The greatest most innovative company in the world is not Apple, Facebook or Google.
It will not be found in Silicon Valley.
All companies today should be exploring new ways of implementing freedom and democracy in the workplace.
They should be doing so aggressively, ambitiously and with no shortage of imagination.
I’m often met with incredulity when expressing these beliefs.
So ingrained and conditioned have we become to what constitutes an organisation, to how a business must be run and managed. The way we do things around here.
Freedom and democracy are lovely ideals but they have no place in a proper business – so I’m told.
Trendy tech startups think they have an innovative approach to management / employee engagement when they provide their staff with pool tables, free lunches, flexible working hours & well designed workspaces.
It’s a shame more people aren’t familiar with a company called Semco.
For more than 30 years Semco, founded in Brazil, has defied the backbone of traditional business structures.
An experiment in implementing freedom and democracy in the workplace for a company that employs 3000 people, in three countries across manufacturing, professional services and high tech sectors.
Semco is an experiment but also an outstanding success.
It’s huge revenue growth, rising profits, market niches, diverse product ranges, highly motivated employees, low turnover – its sustainability, are enough to make it the envy of any orthodox company.
The basic tenets of its management philosophy and practices are confronting for even the most forward thinking CEO, manager, owner or HR practitioner.
The innovations it has embraced to ensure a lack of structure & control, to implement democracy, to foster transparency, to encourage questioning and dissent are breathtaking to behold.
I couldn’t do justice to these innovations by attempting to detail them here in this short blog post but they have been outstandingly presented in two great books Maverick! and The Seven-Day Weekend.
These innovations have allowed Semco’s visionary leader Ricardo Semler to see the company inherited from his father grow to 40 times its original size.
Semco demonstrates best that genuinely putting your people first is the best way to create profit.
The repetition, boredom, office politics and frustration that many people accept as an intrinsic part of working life can in fact be replaced by inspiration, fun and freedom.
Semco demonstrates that workplace democracy isn’t a lofty ideal or short term fad but a better way to run a business to sustain long term growth and profit.
We all demand democracy in all other aspects of our society – why not in our workplace?
Thankfully Semco is far from the only company in the world today currently rigorously pursuing democracy at work.
But to my knowledge it has the most successful, well documented and long term track record of doing so with such extraordinary innovation and imagination.
As a consequence I feel comfortable declaring Semco to be the greatest company in the world.