Here’s one last post on Maverick: The Success Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace, the Ricardo Semler book that has inspired 37signals in many ways. In this post, you’ll find some of Semler’s advice on how to work smarter…
Treat employees like adults:
We simply do not believe our employees have an interest in coming in late, leaving early, and doing as little as possible for as much money as their union can wheedle out of us. After all, these are the same people that raise children, join the PTA, elect mayors, governors, senators, and presidents. They are adults. At Semco, we treat them like adults. We trust them. We don’t make our employees ask permission to go to the bathroom, nor have security guards search them as they leave for the day. We get out of their way and let them do their jobs.
Write less (he’s talking about memo headlines that get to the point, but the same approach works well with email subject lines, post titles, etc.):
If you really want someone to evaluate a project’s chances, give them but a single page to do it — and make them write a headline that gets to the point, as in a newspaper. There’s no mistaking the conclusion of a memo that begins: “New Toaster Will Sell 20,000 Units for $2 Million Profit.”
And so Semco’s Headline Memo was born. The crucial information is at the top of the page. If you want to know more, read a paragraph or two. But there are no second pages…
This has not only reduced unnecessary paperwork, but has also helped us avoid meetings that were often needed to clarify ambiguous memos. Concision is worth the investment. The longer the message, the greater the chance of misinterpretation.
Of course, one-page memos took some getting used to. People sometimes had to rewrite them fie or ten times before managing to synthesize their thoughts.
This wouldn’t have surprised Mark Twain, who once apologized for writing a long letter because he didn’t have time to write a short one.
Minimize your information intake (sounds like advice Mark Hurst would give):
The key to self-management is self-esteem. You must maintain it even though you may not be as well informed about some essentially meaningless report or arcane issues as your associates. You must be prepared to got a meeting and endure comments such as, “You mean you didn’t read”. Better to suffer the humiliation of saying you didn’t and ask someone else to be kind enough to summarize it than to have had to read all the articles that cross your desk.
I estimate that the ratio of useless to relevant reading material is about 20 to 1. With that in mind, my advice is to reduce the literary inflow to a maximum of two newspapers a day, two weekly magazines, and two publications in a specialized field. Start being proud of not being aware of everything. The reward will be an opportunity to THINK.
“Hepatitis leave” (aka take time to think):
When people tell us they don’t have time to think, we ask them to consider what would happen if they suddenly contracted hepatitis and were forced to spend three months recuperating in bed. Then we tell them to go ahead and do it.
Be confrontational in your presentations (Related SvN post: “Web Conferences: Where’s the outrage?”):
I was giving fifty or sixty lectures a year by myself. My style was confrontational: my talk to the Association of Railroad Workers was entitled “The Dying Railroad Industry”’ I told the Junior Secretaries’ annual conference “How to Stop Being a Secretary”’ and the Convention of Financial Executives was treated to “Doing Away with the Financial Executive.” When I spoke to the undergraduates at Brazil’s main business school, the theme was “Why Undergraduate Business Schools Are Unnecessary.”
How to run a meeting (Related SvN post: “How to make meetings useful”):
- Begin on time.
- Don’t start a meeting without first setting a time to stop.
- Go over the agenda in front of everyone.
- Delegate to one or more people any item that might take more time than is allotted for it.
- Don’t have meetings that last longer than 2 hours.
- Be a bear about interruptions. The only excuse for breaking into a meeting is a customer with a problem.
- Transform as many meetings as possible into telephone calls or quick conversations in the hall.
Fyi, these excerpts are no substitute for the whole book…if you like what you see here, go ahead and purchase the book.