Is There a Maverick in Your Organisation?

Maverick by Ricardo Semler (Arrow Business Books)

Do you look forward to coming to work each morning? Is your work place characterised by frustration, inflexibility, dissatisfaction and a lack of trust? Does your organisation ask you to deposit your brain at the entrance to the work place when you arrive for work each day and only allow you to retrieve it when you leave for home? Do you ever feel that although you are considered to be sufficiently competent to run your own home, you are not felt to be sufficiently competent to make even the most basic business decision? Indeed, you may find that even the small matter of obtaining a pencil requires approval from one or maybe more senior staff. If you consider this to be a symptom of your organisation then perhaps you are in need of a Maverick.

Maverick is a story of how a South American company ( Semco ) and its radical methods of work became not only a successful business but a shrine visited by many of the world's major companies. Study of the methods used show that they could be applied anywhere if an organisation wishes to make rapid and radical changes to the way in which it operates. However, more important, I believe, is the belief that all employees should be treated as honest and trustworthy individuals. Managers no longer act as parent/schoolmaster and employees no longer act as children. So, how was it done?

Semco cut the numbers of levels of management from twelve to three. There is extensive democracy in the workplace, for example, on important decisions such as relocation all employees are entitled to vote. Exclusive car parking and dining facilities no longer exist. There are no physical barriers between departments, all walls have been removed. When profit sharing was introduced all staff had a say in the percentage to be distributed (25% of profits) and the staff were then free to choose on how to split it. In addition to this, staff are now able to carry out their own salary surveys and then determine what they should be paid. There are very few rules, with no official dress code or regulations on travelling. If you consider that first class rail travel is required then you are able to travel in that way. This also applies to the physical working environment, where staff are able to personalise their own work areas according to their own tastes and preferences, without the need to adhere to any corporate standards. Where it is possible staff are also encouraged to work at home, the idea being that it improves productivity and also gives staff greater flexibility.

These are just some of the examples of what have been done. It shows a return to trust in those that you employ, where they are free to work as they wish. It's a working environment where all staff are treated as responsible citizens who are quite capable of making their own decisions without referral and without damaging the security or profitability of the organisation.

It can be argued that this type of approach to organisational life is essential if rapid and radical change is required in order to at least survive and keep one step ahead of competitors (or predators). The creation of a " maverick " organisation creates the opportunity for all employees to make a genuine contribution to any change. It creates a fertile environment in which new ideas and original thought can thrive. The requirement to question the way in which we do things is actively encouraged. It is only by continually questioning existing beliefs and concepts that any long lasting and meaningful change can take place. Organisations will realise that regular questioning of existing concepts and allowing for individual differences to flourish will be a crucial and essential ingredient of future success.

Review by Neil Patrick

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