The Semco Style 5 Principles to transform the way we work

Build Process NOT Control

– Getting rid of unhappy by-products

There was too much policy at Semco, and not enough thought, judgement and common sense.– Ricardo Semler


This practice refers to a purposeful reduction of control mechanisms related to the (manufacturing) process. This lose way of doing things is possible because of a disciplined and timely measurement of negotiated results of the process itself. It allows for workers to design the most effective process for delivering these results, rather than to have to abide by policy manuals or rule books of controls.


When there is too much policy (kept in place by controls to monitor the rules laid down by policy), there often isn’t enough thought, judgement and common sense. People make more and better decisions on their own, usually being better qualified to make those decisions than supervisors, planners of manuals, etc. It is possible, subsequently, to eliminate organizational levels and hierarchy and design those by relevance and need.


Revoke corporate policy manuals. Let those who feel instructions are needed send them out, but do not establish controls to monitor compliance.

How to get started?

Start a discussion about the pros and cons of (policy) manuals: Include managers, supervisors and authors. Suggest abolishing may be a good idea. Discuss which rules might minimally be necessary.
Stop re-enforcing the policies in the manuals: Suggest employees start using common sense and making their own decisions, and re-inforce this suggestion time and again.
Revoke/collect the procedure manuals: Do not replace them. Deal with questions about this as they arise.

When (NOT) to use it?

Use it for so-called arbitrary controls and policies.
Of course safety regulations, legal codes etc. are to be respected and enforced.

Level to implement



Make sure processes are clear to all involved.

Trust employees and treat them as responsible adults.



Use policy manuals to describe how to execute processes.

Establish controls to monitor compliance with policies.


People think for themselves, make decisions on their own.

Fewer staff needed to compile reports, monitor compliance, etc.


Unable to use economies of scale certain policies make possible.


Workers in our manufacturing cells have a way of managing more and more of the manufacturing process. Workers also recruit and expel members of their teams. Today, anyone who applies for a job as a machinist at Semco will be interviewed by a group of machinists, not an executive, which is the worst thing that can happen to him, because he might be able to talk his way past a manager, but not past people who know all about machinists and may one day be his coworkers. If they say yes, the person has the job.