India has produced several mavericks who derided conventional theories and charted their own road to success. Whenever I think of the word maverick, Prahlad Kakkar comes to my mind. His profile and the diverse stuff along with the balancing act never cease to amaze me. This book however talks about Ricardo Semler, CEO of SEMCO SA of Brazil, a true maverick in every sense who broke all the traditional rules surrounding a Pyramidal organization and brought in an anarchist yet democratic way of running a company. I have read quite a lot of business books and most of the time the writers- the CEOs themselves-have an uncanny way of presenting their stories with such personal touch that one begins to feel that you are having a long intimate walk with the CEO who is sharing all his personal beliefs and values and leaves you with a smidgen of inspiration for you to aspire the skies and fulfill your dreams. While I started reading this book with this assumption, I however realized later that this book contains more than a modicum of inspiration and I’m –modest, you see kind of vanity which you see in most of the business books written with wacky titles. It talks mainly about the hypocrisy seen in most of the pyramidal organizations where the bosses talk about every employee being a part of family yet operate their companies in such a way that not even a single employee feels that his company is his own and get a sense of responsibility in the well being of the company. I have seen this while interacting with several colleagues of mine and also with friends from other IT companies. He paints a beautiful metaphor to understand inherent problems in the pyramid structure. To quote those meaningful words for the benefit of those who haven’t read the book,
The pyramid, the chief organizational principle of the modern corporation, turns a business into a traffic jam. A company starts out like eight-lane super highway- the bottom of the pyramid- drops to six lanes, then four, then two, then becomes a country road and eventually a dirt path, before abruptly coming to a stop. Thousands of drivers start off on the highway, but as it narrows more and more are forced to slow and stop. There are smash-ups and cars are pushed off onto the shoulder. Some drivers give up and take side roads to other destinations. A few-the most aggressive- keep charging ahead, swerving and accelerating and bending fenders all about them. Remember, objects in the mirror are closer than appear.
He talks about several rudimentary issues which are prevalent in work place, which clearly reflect the hypocrisy. Employees in most of the companies are frisked and his bags are checked whenever he leaves his office. It’s a routine in my office too. How can a family frisk its family members? What message does it convey to the employees? We don’t trust you. SEMCO, he writes, is a truly democratic company where employees have no dress code, decide their own salaries and participate in every form of decision taken in the management. He further modified the traditional structure with an organization structure based on fluid concentric circles. Under this structure, all employees have one of only four titles. They are: Counselors, who are like Vice presidents in conventional companies, Partners, who run the business Units, Coordinators, who comprise the first levels of management and the rest are called as Associates.
Though few of these ideas might not suit a country like ours, the author however asks us few compelling questions. Do we feel any iota of stake towards the company we work? Wait, We need not go to the extremes. I don’t mean to say that we have to embrace a’ la Japanese way, wherein employees sing the company’s anthem with full pizzazz every morning before they start their work. However, we can bring in a sense of ownership to every employee who is working in his firm. His company shares every single piece of vital information regarding the company to the workers and they get an opportunity to raise their voices in the decisions which affect them and their company. When he talks about sharing the information with workers, he writes a beautiful line about information asymmetry. He says that whenever managers try to hide information, they retain a sense of power that comes with the masking of the information.
Information asymmetry runs very deep into the consciousness of our Indian society. This subject is one of my favorite economic topics. For the uninformed, information asymmetry can be defined in simple terms as the advantage one gets over the other over hiding of information. Most of the rigging problems that plague both the corporate India and the country as a whole can be attributed to information asymmetry. Only after 50 years of independence, we realized the importance of sharing information through the RTI Act. However several red tape issues continue to dwarf the huge difference RTI act can make to the society. Coming back to the book, the book talks at length about several seemingly small issues which have the potential to bring a huge change in the way workplaces are perceived. He talks in detail about hiring process in the company wherein experienced co-workers interview the future employees along with the manager. What incredible sense of ownership will it create when it gets implemented in companies!! Few ideas do sound at times like director Shankar’s ideas for a better society. Sample this. Employees determine their own salaries. Employees can fire their boss. Though one might easily dismiss these ludicrous, one has to understand the extent of the democratic involvement of the workers towards their firm. I’ve never heard of such passion and commitment towards the firm, wherein every employee feels inspired to work for his firm.
Indian managers can take a lesson or two from this book. I seriously recommend this book for all aspiring management students and voracious readers alike.