Ricardo Semler, previous CEO of Semler, a Brazilian industrial machinery company, is famous for his unorthodox approach to running a business. In his book titled “Maverick,” he explains the journey taken from moving the business he took over from his father from one run traditionally to one run in a participative way, or as he says in his book,
A more humane, trusting, productive, exhilarating, and, in every sense, rewarding way.
This participative approach is evident in how salaries are set and how profits are distributed through the company’s profit-sharing program, with employees playing an active role. These approaches, and many others relating to programs and policies, continue to be radical 25 years after the book was published. Were they successful? Based on Semler’s new approach they had one of the highest growth rates in Brazil despite large multinationals entering the market and savage recessions.
During the first years of Semler’s journey into participative management, they involved employees in a variety of decisions, setting the direction and foundation for the approaches to pay to follow.
The first involved the company's profit-sharing plan, creating one that employees not only understood but controlled, letting the beneficiaries make the decisions. This included negotiating with employees on how much of the profits would be shared, educating them on financials so that numbers wouldn’t be picked out of the air. The company also worked with employees to decide how profits would be divided, letting each location vote on how this was done.
Next, Semler developed a “self-set” pay approach, letting nearly 25% of his employees set their own salaries. The process begins with employees completing an evaluation form, helping them focus on their role and their value.
In addition, before suggesting what they believe they should be paid, employees are asked to consider four criteria: what they think they could make elsewhere, what others with similar responsibilities and skills make at Semler, what friends with similar backgrounds make, and how much money they need to live. To support this process they share salaries as well as pay surveys with employees.
These non-traditional approaches, ones that challenge our ways of doing business, have helped Semler succeed in good times and bad. It has eliminated complaints about pay, and have shown other companies a different, more inclusive way of running a company.
Ricardo Semler's TED Talk "How to run a company with (almost) no rules has had nearly 3 million views. It's a 21 minute watch and well worth it! In the talk, Richard discusses his radical form of corporate democracy and shares how he has rethought everything from board meetings to vacation days. He seeks to understand and reap the rewards of the collective wisdom of hios workforce and promote work-life balance. Ultimately he is asking what is work, and life, really about?