Empower the Team with Values


Last week I got a great shot-in-the-arm. Yes, that’s a good thing. On Tuesday my wife launched a new effort in Michigan to work with the CEOs of Michigan’s, Fortune magazine “100 Best Companies” to find innovative ways to support the attraction and growth of great employee-focused companies in Michigan. We know that all of the “best companies” make it a core business strategy to create an empowering culture, and they all say that this culture is essential to their proven business success. Expect some great things from this effort.

Then I went (not at taxpayer expense J) to the annual conference of the Great Place to Work Institute. The Institute administers the research, assessment of “great place” applicant companies, and does consulting on the Fortune list. Let me tell you one of many inspiring stories I heard there. The W.L. Gore corporation (best known for Gore-tex) has been on the list since the first book was written about great companies in 1984, and has made Fortune’s list every year. Gore is a breakthrough, scientific research-driven and global company. Their CEO Terri Kelly was saying that their culture works, because it is not just her talk that drives it. Instead nearly every one of Gore’s associates (not employees) takes responsibility for building this culture. She gave the following example.

Because they depend on cutting edge, high-tech breakthroughs, they are extremely protective of their scientific research. Terri was visiting one of their facilities in Asia. Because she began as a textiles engineer, she was scientifically curious about a product under development. She asked the team, “how does it work?” After a little silence one of their young, Asian associates said, “Terri, do you have a true need to know?” Wo! Look out! Right? What kind of insubordination was this?! But a core cultural value at Gore is to protect the confidentiality of research, and the test for sharing information is: Is there a genuine-need-to-know? So this young researcher was owning the company values. Terri Kelly’s response? “You know. You’re right. I don’t need to know.” She then celebrated the team’s internalization of a core company value.

The other major lesson I took from her story was this: here is a safe culture, where the values, not positions of authority prevail. Call the CEO by her first name. Tell her no. Remind her of the company values. Imagine if we all owned our organization’s values like that!

So, you Michiganians out there: own a greater Michigan, a reinvented, revitalized Michigan, where management and labor are no longer a division but a unified force competing together in a tough economy. I say, wherever you are in the ranks: Own your corporate culture. Lead . . . to help information flow, to generate learning, to seek continuous improvement. And in that way . . .

Lead with your best self,

Dan Mulhern

  • Empowering employees tends to be driven from the top down by servant leadership that encompasses spirituality@work.

    I know of one exceptional Michigan company that actually provided for a corporate infrastructure, based on the ‘servant leader’ concept, and took a holistic approach to spirituality at work. In a February 22, 1983 memo to all employees, the management team stated:

    “For more than 50 years, this company has been developing into an organization with a special spirit and value system built around a unique group of people–the employees. An underlying principle of the company’s development has been to establish an environment which would maximize the opportunity for each employee to grow, develop and serve to his or her greatest potential.

    To assure the perpetuation of the company and its ability to continue to serve these aims and ideals, individual ownership of common stock has been replaced by a new Capital Fund which is to be administered by a Board of Trustees to foster corporate growth and financial health and to see that employees are paid fairly and rewarded according to their contribution.

    The Trustees have the fiduciary responsibility to see that the corporate values of integrity, excellence and quality, equal opportunity and freedom of religion are maintained and that each generation of management is training its successors. The Trustees elect the Board of Directors who establish overall policy and the Board of Directors elect the Officers and Managers who will implement the policies, manage and operate the company.”

    In the original by-laws of the Capital Fund (adopted on July 25, 1984), these specific sentences reflect the corporate intent:

    “Provide equal opportunity for all employees and associates to develop his or her talents, attitudes and capabilities for the good of the person, the corporation and those in any relationship to the corporation;

    Complete religious freedom is to be practiced within the company with no exclusionist pressure applied to support a specific religious viewpoint. At the same time the spiritual impulses motivating individuals may be recognized and appreciated so long as they do not encroach upon the free will of another. All employees shall be free to profess their opinions in matters of religion, without diminishing, enhancing, or in any way affecting their careers in the company.

    Encourage and nurture managers to perpetuate the servant leader concept and select, train and develop later generations of managers in this concept;”

    This servant leadership example illustrates that spirituality in the workplace is possible and may be helpful to others who wish to create and/or preserve the common sense concept of allowing moral values to transcend belief in a specific religion.

    More at: http://coachingtip.blogs.com/coaching_tip/2006/10/spiritualitywor.html

  • Awesome… the best part about any such sharing is seeing such a value or principle in cold hard fact at the coal face within a company, being lived out by the very person who SHOULD be the biggest example of it – the CEO. No surprises why their company is such a success.

    The other thing I wanted to share is that the timing of this article is interesting given what I read this morning. I have finally got around to picking up ‘The 7 Habits’ by Stephen Covey and found a couple of pieces to be just scintillating with regards to values and principles and living them. I share them in the hope it adds in some way to your piece Dan.

    “If I try to use human influence strategies and tactics of how to get other people to do what I want, to work better, to be more motivated, to like me and each other – while my character is fundamentally flawed, marked by duplicity and insincerity – then, in the long run, I cannot be successful. My duplicity will breed distrust, and everything I do – even using so-called good human relations techniques – will be perceived as manipulative. It simply makes no difference how good the rhetoric is or even how good the intentions are; if there is little or no trust, there is no foundations for permanent success. ONLY BASIC GOODNESS GIVES LIFE TO TECHNIQUE” ~ Stephen R. Covey … (I put in the caps for impact as I found that last sentence just incredible)

    “Into the hands of every individual is given a marvellous power for good or evil – the silent, unconscious, unseen influence of his life. This is simply the constant radiation of what man really is, not what he pretends to be.” ~ William George Jordan


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