How many of you check your work email on weekends? How about multitasking your way through your kid's ball game or figure skating practice?
Probably most of you, and I’ve certainly been in that camp. The Seven Day Weekend, by Ricardo Semler, talks about Semco the company his father founded and he runs and addresses this overflow of work into life.
Semco is an odd company to most people’s eyes. It’s one that recognizes that people do work at all hours and so why can’t they come in late or leave early or split up work into a few chunks in the day with a bunch of breaks?
At its heart, Semco believes that employees should have as much control as possible over when they work and how they work. The only thing that matters is results.
The traditional weekend and workweeks ended long ago. This book faces that fact and explores ways of making work more fun, and of finding a balance between work and private passions, so both can be significantly gratifying.
Throughout the book, Semler tells us many stories that seem just a bit crazy. Take their meeting policy as an example. There are no mandatory meetings. If Ricardo Semler calls a meeting and nobody shows up, then nobody cared about the idea, and it’s shelved.
This goes for all levels. No one can call a mandatory meeting and attendance is the first gauge used to see if the idea is worth pursuing.
A second idea, which I have a hard time advocating, is that you really shouldn’t worry about specializing.
Once you say what business you're in, you create boundaries for your employees, you restrict their thinking and give them a reason to ignore new opportunities. "We're not in that business," they'll say.
I know my friend Philip would certainly take exception to this idea for anyone reading my site. Where Semco has the established business and can take huge risks in fields they aren’t currently in; you can’t.
Semco has many departments that can focus on marketing. You only have you. You only have you to do the work. So, despite the strong advocacy for not defining a niche in The Seven Day Weekend, don’t take that advice.
Much like the title would suggest, The Seven Day Weekend is broken up into seven chapters. One representing each day of the week. There is no real method to the madness after that though.
Much like Semco, The Seven Day Weekend is rambling. There is a bit of coherence to the stories and topics covered, but not that much. The biggest thread holding the book together is the idea that employees are adults and should be treated like such.
People are considered adults in their private lives, at the bank, at their children's schools, with family and among friends -- so why are they suddenly treated like adolescents at work? Why can't workers be involved in choosing their own leaders? Why can't they speak up -- challenge, question, share information openly?
Then it walks through all the ways that Semco trusts people to vote with their feet and do their job properly.
Why is it a given that work is the last thing someone wants to do?
It expects that it will help people love their work because they can roam pretty much anywhere in the company to do the work that interests theme.
Companies hoping to recruit the best and the brightest must demonstrate that they trust their employees with the freedom to work anywhere. They must assume that they're buying talent and dedication, not what the Brazilians call "butt-on-chair time."
It expects that it will hire the right people that can be trusted and then the business gives them the freedom to be adults and do their work.
People need more than a paycheck in their lives to feel gratification, yet most cannot figure out how to reconcile living with making a living.
They’ll give you the freedom to retire early. Want to work 80% time for 80% pay, totally fine. Just figure out a way for 100% of the work to get done, and you’re off to the races.
Semco recognizes that when an employee is having trouble performing, it’s possibly not the employee’s problem. In fact, since the person made it through many rounds of interviews with people at all levels of the organization (seriously anyone can show up and ask questions of a potential hire) that they have an awesome person. The place to start looking is the environment. Were they provided with the tools to succeed?
Organizations rarely believe they're to blame when an employee underperforms, but if the organization doesn't provide the opportunity for success, it's their fault when people falter.
As I said at the beginning, Semco recognizes that employees will check email on weekends or do a bit of work in a quiet office. To counterbalance that, they also take the stand that success at work is not the only metric they need to be aware of to keep a happy employee.
The word "success" begs for a definition so we can understand what we strive for. It's a deceptively easy word to toss around but a difficult one to comprehend. In a business context, most people define success as growth, profit, product acceptance, and quality. But if we apply this to personal life, those definitions do not hold up.
Semco encourages its employees to cut out of work early to spend time with family. They go as far as to let people on the factory floor set their own work hours. In Brazil, that means that when the World Cup is on you may find the factory floor empty during a game. Everyone came in early or will be working later to hit their production numbers, but during the game, they’re out with friends.
In most conventional organizations, major decisions are only made by top-level managers. Everyone else is invited to check their brains at the door. That kind of management style can’t produce hostile and extremist views among workers.
A culture where employees of all levels are valued. They even have two open spots on their board for anyone at any level of the organization. The only requirement is that you sign up for the meeting and show up ready to make decisions.
I also mentioned that people are hired by a big committee. Again, anyone can show up to a hiring interview, and they all get a vote on the candidate. The company figures that when no one shows up to interview the position doesn’t matter and they cut it.
Power and position do not guarantee infallibility or even necessarily the best thinking.
All change must be supported by the people that are carrying it out. If they can’t get a new system adopted (and it’s not a regulatory requirement) they scrap it. It doesn’t matter who thought it was a good idea. They let their employees vote with their feet.
Top down change rarely occurs because the management tribe typically prefers to lay the burden on the employees rather than hoist it onto its own shoulders.
As I said at the beginning, The Seven Day Weekend is a rambling book. I took a good look at it again as I wrote this, and I still don’t see a solid structure.
Despite this2, The Seven Day Weekend is an inspiring read. It’s a book that will help you rethink how you run your business. Hopefully, it’s a book that will help you trust your employees more and let them vote with their feet.
It will not provide a guidebook for you to implement the suggestions though.