Fresh START

By Bouley, Jeffrey | PM Network, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Fresh START


Bouley, Jeffrey, PM Network


PMI GLOBAL CONGRESS 2005-LATIN AMERICA WILL INVIGORATE ATTENDEES WITH A MAVERICK KEYNOTE SPEAKER BEFORE PRESENTING A COMPREHENSIVE CURRICULUM.

PROJECT MANAGERS who attend the PMI Global Congress 2005-Latin America, held 31 October to 2 November 2005 in Panama, can expect to hear a distinctly different perspective on management style. Keynote speaker Ricardo Frank Semler plans to challenge traditional assumptions about how companies need to be run and how its activities need to be managed, including at the project management level.

"There is a new architecture for organizations that is based on much more freedom and flexibility, making employees want to go to work on Monday morning," says Mr. Semler, who also is the author of the books Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace and The Seven-Day Weekend: Changing the Way Work Works. "All the rest falls into place when this occurs. But it is a rare thing, and expecting passion from the majority of employees is not realistic. The design of organizations, based on the military model, does not entice this format."

In 1982, at the age of 24, Mr. Semler took control of equipment manufacturer Semler & Co.-a business founded and previously managed by his father-and completely altered the management structure, a move that many experts predicted would kill the company. Instead, despite some initial rough spots as managers and staff adjusted to the changes of the company, sales grew from US$35 million in 1990 to USSlOO million in 1996 and the company became one of the most sought-after employers in Brazil, according to Thunderbird-The Garvin School of International Management, Glendale, Ariz., USA. In addition, the company, which manufactured some 2,000 products by the late 1990s, diversified into banking and environmental services.

" [The company's] organizational structure, like many historical Latin American enterprises, was a paternalistic, pyramidal hierarchy led by an autocratic leader with a rule for every contingency," notes the Thunderbird case study. "Upon taking office, the younger Semler began dramatic organizational restructuring. Among other things, he immediately renamed the company Semco, eliminated all secretarial positions, and implemented an aggressive product diversification strategy."

Embrace a New Way

In his own company, Mr. Semler encouraged a system in which employees on the production line determined when they would come to work, managers set their own salaries and employees picked their own bosses, among other nontraditional work structures. He admits that this management style isn't for everyone, but he does insist that much can be achieved in terms of greater productivity, effectiveness and flexibility by creating a more employee-centric workplace.

And, despite the growing stature and success of project management in Latin America, it isn't too early to think about ways to make the project management process better, Mr. Semler says. "Project management is fraught with people issues ... that can be solved if the mindset is right-and that mindset depends on giving up many of the controls and structured timetables and designs that so many project managers consider, ironically, to be paramount to their profession," he says. "The challenge is to realize that classic methods of timelines, dates, targets and controls are anachronistic and can be replaced by versatile, organizationally unhinged workers."

Workers at Semco are cross-trained for multiple jobs and are expected to assume greater control and responsibility for their job-level operations, Mr. Semler explains in Maverick. Workers vote on large decisions, such as buying another company. Before people can be hired or promoted, they must be approved by those who will be working for them, and managers are graded annually based on employee surveys. The former "corporate pyramid" with 12 layers of management now has three layers modeled on concentric circles, with "counselors" providing oversight and support as needed. …

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