One company is often lauded as ‘the world’s most innovative company-W L Gore. For many, Gore needs no introduction but for the few: W.L. Gore is the maker of Gore-Tex water and windproof fabrics, and a multitude of unique medical, electronic and industrial materials a host of other pioneering materials and products as diverse as synthetic vascular grafts, Elixir guitar strings, and Glide dental floss. Gore is a privately held global company, with $2.5 billion in revenue and 9,000 staff worldwide.
Gore encourages belief in the individual and organises around small teams. In their practices among other things, employees are equals (associates), who decide what projects to work on based on “their passion,” The company promote intimate communication and team work, and though others “look at this as an unbelievable expense, we see this as a catalyst of growth,” says Terri Kelly, President and CEO.
Terri Kelly is one of the few individuals at Gore with an actual title; leaders emerge by expressing a vision in clear enough terms to inspire others to follow. It’s an organization virtually without titles.
Creating a Culture for Innovation
By constantly pushing authority out to small teams, respecting and encouraging diversity and talent from different backgrounds and styles all signing on to the “Gore” way seems to be evolving well but according to them “it is still being figured out as it happens”
• They have a radical and always evolving management model
• They practice a “lattice” network structure connecting every individual in the organization to every other.
• Information flows freely in all directions, and personal communications would be the norm.
• Individuals and self-managed teams can go directly to anyone in the organization to get what they needed to be successful.
The outcome of this is where everyone is free to talk with everyone else!
Key enablers to make this work
• Information sharing and peer review are the norm.
• A strong focus on getting the environment right and the business stuff gets easy
• More coaches than bosses, lots of peer reviews.
• Belief that giving the right people the tools and knowledge will bring out the best in everyone.
• Trust individuals to do the right thing.
• The culture creates opportunity for everyone to make a contribution.
• High investment in team building.
• Divide and multiply concept. Never grow too much to limit bureaucracy.
• You’re only a leader if people want to follow you.
• Ability is gained through respect of your peers and this attracts followers.
• Hierarchy, on demand- who really has the knowledge or if it is situational is the norm.
• Listening constantly to the voice of the organization and their markets.
• Ambiguity never clarity to keep it constantly in ‘flux’
The real power lies in the way they practice innovation
• If you have a great idea you have to convince other people that it’s great, then you get to join and then your job is to keep them motivated for results.
• There are low barriers to experimentation that drives innovative thinking.
• Innovation- kept within boundaries- but leverage is mostly on the core
• Focus on best in class concepts- that offer unique benefits that will be valued b) are a ongoing source of sustainable advantage.
• Discretion to explore is earned over time
• Rigorous, transparent peer reviews
• Ever-evolving portfolio of tools and best practices
• Fitness for use- doing what it says it will do
• Relentless protection of IP
• Investments, not expenses
• Each associate has a sponsor
• The power of small teams
• Compensation based on contribution judged by peers
• Powerful sense of ownership
• Leaders provide a balance of challenge and support
• Don’t need lots of rules and hierarchy
• The power of influence is the key to unlock and make a contribution
• Valuing not a few but looking for unique contributions of many.
Action is prized, ideas encouraged and mistakes viewed as part of the creative process. They sincerely try to be fair to each other and to anyone they do business with. Associates are not assigned tasks, they each make their own commitments and keep them and lastly, everyone consults with each other before taking actions that might damage or actions that might be ‘below the waterline.’