24 Jan 15|Culture

Rather than adhering to routine and micro management techniques, Ricardo Semler, CEO at Semco, is more concerned with the productivity in any given month and a concern around the gratification employees will receive from their work?

In July 2005 articles and footage started appearing on YouTube about Brazilian manufacturing company Semco. Semco was described as a “most radical workplace”.  Seven years on, the company’s operating principles are still considered rare: not knowing which receptionist will be on at what time because it is up to the receptionists to work out their hours; 3,000 employees setting their own work schedules; early workplace departures when there is not much to do; employees giving themselves days off; changing work stations so colleagues can’t track your every move; reviewing your own salary every 6 months; and firing colleagues who aren’t performing. But this type of freedom comes with “pressure to perform”.

Rather than adhering to routine and micro management techniques, Ricardo Semler, CEO at Semco, is more concerned with the productivity in any given month and a concern around the gratification employees will receive from their work? Semler subscribes to a Thrive not Survive ethic. And this philosophy means treating employees like grown ups. Employees get a share of the profit and what accompanies that is an increase in motivation. While Semler remains concerned with basic free market issues, he is also about “respecting anthropological issues instead of political ideas”.  And his philosophy has worked. He took a company that was worth $4m US in 1980 to $160m US by 2005.

It is hard to envisage many local or national companies installing hammocks so employees can rest and thinkin comfort but it’s exactly what Semco did. And Semco isn’t the only company encouraging thinking time. Beth Comstock, Senior Vice President at GE, states that the company introduced a Time To Think opportunity for their employees decades ago.  Employees were encouraged to put time on their calendars to allow the “mental and physical space to do this”.  Comstock added “people can’t innovate or create on demand. You have to give teams time to think, to bounce things off each other”.

Most companies and organisations would have heard of Google’s 20 % Time, where employees were given time to work on projects they chose to work on. Recently it was announced that Google are ceasing this practice. Rumour has it that Google got caught in the “measurement” trap. Innovation is hard to measure straight up, just ask Dyson. Dyson recorded over 5,000 failures before he was happy with his bag less vacuum cleaner! And Edison suggests his 10,000 failures were actually 10,000 steps toward success. Can we mention that apple go through around 50 prototypes before they get to the phone or tablet or ipad that will be released?  How do you KPI that? Do those experiments go in your assets or liabilities column?

The yellow sticky note evolved out of 3M’s work practice that allows 15% of an employee’s time to be spent on innovation. 3M have been doing this for decades – Google weren’t the first.

These and other forward thinking companies invest in innovation simply because if they don’t innovation doesn’t happen. Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, believes it’s motivational practices in business like these that have become the new reward, the new “carrot” to keep employees stimulated and fulfilled. More money alone just doesn’t do it anymore.

When times get tough, innovation is not usually considered as a first option for making improvements and moving forward.

At the present time, things are tough, so we need to think differently. We need to create space for problem solving, for outside the square thinking, for innovation and evolution. We need to empower the workforce; give employees some input into the operations of the organisation, input into their future.

Organisational energies should be directed into projects that could potentially generate income or increase productivity. Energies could be directed into developing a new or improved product or service, or a new means of collaborating with other like or ‘unlike’ organisations.

In order to make this work, a number of factors need to come to together. Management needs to buy into the process. I was involved some time back in the introduction of innovative practices into a local business. Management agreed to allow a certain group of employees one hour per month to meet and discuss project ideas. Eighteen months later, there is evidence that the practice has been productive.

Involvement in innovation should also be on a voluntary basis. Everyone is not good at everything. In his book The Tipping Point, Malcom Gladwell writes about innovators, connectors, early adopters and salesmen. All are equally important in the innovation process, but not all need to take on an innovative or creative role.

Each project will need structure and will rarely take off unless there is some form of collaboration.  Each project will need to be tracked and each organisation will have to develop it’s own reward system.

Innovation is hard work. It requires passion and belief, persistence, collaboration and leadership to make it effective. It requires execution to see it through. Innovation requires structure. It requires management. An innovative atmosphere has the potential to increase productivity and that’s got to be more beneficial to any organisation in the long term.

Ideation At Work facilitates workshops with an emphasis on brain science, collaboration, empowerment and realising plans to action. Ideation At Work encourages and facilitates processes that lead to improvement and change.

You have to give teams time to think, to bounce things off each other - Beth Comstock, Senior Vice President GE

You have to give teams time to think, to bounce things off each other - Beth Comstock, Senior Vice President GE

Xperience Seekers

For the latest programs, events, workshops and news.

Recent Posts

Global Impact Encourages Co-opetative Alliances

13 Mar | Innovation

As part of the SingularityU Australia Global Impact Challenge, we held a two-day Bootcamp at the Sydney School of Entrepreneurship. Our cohort worked on pitch decks and presentation techniques. They worked hard and fast, with commitment and determination.

Read More

Stop Measuring Time

22 Dec | Creativity

As the Christmas season approaches and you are left wondering where the year went, please stop! Stop measuring time. 

Read More

Is Utopia Possible?

25 Sep | Innovation

Growing up I wondered when the increasing value of ‘things’ would outstrip the dollars available. As an adult, I am still wondering. 

Read More