Book review: The Seven-Day Weekend

Ricardo Semler: The Seven-Day WeekendYou should know one thing before you read my review of Ricardo Semler’s excellent book The Seven-Day Weekend: He’s my idol.

I’ve read his books and followed his work and I’m a fan. Completely, unashamedly, unreservedly, probably in the same way that 14-year old girls are fans of Justin Timberlake. If he ever comes to Copenhagen to give a speech, I’ll be in the front row, screaming my little lungs out.

Ahem. I deeply admire Ricardo Semler. He’s the CEO of the Sao Paulo, Brazil-based company Semco, and his vision of leadership has been the driving force behind an organization so different, so innovative and so successful that the business world has been forced to sit up and pay attention.

That’s admirable but it’s not the most important reason why Ricardo is my idol. The core reason is this: Semler has chosen happiness as his driving force in business.

He enjoys life and he wants Semco’s employees, customers, suppliers and community to be happy as well. That is the real motivation behind Semco. Not growth. Not profits. Not power. Not status. But happiness.

This is why Semco has chosen to do things… somewhat differently. At Semco:

  • Employees set their own working hours
  • Employees choose their own salaries
  • All meetings are voluntary and open to everyone
  • Employees hire their own bosses
  • HR has been almost abolished, because leaders need to be able to treat their employees right themselves
  • All employees rate their bosses twice a year and all ratings are published
  • Employees choose which leader they want to work under
  • Employees choose which Semco office they want to work out off
  • Employees can take early retirement, meaning they get one day a week off in return for working one day a week after they retire.

Etcetra, etcetera, et-fricking-cetera… It’s hard to find a single aspect of traditional organization and management that Semco hasn’t either blown up, reinvented, abolished or turned upside down. I like it!

Semler first described his vision in the aptly titled book Maverick (also an excellent read). The Seven-Day Weekend was written about ten years later and goes even further.

The title references Semler’s belief that life cannot be divided into work and free time any more. If you can answer business-related email on a sunday evening, why can’t you go to the movies on a wednesday morning? Semco wants employees who are 100% themselves on the job or off it. Consequently, they treat employees as adults who are capable of making decisions for themselves. In return, people respond by honoring that trust and delivering fantastic results.

The book is full of stories from Semco’s everyday existence, and these stories are a joy to read. Time and again these stories illustrate, that Semco does not choose the easy way out. The easy, safe and comfortable way is to fall back on well-known, hierarchical control structures. Semco consistently resists this temptation and instead chooses to believe in its people and its corporate values.

As a result, on of Semco’s top management’s most important leadership tools is… inaction. Not to do anything. To not interfere and to let the organization work out an issue on its own. To trust the process they’ve defined and see where that takes them.

Not out of a laissez-faire management style or a fear of conflict (if anything, Brazilians seem to relish conflict), but out of a realization that every time top executives step in and mandate a solution, they rob the rest of the organization of initiative and the will to act.

This is without a shadow of a doubt the best and most important book on leadership I have ever had the pleasure to read. This book quite simply rocks, and any leader who reads it will be able to pluck dozens of useful, practical and innovative ideas from it’s pages.

It’s an easy, fun read, the stories are told amazingly well and the book is 100% free of MBA-jargon.

Read it!!!

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77 thoughts on “Book review: The Seven-Day Weekend”

  1. Screwing the weekends

    My boss tries all kinds of things to make people work over the weekends. These are some of his favs..
    ‘ you will have to give yourself the extra push…when you on the verge of a breakthrough’
    ‘ why don’t you try something new by working between 9 am and 9 Pm’
    ‘….One thing I am sure about… no body has died of working hard’

    and this is his favorite which he uses always

    ‘sometimes you need to work in the streach mode, you may have to sacrifice a couple of sundays for the next three months’

  2. Oh and one more thing rishi: Thousands of people DO get sick from working hard. It’s called stress and burnout. And, yes, you can die from it. More and more people do.

  3. They have a special word for it in Japan – which you probably know – karoshi
    ( look you can even buy a tee shirt )

    They have another word – the first Japanese word I remember learning – sanpaku:

    * Sanpaku, a well-known Japanese term, sanpaku, describes a condition in which the white of the eye can be seen between the pupil and the lower lid as the subject gazes directly forward. This, we quickly learn, connotes a grave state of physical and spiritual imbalance. The sanpaku is out of touch with himself, his body and the natural forces of the universe. Symptomatically, sanpaku can be recognized by chronic fatigue, low sexual vitality, poor instinctive reactions, bad humor, inability to sleep soundly and lack of precision in thought and action.

    So check your eyes – and stay in balance!

  4. Excellent tips, citycenjane, I’d never heard of either word.

    Sanpaku sounds like that panic stat people (or departments or whole companies) can go into when pressed. People mill around looking busy, but very little productive work gets done :o)

  5. Like you, I am a big fan of Ricardo Semler. Are you aware of other examples of companies who have followed Semco’s example – at least to some extent?

  6. Semler rocks :o)

    I don’t know of any companies that have actively copied Semco, but I know of many companies that do similar great things and make their people happy at work.

    Here are some examples:

    There are more examples in this longer piece:

    Is that useful?

  7. I believe there is a similar company described in Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.”

  8. I’ve heard about Semco before, but never picked up the book. Might have to now though =)

    Have you seen any articles that take a more critical look at Semco?

    The only ones I’ve ever seen have all been blatantly fanboyish. i.e. I’d like to see Forbes’ take on them.

    @rishi – that sucks, man. I know the feeling. I’ve worked for sociopathic, non-empathetic bosses before and it’s no fun. Start something on the side & be sure to work on your own stuff during company time as much as possible. A boss like that deserves it.

    As a coder, I really can’t work more than 6-9 hours straight without starting to add more bugs than I take out. Any manager that doesn’t understand this doesn’t deserve your overtime to begin with.

  9. Currently reading :) half way thru! Absolutely amazing book and even more amazing how Ricardo Semler has gone about making changes in his company to make it brilliantly unique and participative

  10. pj: There’s a great story in the book of the time Ricardo Semler had the idea and decided to try it out right away. He asked is secretary what salary she thought would be fair for her. She mentioned a figure that was a little higher than what she already received but still absolutely reasonable. Ricardo wanted to pay her even more and she reluctantly accepted.

    There are two reasons it works:
    1) Everybody’s salaries are also known inside the company. So if you ask for a high salary everybody knows it, and you had better show that you’re worth it
    2) People like the company and want it to succeed. Nobody’s looking for a quick buck or to advance themselves only.

    Kaushai: I totally agree – it’s one of the most inspiring business books ever.

    Shanti: I have never seen a critical Semco article. Either they’re just that good or they’re paying the journalists some serious bribes.

    I will say though, that Semler is very open about Semco’s problems in the book – he isn’t trying to gloss over the disadvantages if their model. As far as I can tell at least.

    There’s only one thing to do: I’ll have to go to Sao Paulo and visit them myself to make sure they’re the real deal :o)

    Lee: Thanks for the tip. I know Atlas Shrugged is a classic but have never read it. Is it worth it?

  11. I read Atlas Shrugged. I thought it was rubbish. I felt like if completely mirepresented the real world power relationships that exist between people and organisations.

    If Semler is actually acheiving half of what you are saying then he is to be commended. I would be interested in what happens when something goes wrong….thats when you can tell how good an organisational structure is…when it is under pressure.

  12. I read Atlas Shrugged and absolutely loved it. Of course, it’s fiction, so you have to deal with dramatization. As I recall there was a kernal of this Semler mindset in the way the primary characters viewed themselves and the wold: people are adults, responsible and capable of watching after themselves — they do not need nor do they want the extraneous complications thrust upon them by overreaching governments and other meddlers.

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  18. I read the book. Now I know why you’re such a big fan of Ricardo Semler… The book is fantastic… almost unbelievable =)

  19. I read this book on your recommendation and wasn’t blown away by it. It seemed repetitive and over-long, with not quite enough detail about how it all works. I wondered if Maverick is a better read for a good overview of the concepts? I’m not trying to be negative – I thought loads of the ideas were really interesting and inspiring, I just found the book a bit of a struggle.

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  21. I endorse all you say Alex about Ricardo Semler – his books make fascinating reading, and you only have to look at the incredibly low turnover of staff at his companies to show that his philosophy works. I read a great quote from him once, which captures his thinking well “Why haven’t we learnt to play golf on a Monday morning if we still take our work home on a Friday night?” I think a key reason behind his success is the high level of trust he places in his employees, which is sadly missing in so many companies. I first heard about Semler in a very good book called The Stone Age Company by Sally Bibb who works for the Economist. The book gives other examples of companies who have a trust ethic and is a great read. It highlights well how companies adopting a low trust policy in relation to staff are living in the dark ages, and that the benefits of adopting a Semler-style approach puts companies like Semco and others way ahead of the game.

  22. Both Semler’s books are wonderful but I think Maverick is the ‘racier’ read.
    He’s probably about 50 years ahead of most companies as far as dismantling command and control infrastructures that no longer serve.

    Another great ‘happiness’ book is “Building the Happiness Centred Business” by Dr. Paddi Lund – the self-styled crazy Australian Dentist.

    From page 41 of his book:
    “I discover I had sacrificed happiness, to earn money… that bought less happiness than I had sacrificed.”


  23. I have been trying out Ricardo Semler’s ideas since 1995. Leaned many lessons in the process. Now starting a knowledge services company methodlabs india. just studying the market for the services. This company will put into practice all the principles of democratic organizations that i can convince the start up team to use.

  24. Great post, from Ricardo Semlers latest fan! I was so inspired by the book, I have been taking immediate action in my own life. Although I am not the CEO of a big corporate, I felt I could still apply a lot of Ricardo’s principles to my life as a mum and small business entrepreneur. I’m asking why, why, why at all times and blasting into some of my old habits with great results!

    Thanks for the post, great website!

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