Ricardo Semler (“The Maverick”)

? Self Managing Organisations ?

Barry Lefley arranged for several Inland Revenue members of the Network to attend a presentation by Ricardo Semler during a National Health Conference in Glasgow last year. Semler (author of the book “The Maverick” has recreated his own business (Semco) into a largely self managing organisation, – leaving him free to roam the world and speak at conferences!


Semler, we suspect, had been invited along to add a little spice to the proceedings and certainly challenged the audience, including ourselves.

He illustrated his talk with many witty comments. He questioned whether we are actually saying anything different compared with 300-400 years ago, or whether the main change is merely an acceleration of events – he illustrated this with a paradox, saying that the average speed of a motor car in London 80 years ago was 18mph and now is 17.2mph. He also questioned whether the direction of wheels should be changed to make parking easier.

He looked at the question of problems and asked why they were not solved – suggesting that the reason was mainly because we try to answer the wrong questions. He pointed out that 30% of our lives are spent on irrelevant issues, and suggested that the best questions are asked by children (Why? Why? Why?).

He had also reflected on agenda items – suggesting that the time spent on each topic is inversely in proportion to its importance. For example, in Semco they once spent 3 hours discussing parking! Changing the management structure took 2-3 years but changes to parking took over 9 years!

He wondered why businesses need to grow indefinitely – was the sole object of business to make money and enhance shareholder wealth? He thought not. Semler said that when you make money, you buy or create another business! In his view, Richard Branson is now so successful and earns so much money that he does not have time to spend or enjoy it!

He believed that we need to start trusting people – in his company, the searching of staff on leaving was discontinued and, instead, a sign was erected, – “No Stealing”.

Rather than noting the time that people start and finish work he thought it would be better to prepare a list of what is required. Why be so concerned in the number of hours someone works? He thought it was more important to pay for results and performance.

He wondered why managers should discuss salaries at all.   He thought it was better to ask how much employees wanted to take out of the system. Be open and honest with staff, tell them about costs, profit margins etc., and let them decide.

Semler then made some specific points about the NHS. He said that 1 million people are employed in the NHS but as no-one works with that number of people, he thought that the same work could be done with 75,000 groups of 10 people. He said that you can always make changes if you want to!

There then followed a question and answer session, which covered a lively half hour and ended the session so that Semler could leave for his next engagement in Paris!!

Barry Lefley