Sunday, July 01, 2007

Semler follow up .....

I’ve been thinking more about the Ricardo Semler approach to business, management and leadership.

I can’t help wonder why it is we think his approach is so radical. It is not.

I think the rest of us have over-complicated something that is very simple and I don't know why.

It seems to me Semler focuses on a few simple values such as;

*We can trust our staff.
*Our staff will not abuse that trust.
*Leadership is about treating followers with the utmost respect at all times.
*Allow our staff to be their own boss.
*Don’t over complicate things.

In my opinion these 5 values can be applied in any organisation or business - however old and established that business may be.

Yes of course it is difficult to turn around decades of culture that may not meet these values - but come on - if we are really serious about admiring how Semler does it so effectively, my question remains – Why can’t do it like Semler?

When I think about those 5 values in respect of management in the NHS - which was my career for over 30 years - we certainly do not score highly on any of the 5!

What has been your experience?


Marilyn said...


My experience is that in most settings employees aren't trusted so much. My husband, who works in the local hospital, experiences this as well. Every few years the nursing staff makes noises about organizing and forming a union. Then management circles their wagons and puts out all kinds of PR against it.

What is at the root of this discontent? Lack of trust. Poor/No communication about what matters.Us versus Them. Not realizing that all have a contribution to make, and each contribution is worth no more or less than another.

Semco isn't revolutionary so much as it uses simplicity in a way that has the most profound effect on behavior.

Mike Gardner said...

The missing key point in this equation is the fact that Semler's employees are empowered to discipline those who let the team down. We may trust our employees, but one or two will always abuse that trust. That is the point when companies start developing THE RULES. That's been my experience. The rule book, as my old boss used to say, is written for that 4% of the employees who need it, not the other 96%. If employee teams are empowered to discipline themselves, structures like that at Semco can succeed.

By the way, Trevor, happy birthday!

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Marilyn – Amen – I agree with you entirely – I rest my case on simplicity. I also recognise all the things you mention in your husband’s experience from my own healthcare career sadly.

Mike – isn’t it a shame we have to make rules for the massive minority?

My experience in life and work is that a tiny percentage of people will abuse trust that is given to them and I have always said we should trust our staff more.

The problem is we seem to not only invent rules but then make them even more complicated than they need to be.

I think most of us like to know the parameters of what is and is not acceptable but those boundaries are best set in discussion rather than being imposed.

Thanks for the birthday wishes Mike – much appreciated.

Dan said...

Yes! Trust is so vital to the health and success of an organization, and Semler shows that it can work! You're completely right that Semler's approach really isn't all that crazy or radical - it's just human, which in our mechanical modern age, is quite unusual.

Jerry Harvey writes that our over-complicated organizations are suffering from "anaclytic depression," which has all sorts of bad consequences...

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Dan

I guess it is just about being brave enough to change things back from ‘over-complicated’ to simple.

Most organisations probably feel they are too far down the road of complexity to turn around and start again. The reality is if we started again today we just could not invent something as complex as some of the crazy management systems and organisations charts that I have seen over the years.

Managers get too comfortable to rattle the cage enough to start again.

I know this stuff is not easy to do and would cause much pain but it is better than terminal depression through constantly tinkering existing systems and structures without having any positive impact to the customer experience.

Richard said...


In 1986 I invented "Clear Space Thinking".....

Back then I wanted people to understand "a very complex theory" that had taken me 10 years to develop.. I needed "simplicity".... I came up with a sailing boat example to get to "simplicity" - I checked it out with a friend who is a known ocean going racer to make sure I was factually correct - the boat race example has worked ever since... I have used this boat race example in countless "one on one" discussions and when talking to very large groups - they all "get it" immediately.... But that was only ever the first step - I wanted people to actually use this way of thinking and of being in the world to change their lives and in boat racing parlance to be "winners"......

"Simplicity" to me is not about words, or ideas, or good wishes, or slogans - it is all about what actually WORKS in the world....


This is how I first imagined the "Clear Space Thinking boat race" and how I have seen it ever since.....

"You are in a two boat race against a skipper who always wins the start. Again the competition wins the start and sails off to the favoured side, the left side, of the course. You have a decision to make. Do you follow them or do you sail off on your own down the right side of the course? If you tack in behind them you have chosen to sail your boat as well as you possibly can against their skills and tactics. However, if you tack off down the right side of the course you have chosen to sail your boat as well as you possibly can against the prevailing conditions."


Imagine for a moment, if you will, my sense of completion and of calm satisfaction when I stumbled across an actual video of that race. It was exactly as I had imagined it. But this was the video of Race 3 of 32nd America's Cup 2007 (just last week) where NZ beat Alinghi. You can view it on YouTube [at]

My world has changed by the simple fact "Clear Space Thinking has won ACCEPTANCE".... I no longer have to push it or to explain it - it now exists for all to see.... It is being used and it is a sheer joy to behold the "simplicity" of it all.....

Trevor Gay said...

Well done Richard – I can ‘feel’ your excitement about your Clear Space Thinking concept being seen to work in reality. I am not very knowledgeable of sailing but I enjoyed watching the UTube video. Looks like an exciting race!

As with all parts of our lives and our work ‘theory’ is great but when something actually works among the ‘muck and bullets’ it is a fabulous feeling.

I would say Simplicity underpins all great advances in history.