I was re-reading Ricardo Semler’s “Maverick” the other day, when I was tickled by his question, “What would you rather have, the tail of an elephant or an entire ant?”
Of course it helps to know the context. After all, unless you are the elephant or an old-school maharajah wanting an elephant’s tail to keep the flies off you, there cannot be much demand for elephant tails!
Actually, the quote comes at the end of the chapter in which Semler talks about profit-sharing and the fact that employees at Semco are entitled to 23% of the profits. Effectively he was the principle “donor” in this arrangement, and he conceded that he felt 23% was “awfully high.” However, he explains his decision to go along with it by saying, “But I kept telling myself I stood to make at least as much money in partnership with a motivated workforce as I would as the sole beneficiary of the fruits of less inspired workers.”
Wow. Here’s someone who really understands the power of ownership and the glorious, potent effect it has on employee engagement.
His point is that employee ownership is what unleashes the true economies of scale and unless you have a fair and equitable basis for sharing profits you are basically operating with at least one hand tied behind your back. And, in case you think this is latent or blatant socialism, he makes the point elsewhere that “Few ideas are as capitalist as profit-sharing.”
So where do you stand? Do you want to hang on to your elephant’s tail, or do you want the ant?