Leadership Summit 2010 | Terri Kelly – When Leaders Emerge: The Story of W.L. Gore & Associates

Posted on August 5, 2010


“We recognize the importance of fostering a work environment where people feel motivated, engaged, and passionate about the work they do.”

SESSION 6a – Interview with Jim Mellado.

[NOTE: Due to live blogging, this is not a full transcript, rather excerpts from the interview. Many statements are not exact quotes.]

MELLADO: What were the founders of Gore trying to do?

KELLY: If you create the right foundation and values, that fundamentally will drive your success. To be innovative, you have to create a market of collaboration, people that want to work together. Gore learned from DuPont the power of small teams, and asked, “Why can’t you forge an entire company out of that idea? Organize around opportunities” is where they feel that they can make a difference. We are also a peer-based organization. It’s not the leader and everyone else. Their job is to make everyone else successful. People are much more invested in the whole.

M: “On-Demand Hierarchy.” What is that?

K: We still have structure. However, if we have a formal hierarchy that is fixed, then it is assumed that they run the organization. If it is flexible, then it is based on who really has the best information. Who is driving the situation is very much situational. That shift allows more of the population to contribute to the decision making. In fixed hierarchy, all decisions go up and down the ladder.

M: What is “Latter vs. Lattice” organization?

K: We’re really all connected through a series of “nodes,” and we all want to connect with each other. So, instead of two contact points between your superior, everyone is connecting with each other. Go directly to the source. We don’t tell them what to do, or what projects to work on. What is different here is that leadership plays a very different role. Leaders don’t tell the organization what to do. Leaders have to lead through influence. The difference is that you want the individual to feel ownership. Rather than the leader having the passion and conviction, you want the energy to shift to the broader organization. It’s so much more powerful when it is felt by the whole organization.

M: How does this not turn into herding cats? How do you get people in alignment.

K: Common foundation and values.

M: What are they?

K: Belief in the individual, respect that everyone can make a significant contribution. Give them the right tools, they can flourish. The power of small teams. We’re all in the same boat. We do a lot more as a ship. The entire enterprise benefits when we all succeed. Long-term view. Our success is not financial alone. Certainly important, but our success is also measured by our work environment.

M: Practically, how do I get money for an idea.

K: A lot of internal selling. Job one, convince others that it’s a good idea. Not all ideas bubble to be good ideas. How much passion does the individual have? How many other associates can that individual get? Then we use a peer reviewed process. What is the process that allows the ideas to be vetted? “Success-factors” are the critically important things that make our company successful. Then we turn to the teams and have them evaluate.

Associates want to make things succeed. We have a very comprehensive view of contribution. Built-in-competition, that everyone wants to be viewed by the peers as making a contribution. We then plot compensation. Those who are making the greatest contribution are paid accordingly. Our success is very much going to be measured by the organization, not just by one key view.

People sometimes confuse what I need to do to make more money and what is my passion. This allows people to pursue their passion which is true to who they are.

M: More coaches then bosses. Explain.

K: That understanding that the leader is responsible for mentoring/coaching is very limiting. The idea was put in very early that there is a role of a sponsor, someone who has made a commitment to maximizing their potential. Sometimes there is a leader who plays both roles, but you also have to remember what hat you’re wearing. This allows them to have a sponsor who really believes in them. This has been extremely valuable in accelerating the growth of our associates.

M: Why does Gore have multiple plants, all within the same area? That seems cost-prohibitive?

K: How to divide to learn how to multiply. We have found a different level of engagement and ownership as people reach out to build the relationships. If you have 1000 people, do you know how hard it is to strengthen those relationships? There is a loss of personality and team. So, keeping it to about 200 associates keeps you from diminishing collaboration.

M: Scalable? Global?

K: Absolutely. What binds us together is that common sense of values. Who doesn’t want to be believed in? Who doesn’t want to make a difference? Those beliefs are transferable to those locations. The trick is the local culture and traditions. So you have to respect the differences, but what brings us together is the common set of values.

M: Practical things you do to protect the culture at GORE?

K: Hiring process is critical. Our culture is made up of associates. We spend an incredible amount of time in “behavioral interviewing.” Making sure they truly fit their values. Leadership sets the tone. Everyone is watching whether the actions and decisions truly align.

M: What is the “waterline principle?”

K: Bill Gore hated policies and manuals. But was concerned that if everything is in a manual that tells what to do, it’s not tapping into their wisdom. If you’re going to consider an action, a decision that could put the enterprise at harm, we don’t drill holes below the water line, ‘cause it could sink the ship. You had tremendous freedoms above the water line. But if you start thinking about things that could compromise our reputation, values, etc., that was off-limits.

M: Leadership is defined by followership? What makes a leader here at GORE?

K: They’re only a leader if there are people that want to follow them. A leader always knows that they have not arrived. They understand that they are earning that followership and respect. Through our contribution process, you start to see who really is leading and getting that followership. They get there because they have unique strengths, and they are acknowledged by their peers.

M: Leaders take a lot of time explaining their decisions. Reasoning?

K: We encourage. Your role does shift. We think this is precious time, and we must reach out to the organization getting them to understand the reasoning behind the decisions. “Bring it to life.” Using language in their decisions and actions, ‘cause that is what reinforces to the organization that we walk the talk.

M: What is your job as CEO?

K: Stay out of the way (laughs). One of the beauties of this, there is no way that I could be the most knowledgeable, so that temptation goes away. The Gore’s established a continued adapting and change-based-on-the-environment culture. How do we stay true to values, and ensure that we are adapting to the culture and environment around us? How do we continue to get better as an organization? I spend a lot of time with the leaders to ensure they are improving in that regard.

M: Can anyone lead at GORE?

K: Yes. We a survey, “Do I view myself as a leader?” Over 50% said “yes.” How powerful is that that so many believe they can lead. Think about distributing the leadership load, in leading a project, or multiple teams. We see leadership in a broad sense.

Everyone develops as they are being developed.

— VIA —

This year’s Summit has made it really hard to pin down a favorite. This session was definitely in the running. The resonance of belief, trust, empowerment, teams, culture, values, and leadership were so poignantly laid out, in practical terms, easy to understand, convincing, and proven, it will be hard to walk away from this talk and not have serious thoughts towards reconsidering old management and leadership styles.

Absolutely fantastic. And as said before, prayerfully more churches would implement these values and cultural ideas into how they operate as an organization.

Turning the Pyramid Upside Down

“The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12)

“Our model requires leaders to look at their roles differently. They’re not commanders; they’re not linchpins. Their job is to make the rest of the organization successful.” – Terri Kelly

“In my experience, most managers support he idea of empowerment, but become notceably less enthusiastic when confronted with the necessary corollary — to enfranchise employees you must disenfranchise managers. Yet … the redistribution of power is one of the primary means for making organizations more adaptable, more innovative, and more highly engaging.” – Gary Hamel

“You have to look at the values that are embedded in your company: What behaviors have been rewarded and reinforced over the decades? Is it a culture that really believes in and encourages individuals? Does it foster a collaborative spirit? Does it encourage knowledge sharing? … One of the biggest mistakes an organization can make is to articulate all these great values but then not live up to them.”

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4).