleagues create the
conditions to run his company SEMCO, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I recommend it
to you in light of our dialogue on learning organisations. I also wonder
and value what your thinking and reflecting would be about this

Without using any words like learning organisation, knowledge management
or communities of practice the SEMCO workplace seems to be an environment
where all members are able to increase the organization's capacity to take
effective action.

I would like to share with you some of what Ricardo Semler says about his
company and his colleagues. I would also like to ask you if you know of
any sustainable organisations like it so that we may all celebrate what
these folks are doing and be inspired to try new behaviours for ourselves
in our organisations.

Here's some quotes from Semler's book

"If people are afraid they don't innovate. We don't want scared people. We
want them to know everything in the company. We want them to question."

"I don't want to know where Semco is headed. I want employees to ramble
through their days to use instinct, opportunity and intrigue to chose
projects and ventures.... We ask why repeatedly ... and have no written

"Sustainability, productivity, profit growth, new ventures are all a
product of worker balance. Balance ensues when people are given room, find
their talents and interests, merge their personal aspirations with the
goals of the company. Once employees feel challenged envigorated and
productive their efforts will naturally translate into profit and growth
for the organisation."

"There are no rules when it comes to finding a balance in your lives.
Everything at Semco that is designed to foster change, innovation and
freedom is really there to help create that balance."

"First principle - if an employee has no interest in a product or project
then that venture will never succeed.... Employees must be reassured that
self-interest is their foremost priority, one they must take care not to
replace with company or other interests. We advocate out of corporate
self-interest - an employee who puts himself first will be motivated to
perform. .... If people aren't motivated they need a different job ... We
offer incentives for people to move around different jobs and departments.
It's another chance to dip into their 'reservoir of talent' and to develop
their independence. Unfortunately our society conditions us to accept
boredom from an early age - we're taught to expect it in school."

"Semco's a hard place to work if you don't have the entrepreneurial

"Executives must give up control and trust the power of talent. Only then
will that person's calling emerge."

"Supervisors are evaluated by their staff every 6 months and the results
posted for everyone to see. The group holds a meeting to discuss what they
might want to do about them."

"Everyone participates in a monthly meeting that analyses the company
numbers. Anyone can enrol in a course in reading balance sheets....
Balance sheets are made easy to read."

"Organisations rarely beleive they're to blame when an employee
underperforms. But if the organisation doesn't provide the opportunity for
success then people falter. We accept that every individual wants and
needs a worthwhile pursuit in life. It is up to us to provide the
environment and opportunity for their gratification. We resort to job
rotation, reverse evaluation and self management to help people tap their
talent. We never assume there are weeds among us."

"We abolish manuals, procedures and policies so that people are free to
improvise, to soar and collect moments of happiness that constitute
genuine success. To keep turnover low we put mechanisms in place to remind
employees 'make sure that you are where you want to be, and make sure this
is what you want to do.' We'll bend over backwards to find what they

"We don't favour training manuals or ask people where they want to be in
5yrs time. We want them to amble and ramble. Instead of formal training we
encourage people to ask a colleague for explanations, demonstrations and
guidance. Information in any organisation should be information on

"We're creating our barometer a s a definition of success. By combining
numbers and people, customers and suppliers, government agencies and NGOs
we hope to produce a well-rounded evaluation of success. ... Success for
individuals is to realise their pool of talent."

Do nothing in order to govern - Chinese Emeperor Hang Jing Di 157 - 141

"Mission and credo are useless ... replaced by What we Stand For... If
values are going to be organic and part of the whole they must come from
the ground up. Giving up control creates these values.... they grow in
organisations like moss grows on rocks."

"Moving an organisation ahead by virtue of what it's people stand for
means removing obstacles like official policies. It means trusting workers
implicitly, sharing power and information, encouraging dissent and
celebrating true democracy.... Few things are harder for managers,
executives, shareholders and owners to embrace."

"We've learned peer control is as effective as reporting and auditing."

"Our plans are limited to 6 months ... We brainstorm ('Ideas that pour
from the sky" - in Portugese) 3, 5 and 10yrs but write down only 6
months.... Every one year plan I've seen has all the good things happen in
the second half."

"Openness, truth and exposure upset people at Semco as much as anywhere

"What traditional executives don't consider is that decisions arising from
debate are implemented much more quickly because explanations,
alternatives, objections and uncertainties have already been aired.....
Dissent and democracy go hand in hand."

"Employees work at a different desk every day."

"If none of the employees had turned up to help with the interview (for a
new position) we'd get rid of the position - no one cared about it."

" A sustainable company will put a 57yr old GM alumni in an office with a
dot.com kid."

"Everyone recognises that attracting and investing in talent are the
touchstones of an organisation. But what people consider sufficient effort
and enough investment is what separates the men from the boys and the
women from the girls."

"Simmering a slow stew of culture, tribalism and democracy.' (A metaphor
for what is happening at Semco)

"Biggest change in Semco - non territorial offices."

"All our meetings are voluntary."

"Democracy, freedom and distribution of power and not synonymous with lack
of hierarchy."

"At Semco you are what you do."

"Information supports intuition - that's why we give it to everyone."

"Change is overrated... Planes and cars haven't changed much since they
started. The explanation is anthropological. People in calcified
organisations do two things - sabotage changes that may make people
dispensable and ensure industry wide emulation."

"An organisation must be ready to cannibalise itself."

Is the structure that generates these comments only able to be created in
a privately owned company based in a large city in South America?

With best wishes and much joy to you
Mark Spain


Mark Spain <mark.spain@bigpond.com>

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