The improvement journey does not end, there are always ways to get better at what we do. However to get better at anything we also have to have the humility admit we are not perfect and the to learn from others. The opportunity is to learn not only from those we are similar to ourselves or where there are direct comparisons, but also from others where we need to look for more tangential learning.
Below are are a few examples of role model companies from whom most businesses could learn something. It is far from being an exhaustive list – please add your own examples via the comments thread.
Environment – Interface Carpets – Over the last ten years or so many companies have started to take environmental concerns seriously, few as seriously as Interface Carpets. In his book “Mid Course Correction” Interface founder, the late Ray Anderson describes the realisation that his company was contributing to environmental damage as being like an arrow to his heart. He subsequently set the company on a twenty year journey to zero environmental footprint through a combination of leasing, recycling and renewable energy. In one of his two TED talks, Anderson also made the business case for sustainability, explaining how good “Mission Zero” has been for business. Interface Inc is a public corporation.
Management and culture – WL Gore (the makers of Gore-Tex)
WL Gore has a flat, lattice-like organizational structure where everyone shares the same title of “associate.” There are neither chains of command nor predetermined channels of communication. Leaders replace the idea of “bosses.” Associates choose to follow leaders rather than have bosses assigned to them. Associate contribution reviews are based on a peer-level rating system.
Bill Gore articulated four culture principles that he called freedom, fairness, commitment and waterline:
- Associates have the freedom to encourage, help, and allow other associates to grow in knowledge, skill, and scope of responsibility
- Associates should demonstrate fairness to each other and everyone with whom they come in contact
- Associates are provided the ability to make one’s own commitments and are expected to keep them
- A waterline situation involves consultation with other associates before undertaking actions that could impact the reputation or profitability of the company and otherwise “sink the ship.”
In the lattice organization, associates are encouraged to communicate directly with each other and are accountable to fellow members of their teams. Hands-on product innovation and prototyping are encouraged. Teams typically organize around opportunities, new product concepts, or businesses. As teams evolve, leaders frequently emerge as they gain followership. This unusual organizational structure and culture has been shown to be a significant contributor to associate satisfaction and retention. (Source Wikipedia) WL Gore is a private corporation with 9,000 employees and nearly $3Bn in sales in 2010.
Culture Change – Ford – These days, increasingly, people understand the importance of culture, but understanding how to design and sustain the kind of culture that leads to success is significantly harder. When Alan Mullaly arrived at Ford, he a came to a company that was on a trajectory to irrelevance. The company had become very siloed with desperate political infighting at the top of the business. Mullaly, fresh from saving Boeing, set about culture change from the top, instituting a top down leadership culture change. He did not go for wholesale replacement, but instead set up a new and far more collaborative set of working protocols, which he required his top executives to comply with – some left – but the results have been a significant reversal of fortunes with the company now being on a far firmer footing for the future; bonds have shifted from junk to investment status, union relations have gone from toxic and highly expensive to more collaborative and products have become higher quality and more diverse after being over reliant on SUVs. Bryce Hoffman wrote an excellent book on this transformation.
Please share your ideas of role model companies in these and any other categories you are inspired by. Please comment and discuss here – click on the blog title and scroll to the bottom to find the comment box.
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