No, not the Sarah Palin kind. This "maverick" is a business genius from Brazil. Ricardo Semler's book, Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace (1993), tells the story of Semco, a company Ricardo inherited from his father. After determining that his father's traditionalist style was robbing Semco greater business opportunity than anyone could imagine, Semler began dismantling conventional approaches to hierarchy, rank, privilege, titles, perks, salary and more to unleash the commitment of the company's workforce.
How did Semler implement such fundamental change? He started with a belief that rules, directives, and policy books only serve to (p. 97):
1. Divert attention from a company's objectives.
2. Provide a false sense of security for executives.
3. Create work for bean counters.
4. Teach workers to stone dinosaurs and start fires with sticks.
His skepticism about rules and policy manuals resulted in gradual deconstruction of most of the culture of the business he was entrusted to run by his father. Ricardo's imagination led him to follow his own intuition in a core commitment to treating others with respect. He took workers at all levels of the organization seriously by creating committees, increasing problem-solving, and replacing dependency with responsibility. When senior management hesitated and workers balked, Ricardo did not give up; he just found another pathway or modified his timing. The ultimate impact of change over time resulted in an organization with no organization hierarchy, hiring by peers, flexible work hours, self-designed workspaces, a positive role for unions, no retaliation for strikers, full participation, evaluation by subordinates, freedom in work attire, change, and pride. And, Semco maintained profitability while responding to economic volatility that made it near impossible to predict a fair price for its products.
Semler sums up the relevance of his experimentation to contemporary business when he says, "To survive in modern times, a company must have an organization structure that accepts change as its basic premise, lets tribal customs thrive, and fosters a power that is derived from respect, not rules. In other words, the successful companies will be the ones that put quality of life first. Do this and the rest - quality of product, productivity of workers, profits for all - will follow." (p. 289)
Impossible to imagine that such radical ideas could be implemented anywhere but in the most progressive, highly educated, stable economies in the world. Although I had to stretch my consciousness at numerous places throughout the book, the evidence is right there - progressive business practice can be implemented even with what are typically seen as organizations dependent on skilled labor, fraught with labor union vulnerability, and in a dazzlingly unpredictable economy (Brazil in the 1980s and 1990s). It worked in a very difficult environment and it could probably be adapted many other places as well.