WL Gore Succeeds Without Employees

Did you know that WL Gore, creator of Gore-Tex and other high-tech fabrics, has no employees? I didn’t, until I read an article in the Financial Times about WL Gore’s management approach. It turns out that they have 8,500 “associates,” but no “employees.” But this isn’t just about terminology, the company operates with a very flat hierarchy, with only minimal bureaucracy; it’s baked into WL Gore’s corporate culture.

Even the appointment of CEO Terri Kelly was a group decision. Here’s what Kelly said: 

Bill Gore had that vision right from the beginning, that everyone participates in the growth of the company, everyone’s a shareholder of the company … it’s a partnership, and you are part of that enterprise.

My take: The article discusses the strengths of WL Gore’s participatory management style. While the firm takes a lot of time to make decisions, it tends to have a high level of alignment around the outcome. So, in the long-run, the company deals with less resistance during implementation. And, as I’ve said in the past, engaging employees is a prerequisite for engaging customers.

As I thought about this situation, I realized that you need to look at decision making as a multi-step process which includes: making the decision, selling the decision internally, and implementing the decision. When you look at the entire system, it becomes clear why a slow decision making process can actually make for an even faster, more successful outcome:


The bottom line: Sometimes slower can be faster.

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about these topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

3 Responses to WL Gore Succeeds Without Employees

  1. Mike Wagner says:

    Very helpful analysis of WL Gore and the advantages of a participatory approach.

    Have you read Lynda Gratton’s book, The Democratic Enterprise?

    She has a lot to add to the meaningful conversation you’ve started here.

    Thanks for stirring things up!

    Keep creating…a story worth repeating,

  2. Pingback: links for 2009-01-05

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