The Experimental Revolution

If you’re close to LifeXchange headquarters, you might have heard us speak in uneasy and awed tones about The Experiment. Before I explain anything about this period in LifeXchange, you’ll need to watch this Tedtalk in order to understand how we came upon this mad inspiration.

Watched it? Okay, now you have had a tiny glimpse into the radical change that took place within LifeXchange administration over the last three months. In a nutshell, Semler has successfully led a multi-million dollar business in a radically different way. By challenging old ideas that function on the premise of: ‘we’ve always done things this way’, he’s transformed his workplace environment into one of profound efficacy, where employees are treated as adults and influence and passion inspire productivity.


Needless to say, Ricardo Semler’s challenging questions resonated with us. In seeing ourselves as ‘preachers’ of the Whiteheadian leadership style, and striving for integrity through practicing what we preach, we took Semler’s insights to heart and realized that we weren’t satisfied with the answers we had to all his ‘Why’s?

If we were honest, 2016 did not start well at LifeXchange headquarters. The five of us were there at 9am on 4 January, subdued and quiet, clearly wishing we were still on holiday. I believe Semler’s words came at the right time for us. There were frustrations and stress that had been building up for years, and we were constantly trying new ways to make things work better and bring change…but unfortunately without results. And then Semler came along and showed us how to do it. Simple! Well, yes and no… Let me share some insights from the not-often-walked journey of a change advocate as we put Semler-style business to the test!

“Why does the boss or manager set the monthly targets, and not the employees themselves?” – Ricardo Semler

Coming from a manufacturing company, Semler put this to the test with amazing results within his factory staff teams. So, we adapted the approach to our context, and sat as a team to put our own month’s targets up, cleverly devising an incentive for ourselves if we reached all the goals. Despite our best efforts to take it easy, we couldn’t help but put ambitious goals up (such as: in specific projects where mentoring was stagnating, to have each mentor contact their mentees at least twice in the month). Immediately, our thinking changed, and our energy levels around how to make this happen (should I jump in the car and drive the mentee to the mentor?!) spiked.

Having the whole team involved in the goal-setting process created a much more cohesive dynamic, because suddenly I cared very much about how my struggling colleague was doing on the bookkeeping when I knew what would happen if the goal wasn’t completed. And naturally, as a team not everyone is excited about every single goal. So here is when the democratic vote comes into play, each of us having to provide motivations behind the work we want to do. The results of which are fascinating, but crucial to help us determine who needs to be involved in which goals based on interest, ability and most importantly, passion!

“Why, in the age of the internet and cellphones, do we have office hours?” – Ricardo Semler

Following on from the goals, one of the first things we changed was the expectation that we had to be in the office between certain times every day. Now, we could come in when we wanted and leave when we wanted. In fact, we could take the whole day off if we really wanted to – no leave forms needed! All of this was conducted under the agreement that if we met our targets, there would be a reward for all of us.

2.18.16Personally, I think this might have been the most challenging change we made. I found myself constantly trying to justify why I would come in a bit later or leave earlier (i.e. 1pm), even at times having conversations with my colleagues in my head! But, realising that there was no need for justifications, since there were no expectations any more, I found it getting easier and easier to adapt.

In this area, suddenly productivity came into focus in a new way! It became startlingly obvious to each of us personally, and also to all our colleagues how much or how little we were actually working during the time we were at the office. There was no need to do the ‘pretend I’m working hard, with my computer screen up on emails, but yet busy on facebook on my phone’ move. Or the ‘I can’t concentrate enough to start this next item on my to-do list, let me just watch this youtube video first’ move. Because, if you weren’t busy you could just leave! In fact, one of our team members struggled majorly with this since it became very aware how little they were accomplishing on a daily basis, and had been hiding it (even to themselves) by driving in every day to the office to look busy, but at the end of the day had only sent one email! And as much as I struggled to let go of the office hours concept, there was still this team dynamic that kept me working much harder and longer than I would have if completely left up to myself. Would my team want to continue working with me if I took a week off and left them to struggle with the goals?

“Why can’t employees determine their own salaries?” –Ricardo Semler

You’d think that given the chance, all of us would demand the R1 000 000 salary of a CEO of our company? Well, it’s not as easy or predictable as that. When we put this question forward at one of our Monday morning team meetings, the answers were surprising. No one stated more than R2000 more than what everyone else would have agreed on for their monthly salary. In fact, in one instance the answer was actually less than they were being paid now! When we discussed the experience, we realised the issue behind our salaries is our own personal value. How much do we feel we contribute to the company or team? And because of the team, we can’t inflate or deflate this amount too much, because we know that people will challenge us. And so, there is a natural balancing equation that keeps us at a more truthful estimate of the value we add to the company for what we get at the end of the month.salary-packaging

When we thought wider than our experience, we could also each recall times when we’ve heard people (or ourselves) complain about their salaries, and about how they clearly deserve much more, i.e. they are not valued accurately. But there are also those people who won’t share how much they earn. Could it be that they actually don’t believe that they are worth the amount that they are earning? I challenge you to ask yourself and colleagues why!

In summary, in true LifeXchange style, we jumped headfirst into this revolution! And as any wiser voice than us would have said,  we consequently experienced huge amounts of stress, anxiety, tension, etc. for all three months!* But, I can truly say that we are a stronger, more honest, much closer and more efficient team after this short time. We all acknowledge that we still have a long way to go in all of these areas. But, the foundation has been laid and we know that change has happened because, in the words of our founder, “we can never go back!

by Tammy Mewes

*For anyone wanting to follow in this change advocacy journey: take heed, it might be better to make changes slower over a longer period of time, to protect your sanity!

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