Fortune has published its annual “The 100 Best Companies To Work For” (Milton Moskowitz and Robert Levering, March 15, 2015, pp. 97–154). One company in particular stands out because of its longevity on this list: W.L. Gore & Associates. Since 1998, Gore has been on the list each year.
The first clue about Gore’s sustained superior corporate culture is its extremely low turnover of 3%. Employees genuinely love working there:
“[Gore is] famous for making employees deliriously happy.” (p. 130)
Another positive indicator involves Gore’s organizational structure. Instead of any of the traditional hierarchies, Gore is described as:
“a ‘latticework’ of strong interconnected talents woven together like a tapestry. . . . Managers are called ‘leaders,’ who oversee teams and divisions, and all employees are known as ‘associates.’” (p. 132)
Gore is big on empowering the individual. Although this dynamic scares some companies because they believe that top leadership might lose control, sometimes “losing control” is the best way to gain control over the greatest future achievements.
Not every company is brave enough to reassess ruthlessly its strategy concerning corporate culture. This is clearly not the case with Gore. In 2014, as part of a strategy reassessment, the company did feedback sessions by dividing the workforce into two groups: the millennials and the older-than-the-millennials generations. The insights derived were extremely helpful to maintaining the positive corporate culture. Many practices and ideas developed that will keep Gore in its favored status, such as these:
“In the past, at meetings every associate would go around the table and say how many years he had logged at the company. No more. [CEO Terri Kelly explains] ‘what we realized is that that really turns people off. . . . Young associates might think, . . . “I’m not going to have any credibility until I’ve been here 30 years!”’
The millennials also provided a strong fresh impetus for helping Gore to modernize its IT technology and processes, thereby keeping the company on the cutting edge in how it does business.
As I see it, Gore teaches us to remember these fundamentals about achieving and maintaining a superior corporate culture:
- Always put your employees first.
- Make corporate-culture strategy just as important as business strategy.
- Never underestimate demographic and generational differences; intentionally choose to capitalize on them.
- Maintain a schedule of regular and diverse feedback sessions; act upon the insights gained.
- Seek new ideas and insights independent of your preconceived notions about their origins.
- Do not let tradition bind your organizational style; use what will work for you.