W.L.Gore is widely noted for its innovation, and its relationship oriented culture. Bob Henn, former head of global R&D for Gore was interviewed by Victoria Cooper and Michael Lecky for PTRM and explained three levels of culture:
"We work differently than many companies who simply tell people what to do. Within the last few years, in fact, we've established three governing bodies within the organization. One is the Operations Committee, which pays attention to the business and the metrics that go along with it. Another is our Intellectual Property Committee, which pays attention to our patent estates, our trademarks, the generation and use of our know-how. And the other one is our People Committee, which attends to our culture. It's on the same level as the other two.
"One of the things I've learned in my years at Gore is that culture is not static. The reality is that work is a social activity, and every time we bring on a new person, our culture changes. When I was recovering from an illness some time ago, I read a lot of the work of Edward Schein, who was a student of Douglas McGregor [a social psychologist who described the "Theory X"; and "Theory Y"; manager in his seminal 1957 treatise]. Douglas McGregor was a person who Bill Gore heard speak in 1954 at DuPont, and a lot of Bill's philosophy came out of the same school. In Schein's model, culture may be viewed as essentially having three levels. At the topmost are "artifacts."; One artifact of our culture is the lack of hierarchy. Everyone at Gore is referred to as an Associate. Another artifact is our lack of corner offices. These artifacts tell you something about our culture. They're the easiest things to observe, but as you dig further, you begin to gain more insight.
"At the middle level are "espoused values": the things we say about ourselves. An example of one of our espoused values is that no one here is free to impair the growth of others. Additionally, no one can make a waterline decision himself, for instance, about whether we relocate people to set up a new operation in another country. The espoused values are easy to discern because they're voiced, but they're often difficult to interpret. At Gore it can take people a couple of years to understand or interpret the espoused values and translate them into applications.
"Digging deeper, the third layer of culture is "underlying assumptions."; This is the most difficult, because it's unarticulated, although it drives everything. One example here at Gore is trusting relationships. That's really important. Another underlying assumption at Gore is the belief, fundamentally, that the individual can make a difference."
Henn will be a keynote speaker at "Unblocking Innovation," the 11th annual Convergence of people, ideas and great practices related to innovation to be held in Minneapolis, September 21-23.
The entire interview with Henn can be seen at http://www.prtm.com/insight/article.asp?insight_id=3305 (Free, but registration is required.)