22 sep Transforming your business to an Employee-Centric Company!
At Adept we specialize in creating software solutions for small and medium-sized companies. We are based in Suriname and are responsible for creating mobile apps, websites, webshop and custom web applications. When I founded Adept in 2014, I first started operating the company in a typical hierarchy structure. I was the Managing Director and the only shareholder. My vision was to become a total solution provider for IT issues, a company with competence centers (divisions) based upon the different proficiencies in ICT. We started out with four divisions Mobile apps, Custom Software, Websites and Open-Source solutions. Each division was appointed a manager.
We had an open and free culture within the company, but I still noticed a low sense of responsibility with some of the employees. It felt like I was motivating employees instead of inspiring them and often got resistance when we tried to implement new ideas for a better performance. Something as standard as an hour registration system was near impossible to implement. The company was not operating in the way I thought it should. For me one of the main eye openers was when I offered company shares, none of the employees were interested. It made me realize that the way I was running the company was not the right way for my employees, nor for me. I was not happy running my own company. Can you imagine, a dream coming true of owning your own company and you are not happy? There had to be a better way!
I started educating myself to see if I could lead Adept better. I began reading a lot and came across articles of Ricardo Semler. Ricardo Semler is a Brazilian entrepreneur. He is the CEO and main owner of Semco SA, a Brazilian conglomerate that is known for its radical form of industrial democracy. He operated in a time of hyperinflation, an insecure financial time in Brazil. He wrote a book called Maverick which was a bestseller in 1993. In this book he details the transformation of Semco with lots of examples and use cases that worked for Semco. One of his quotes really hit home:
‘If you have to give back, you probably took too much’
I also came across another quote by Clayton M. Christensen, which made me think a lot about the profitability of our company: ‘Steve Jobs and Apple taught us that profit is not the ultimate goal, but rather a consequence of something greater’. If profit is not a goal, the focus of the company shifts. The only benefactor of profit is the shareholder, and that was me. So, it was easy to eliminate this as a goal. I looked at all my expenses and wondered what do I really need to live a comfortable life? I made a list of all that was important for my family and me. I did cross off a lot of things which I deemed not necessary. At this point I decided to change my salary to a lower level and take only what I need and give back to my employees. Not only financially, but also in every other aspect.
Inspired by Semler I knew I wanted to transform Adept to an Employee-Centric company. In 2017 I gave a presentation to my colleagues about Semler and his way of thinking. I copied excerpts from ‘The Survivor Manual’ of Semco. An example of one of the rules in the manual you see on the right. The presentation went well, and we decided together to implement the following changes:
- Democratic decision making: Every week we have a meeting, where anyone can set a discussion point on the agenda. If necessary, we decide what to do based upon the majority of votes. I as managing director have no veto power. The acceptance of decisions is much higher this way.
- Flexible working hours: Everyone can set their own working hours. We focus on results, instead of micromanaging.
- No set vacation days: Anyone can take leave whenever they want and for how long they want. They just need to send a message in the company group app.
- No dress code: most of our people wear shorts to work. When there is a meeting with a client, we do wear the appropriate clothes.
- No job titles: everyone is equal. For the outside we do have job titles because that is often expected, but for us, it really does not matter.
- Workplace flexibility: anyone can choose to work at home or at another place they would like. At the office we do strive to have the best working environment and most of the employees decide to work at the office.
- Transparent financial administration: The financial administration is open to everyone in the company. Every month we have our monthly financial meeting where all the necessary financial numbers are presented. In this meeting we also compare the budget (the budget is set up by all the employees at the beginning of the new year) with the realized results.
- No employee reviews: we discuss informally how things are going, often at lunch.
- Employee set salaries: every employee can set their own salary. This may sound very strange, but many people know what they would like to earn and what their role is within the company. By sharing the finances and creating the budget together, the employees know what is financially responsible. At Adept salaries are an investment, not an expense! Side note: One of my personal goals is that everyone within the company has the same salary, but we have not yet reached this goal.
We also changed our vision of operating Adept:
- Profit is not our goal, but a consequence of the way we operate
- We do what we like! (Sometimes we chose jobs which are not profitable for us, but are fun to do or teach us a new technique)
- We will create the ultimate working environment
- We strive for a great work-life balance for our employees
- We try to continuously reinvent ourselves
- We want to have a great relationship with our customers
4 years now we have changed our path and guess what, this year employees will receive their first shares!
In following articles, I will share more insight in our operations at Adept and discuss point of views in the hope of inspiring entrepreneurs to adopt our Adept way. Leave a comment if you have any questions.