Participative management at Semco
At ProdConf 2015, Clóvis Bojikian shared a little about the beginning of the of participative decision process at Semco. Clóvis Bojikian is Semco’s former HR director, and helped Ricardo Semler to implement the participative management in the company in the 1980s.
Clóvis and Ricardo wanted to try new things and create a more participative decision process in their company. Clóvis shared the first three examples on team work and participative decision with the company´s employees.
The first example was about the refectory food. There were several complaints on the food. For example: the beans are too soft; the beans are not cooked enough; we want more of this, less of that.
The Human Resources department listened to all complaints, but changed the way they usually addressed these. Instead of hearing and answering: Yes, we are going to solve your problem; they started to answer: Yes, I’m hearing your suggestion. Actually, another colleague also recommended something similar. What about you two getting together and talk with the people of the kitchen?
And then little groups of work were arising, and together they debated on their problems, discussed possible solutions and tried something different. The decision-making was not on the hands of a few anymore, but on the hand of the groups that were interested in some issue.
The second example was about choosing the uniforms. There were a lot of complaints about them. Some wanted the uniforms to be some way, other preferred a different style. And there were those ones who didn’t want any uniform at all.
So, the department tried something different. Instead of deciding the uniform and inform the decision to everybody, they decided to promote a conversation on the subject. It started with a simple campaign: do you want to use uniform? Yes or no?
The majority answered yes. So they entered the second step: please, give an idea of the uniform you want to wear.
Some ideas were given. In a third step, they voted: please, vote for the uniform you prefer.
Then, according to Clóvis himself, it resulted on a rainbow of choices. There was no clear winner amongst the proposed uniforms.
So Clóvis asked to the group of work what they suggested. According to Clóvis, the group of work created the second round process! The employees themselves decided to select the two most voted and make a new voting. They created a second round and the one of the uniforms won with 71% of the votes. Thus, one more time, something was decided. Decided by the employees and using the process they proposed.
It’s important to note the excitement Clóvis shows while telling this story. That was before the Brazilian Constitution of 1988, when the concept of second round in an election process was created. According to Clóvis, the employees at Semco created such concept.
The third example was about holidays. There were lots of complaints on holidays. Every time there was a holiday on a Thursday or Tuesday, the protests would follow. Only one or two weeks before the holiday a note was sent informing on (1) making a three-day weekend; and (2) if that day would be compensated on a given Saturday. Everybody complained: it was short noticed; now I can’t make any plans! And on that Saturday I can’t work because I already have plans.
Once again, a group of work was set up and the employees themselves would decide on the subject. The result was a calendar created by the employees explaining every holiday for the next three years. How they were going to work, and what was going to be the compensation policy.
Clóvis said that these were three simple examples, but essential to start a new culture of participative decision and setting up groups of work. From then on, the culture in the company began to change. People were more motivated. Employees could and did make their own decisions.
He finished telling that a few years after these first examples of participative management, employees themselves created Semco’s career and salary plan.
For that, they explained the roles in the company, their attributes, as well as the salary value for each position. And the result was displayed on the walls! Therefore, everybody knew exactly what each position does and what was the payment.
Moreover, as the plan was created by employees, they were aware and comfortable with the salaries paid at Semco. Because they compared the salaries from other companies themselves. The plan was not imposed to them, but created by them!
And all that in the 80s and 90s, with unclear labor laws and in a time ruled by dictatorship in Brazil. The company wasn’t small: it reached 4000 workers in several plants, and dealt with acquisition and merger of other companies.
And you say you can’t do all this in your company?!
I dare you! Let’s improve our work environment and empower the workers.
Thank you so much, Clóvis and Ricardo Semler, for being bold, fearless, and innovative. You made a great deal of difference in our workforce and are examples of how we can improve. Thank you so much for creating and sharing such a beautiful and inspiring story.
Watch this TED Talk with Ricardo Semler on the subject: