A Big That Figured It Out Decades Ago
Some people are pioneers. Bill Gore was just that. In 1958, at the height of the Industrial Age Factory System, he created a company that foretold the Participation Age. It is a magnificent example of a big manufacturing company ($3billion 10,000 employees) that gets it and ignored the Industrial Age altogether. They are named one of the best places to work every year. Following are reasons for their success.
What Is Gore’s Secret Sauce?
Leaders as Servants; No Managers – “Eschewing hierarchy and bosses, W. L. Gore encourages a team-based environment— and there are no executive perks. “At Gore, we don’t manage people,” wrote founder Bill Gore. “We expect people to manage themselves.”
In 1967, Bill Gore described their culture in a paper as a “Lattice Structure”. This wasn’t a paper he wrote; it was a life he lived out through his company. Here are some quotes from that paper that show how W. L. Gore lives as a Participation Age company:
“A lattice organization involves self-commitment and natural leadership, and lacks assigned or assumed authority… It is through these lattice organizations that things get done, and most of us delight in going around the formal procedures and doing things the straight forward and easy way.” Bill Gore
Attributes of the Lattice
• No fixed or assigned authority
• Sponsors (mentors) not bosses
• Natural leadership defined by followership [Not titles]
• Objectives set by those who must make things happen
• Tasks and functions organized through commitments – Each person in the Lattice interacts directly with every other person with no intermediary. [Not through managers]
Leader Different leaders guide associates in different activities. The title “leader” is earned only by gaining followers. No managers.
Sponsors [mentor newer associates]
• Engage in a one-on-one relationship
• Focus on the development and growth of the associate
Work Teams and Leadership
Leadership evolves based on knowledge, skill, experience or capability in the particular activity in which a team is involved. Leaders are associates who have developed followers. Teams or groups formulate their own plans of action rather than having them dictated to them. Each associate self-commits to projects or responsibilities.
Communications – Direct, Not Through Managers
There is no hierarchy of communication, no need to go through one associate to reach another. Associates are free to go directly to whomever they believe has an answer.
Salaries Set By Peers
Associates rank each other twice a year on contribution to the success of the enterprise, and functional teams assign pay according to the rankings.
A Traditional Manufacturer Escapes the Industrial Age
Semco has 3,000 employees and makes things like washing machines, meat slicers, and heavy industrial machinery. They practice everything W. L. Gore practices, and more. The message here is if the most traditional of manufacturing companies can escape the Industrial Age, it leaves the rest of us without an excuse.
At Semco, the two ruling assumptions are the opposite of Fredrick Taylor’s two “stupid and lazy” assumptions:
– “trust in adult behavior” — assume that the basic human drive is to be productive, to build something lasting, and to contribute to something bigger than themselves, and
– as adults, every person’s rhythm is different when it comes to when, where, and how they do their best work.
Some of the practical out workings of these two ruling assumption:
1) No HR department – the leaders at Semco do not abdicate their responsibility to the Stakeholders so they could focus on operations and making more money in the short term. They see operations and people in an integrated way, and not a function to be segmented out to HR professionals.
2) No policy documents – none anywhere in the company. Adults will figure out together what matters.
3) No headquarters – There are various facilities in many locations. None of them reports to a flagpole at some “most important” location.
4) Six or more leaders take on the function of “CEO” – and pass it around every six months
5) No job titles – everyone is just an associate – no senior, junior or part-time labels.
6) Stakeholders all decide their own working hours, including all manufacturing associates, and find teams of people to work with that share those life rhythms. Ricardo Semler says, “We want people to work on a structure of their own,” says Semler. “The day that we measured people by time clocked is long gone. We don’t want to know when or how you’re working, but only if you’re fulfilling your commitment.”
7) All 3,000+ regularly receive the company’s financial statements – There are classes to help them understand how to make senses of them.
8) Each small team is fully self-governing and has to figure out how to best contribute to the larger picture at Semco. You can be voted out of Semco every six months by the people who work with you. In my opinion, this is one of the key reasons Semco’s model works – no one can brown-nose or BS their way to safety. W. L. Gore uses this same model.
9) All meetings are voluntary and the first two people there become “board members” with a bigger say during the meeting.
10) The responsibility for reviewing and setting targets falls squarely on every employee for themselves – No one else sets their targets or reviews them.
As you can see, there is a remarkable level of independence, inter-dependence and responsibility placed on each person. People can even start their own businesses using company resources, and many have.
Others Are Already Doing It
We have mentioned many times that size, age of company or type of industry has no bearing on whether a company can escape the Industrial Age and become a Participation Age company. The above are only two examples. We have found dozens of companies in almost any industry and all sizes that are building Participation Age companies in which the hallmark of the company is “sharing”, including TD Industries, Whole Foods, Wegmans, Zappos, 37Signals, Trader Joes, Container Store, Stonyfield Yogurt and hundreds of others.
Making It Work For You
Building a post-Industrial front office isn’t easy, but it isn’t complex either. If you love the idea of building a company that will last for generations and leave a fabulous legacy, this process will be a joy for you, even if you still find it hard. This is not a size-based model, it’s the model that companies of any size who want escape the gravitational pull of the Industrial Age will have to employ in order to be successful in the 21st century.
As the Industrial Age fades and the Participation Age grows, there are more Stakeholders than ever out there looking for you, just as much as you are looking for them. For the next decade you will do a lot of weeding out of “employees”. But more and more you will find people coming in prepared to be Stakeholders who will hit the ground running with you to build a lasting business with a great legacy.
This is a summary of a chapter from Chuck’s new book, “Why Employees Are ALWAYS a Bad Idea (And Other Business Diseases of the Industrial Age)”. Click here to pre-order this new ground breaking book at a discount on IndieGoGo.com until July 28.