Here are some questions that business leaders rarely ask:

  • Why do we want to know what time employees come to work and what time they leave?
  • Wouldn't it be better if we just had a contract to buy some amount of work from them instead?
  • Why are we building a headquarters? Is it not just an ego issue where we want to look big and important?
  • Is that worth dragging our people two hours across town for?
  • If employees knew how much their colleagues and others in comparable jobs were earning, and how much the company was making, why couldn't they set their own salaries?
  • What if leaders were regularly graded by their subordinates to see if they should continue in their roles?
  • How do you set up a business for maximum wisdom?

These might be rare questions to hear on the lips of entrepreneurs and leaders, but in his fascinating TEDx talk, Ricardo Semler, CEO of $200+ million Brazilian firm Semco Partners, asks and answers them all. In the process, Semler outlines how a firm with thousands of employees engaged in complex sectors like rocket-fuel propulsion systems can run itself with basically no rules (and a grand total of one HR person).

The basic blueprint for the company's 30-year experiment with radical workplace democracy, Semler explains, is this simple question: What if you "take away all of the boarding school aspects of 'this is when you arrive, this is how you dress, this is how you go to a meeting'"? Strip it all away, and what's left?

The short answer is a unique but very successful business strategy. The long answer is the talk below. Check it out. Or if you want more information on how this radical approach impacted Semco (hint: Turnover is just 1 to 2 percent), my colleague Chuck Blakeman has you covered. You might also read this classic Semler Harvard Business Review piece on how the company went digital without a strategy.

 

Published on: Apr 27, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.