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Tell me about hiring at Semco.

When you want somebody hired, let's say it's for a leadership position of some kind, you go to the system and you advertise that you think someone is needed. Then on a given day—say, Wednesday at 4 o'clock, meeting room 11—you say we're going to discuss this, whoever's interested. Because of the fundamental tenet that we don't want anyone involved in anything that they really don't want to do, all of our meetings are on a voluntary basis, meaning that the meetings are known, and then whoever is interested can and will show up, and should also leave the moment they become uninterested. It is a bit unnerving to watch these things, because people come in, plunk their things down, and then 15 minutes later somebody else says "Bye bye, see you." But the fact is that whoever is left there has a stake in the decision being made, and the decision is final in the sense that it's going to be implemented after the meeting.

You mentioned that the meeting gets announced on a system. What's that?

A central Web site, which is the way in which everyone communicates or knows what's going on.

Okay, so there's a voluntary, Wednesday, four o'clock meeting about the new position and . . .

The people who show up put together a template of what are the characteristics that person needs to have, and what is the weight of each of these characteristics. They'll then go looking for that person by putting an ad in the paper, or through a headhunter. And when the resumes come in, basically, whoever started the whole thing will distribute packs of these resumes to people, because there's no HR department to do it. You'll take ten home, I'll take ten home and Andrew will take ten home, and whatever I wrote A-plus on, for example, I'll give to you, and the rest, we'll just send a thank you.

Now a lot of things happen in this process. Because 40 of us are looking at ten resumes each, or ten of us are looking at 40 resumes each, I'm going to locate people who are not ideal for this job but that could be ideal for another job, and that's something that disappears completely when an HR department does this, because they're basically screening between yes and no—it's a digital response. With our system, we're creating an analog response, meaning, maybe this person would be great for I don't know who, and then we send that curriculum vitae on to someone else.

Once we've found ten who had an A-plus out of the 400, we will do a collective interview of all the candidates, which most people don't like, and which I found very strange in the beginning.

Wait. All the candidates get interviewed together?


I'd hope my voice was strong that day.

In a system like this, let's say two out of the ten don't speak at all because it's not their nature to interrupt. Well, the other five, ten, 15 on our side will want to hear from those two. So at a certain point they'll say, "Brad, you haven't spoken at all, what do you have to say?" If what you say is thoughtful, you might be, with your one minute's worth, ahead of everybody else.

Under your set-your-own-hours policy, do employees work fewer hours, or longer and harder?

Last week CNN spent four days with a bunch of our guys probing in all directions, and they concluded that our people balance their lives much better, and that there's an unusually high number of people who take their kids to school, etc. But a recent statistic of ours shows that 27 percent of our people are online on Sunday at 8 p.m.—27 percent. So they probably do work hard.

In some ways it's an unforgiving system, because you have to figure out your own answer for how to best spend your time. When you don't come in on Monday morning, absolutely nothing happens. But when you're sitting on the beach Monday morning at 11 o'clock, and you're the only one on the beach—that's a different story. Maybe then it's worth it to work a little harder. No one really knows how to measure the value of that moment.

This article was originally published on 04-01-2004
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