Chemical Companies

By: Stuart White 22-11-2019

Categories:HRMC Articles written by Managing Director, Stuart White,

I can still remember the day when I read my first Peter Drucker article and the impact it had on me.   This particular article introduced me to the concept of participation and how, when employees are allowed to participate in the business (really become involved), they become invested and committed which creates a heightened sense of purpose and from this place they can start to creatively solve problems. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before and certainly unlike anything I had ever witnessed in any business environment in Pretoria in the 80s.  It blew me away - the idea that you would set objectives for employees and measure them was far away from what was happening in business back then and so it was the birth of performance management, at least to me anyway.  Its a philosophy which has served me well in my own businesses.  

I was also influenced by ‘Maverick, the autobiography of businessman, Ricardo Semier and the company he managed in Brazil, Semco.   It’s the story of how he took his family business and transformed it into a multi billion dollar empire but this isn’t just a rags to riches story. What is so interesting is how he radically developed management, labour relations and the work environment to achieve these goals. It was the ultimate example of workplace democracy, allowing his workers to set their own production quotas and when he did, finding that employees would voluntarily work overtime to meet them. Profit sharing was practiced right down to factory floor level, instead of large bonuses only for senior management, so all employees could see a reward for their efforts. The company sought to streamline and simplify processes and avoid complicated business regulations and became known as the company without rules – no mission statement, organisational chart or any written policies at all.  Management without a rulebook.

If that seems too radical perhaps you want to take a quicker approach from the One Minute Manager where you will learn to use three easy-to-master management techniques that have “already changed the lives of millions”: One Minute Goal Setting, One Minute Praising and One Minute Reprimands. It is labelled ‘deceptively simple’, and ‘measurably effective’, and its approach claims that its secrets will help you boost profits, productivity and purpose immediately. I have certainly used some of this stuff too in my career – spoiler alert, sometimes it has worked and sometimes it hasn’t!

And now there’s the ‘Organic’ philosophy .  Recently when tasked with building a new division, the team which I had put together opted to adopt a more ‘organic’ approach.  You may well ask what that means. I didn’t know either and I didn’t ask, and as a result very little happened. I guess the idea was to have a directionless, loosie goosie‘let’s see where this goes,  ‘go with the flow’ approach or you could say ‘laissez-faire’, the French term for leaving things to take their own course. As if my team were sculptors with a block of marble in front of them, hoping their project would take shape“organically” but it didn’t work.   Note to self – participation doesn’t guarantee commitment or creativity! 

I wonder about that word organic and what it’s supposed to mean in business. Originally, it referred to all living matters – or organisms – and later it was associated with food production without the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals.  So, I have to presume it means a natural’ process free from……. I dunno, unnatural things?

I have also heard the word used in relationships. My daughter tells me she doesn’t want to use dating apps as she would rather meet someone organically,  which I think means that she wants to walk into a book store and bump into Mr Right who happens to  be searching for the same book at the same time  and there is a chemical attraction but not  artificial chemistry, as in dating apps.  My reaction was ‘Well l isn’t that just an excuse to be lazy?  The ultimate example of being reactive, waiting for chance to roll the dice, the wheel of fortune, serendipity etc., rather than a proactive search.

A quick Google and I discover that there really are such things as organic organisations. These bodies decentralise both tasks and decisions so that the company can adapt more quickly to changing circumstances. I am further enlightened that organic organisational structures work best in ‘fluid and unpredictable business climates, in which a mechanistic hierarchical structure might not respond quickly enough’.  

Hmmm, I really didn’t get a sense that this was what the team was going for.

So, here is the rub. I have been in management for well over 30 years and I am still trying out recipes, still trying to figure it out - spicing it up, introducing a bit of fusion, exercising creativity. The proof of these puddings, as always, is in the taste and some worked, and others didn’t.    And what I have learned is that just because General Electric did this or Ricardo Semier did that, you have to figure what is right for you and the people you have working for you. People are different, times change and organic is so last year.  Veganism is new cuisine – no fish, no flesh, no fowl.   So that just leaves us with robots!