What if Your Organization Isn't Plugged-In? Find One!
The downside of knowing how well an organization, team, or task can be managed is that you know how good things can be, even if your current situation doesn't match your vision. If your organization, team, or task is not plugging in by mixing human, technical, and organizational features together in ways that you kow would be better, you can end up feeling like you are standing outside in the cold looking through a window into a happy, warm party. I often felt that way as I interviewed top contributors for my book, The Plugged-In Manager, and have outlined two strategies for dealing with the problem. I'll cover the first today: find a new organization. Maybe not the best in this economy, but it is one option.
Finding Plugged-In Organizations
Let’s look back at some of the organizations our most plugged-in managers work for and highlight the critical organizational design features that make them friendly to the ideas of mixing across human, technical, and organizational dimensions.
Normally, I focus on evidence and values that have "harder" measures than an organization’s values. However, in this case, I’m making an exception to see how some of our organizations that support plugged-in management talk about values. What is interesting is the similarity, though not in the values themselves. See if you can identify the common theme.
- Safety First
- Eliminating Hierarchy
- Granting Trust and Freedom
- Giving All Workers a Stake in the Company
- Turning Everyone into a Decision Maker
- Inspiring a Work Ethic
- Employee Relations
- Deliver WOW Through Service
- Embrace and Drive Change
- Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
- Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
- Pursue Growth and Learning
- Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
- Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
- Do More With Less
- Be Passionate and Determined
- Be Humble
- Warrior Spirit: Work hard, Desire to be the best, Be courageous, Display urgency, Persevere, Innovate
- A Servant’s Heart: Follow the golden rule, Adhere to the principles, Treat others with respect, Put others first, Be egalitarian, Demonstrate proactive customer service, Embrace the SWA family
- Fun-LUVing Attitude: Have FUN, Don’t take yourself too seriously, Maintain perspective, Celebrate successes, Enjoy your work, Be a passionate team player As I thought about how to identify plugged-in organizations, I thought back to other organizations I’ve been impressed by over the years. For me to be impressed, an organization has to have survived through thick and thin -- and have done it in a way that I can hold up as an example to my students. The organization’s management practices must make sense and not be in conflict with one another. For example, if you’re going to use teams, then the performance management systems should support team work over individual work. It’s not that teams are best, but if you’re going to use teams, then the whole system must support the choice.
- Have fun
- Make money
- Trust in trust
- Do the right thing
- Do things for the rose [pursue excellence as a goal unto itself]
- Believe in people
- Belief in the Individual: If you trust individuals and believe in them, they will be motivated to do what's right for the company.
- Power of Small Teams: Our lattice organization harnesses the fast decision-making, diverse perspectives, and collaboration of small teams.
- All in the Same Boat: All Gore associates are part owners of the company through the associate stock plan. Not only does this allow us to share in the risks and rewards of the company; it gives us an added incentive to stay committed to its long-term success. As a result, we feel we are all in this effort together, and believe we should always consider what's best for the company as a whole when making decisions.
- Long-Term View: Our investment decisions are based on long-term payoff, and our fundamental beliefs are not sacrificed for short-term gain.
- Freedom: The company was designed to be an organization in which associates can achieve their own goals best by directing their efforts toward the success of the corporation; action is prized; ideas are encouraged; and making mistakes is viewed as part of the creative process. We define freedom as being empowered to encourage each other to grow in knowledge, skill, scope of responsibility, and range of activities. We believe that associates will exceed expectations when given the freedom to do so.
- Fairness: Everyone at Gore sincerely tries to be fair with each other, our suppliers, our customers, and anyone else with whom we do business.
- Commitment: We are not assigned tasks; rather, we each make our own commitments and keep them.
- Waterline: Everyone at Gore consults with other associates before taking actions that might be "below the waterline"--causing serious damage to the company.
Quad/Graphics was started with a second mortgage on Harry Quadracci’s house. He had experienced how he didn’t want to run a printing company so he and eleven co-founders decided to build a “company with soul.” They founded Quad/Graphics in 1971 using a rented printing press and borrowed a binding machine. They are now the second largest print and multimedia provider in the world.
Early in my career I got a hold of a video describing participative management at Quad. The video explained how employees were expected to learn the Quad way, improve the Quad way, then teach that way to someone else. The image has stuck with me in terms of the reality of employee innovation: Knowledge is necessary before you can start making changes. Quad’s growth and stable values has earned them a spot on our list.
My second additional example is W.L. Gore & Associates. They are best known for their GORE-TEX fabrics though they make a huge variety of high-tech products. Since their 1958 founding, they have been team-based with no organizational charts or required reporting structure. Compensation is decided by a committee based on team member evaluations and keeps in mind the long-term goals of the company. In 2004, the magazine Fast Company named Gore the most innovative company in America. In 2010, they received their 13th consecutive inclusion on Fortune Magazine’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For.”
This description from the Fast Company article hit a chord with me: “When Gore people pull the plug on a failing initiative, they'll still have a "celebration" with beer or champagne, just as they would if it had been a success.” But even more important is how they seem to have strong internal alignment across company goals, their response to failure, organizational structure (or lack there of), and other internal policies.
Gore's Guiding Principles
What's the Connection?
I could go through a list of “worst companies to work for” and find value statements similar to those above. And even the best companies may not be perfect all the time. Even in the best companies, employees may have examples where the values didn’t drive all decisions. What’s special about the list of organizations above is that these companies really do try to adhere to their stated values, and generally succeed. The question is, how do they do it? Is there a common thread in their weaving together human, technical, & organizational perspectives rather than dealing with one at a time?
The common thread is that these organizations highlight the idea that each person has the ability to innovate and is very clear that the organization is there to support that innovation through transparency and comfort with mistakes.
These organizations have found great value in signalling to employees that they should try new things, using enough transparency such that the employees have the background to know what will help and what else might be impacted, and using failure as a learning experience rather than defining failure as “career limiting.” These companies have woven patterns that are aligned with one another -- rather than saying one thing and doing another.
But wait... there isn’t a single mention of technology in these value statements. How can we know that these companies support plugged-in management across all of technology, organization, & people?
I believe that their openness to ideas, which is mentioned in each value statement, means that they must be open to all forms of plugged-in management. Employees or partners with an technology tool idea would be given appropriate consideration and it would be considered in concert with organizational practices and the people to be involved. Plugged-in management is being able to see the opportunities across technology, organization, and people, and then to make judgments about how these dimensions might best be intertwined. Sometimes that can even mean knowing when to let technology be in the background.
To find a company that let's you do your best -- look for a company with a history of employee-based innovation, management transparency, and an understanding of how to learn from failures. The good news is that there seem to be a growing number of companies with this features and even some old-style companies that have made the transition.
Thank you to Jay of the 12 Books on-line book discussion for reminding me that I wrote down these ideas for the book, but then agreed with my editors that it wasn't a very upbeat way to close. It may not be upbeat, but I think there is value in knowing how to hunt down the most plugged-in organizations. Agree?