Way Is The Highway
So Super About Collaboration?
Standing Your Ground In The Face Of Change
NFC: How do we recruit and
retain the qualified employees we need?
Now, in the context of your question, there are really two aspects to the recruiting side that relate to what makes a great company. One of those being the fit of the people to the basic core values of the institution. The second part being the ability to contribute at an excellent level. You could share the same values, for example, but be lazy.You cant give somebody a work ethic if they dont have it. You cant give somebody a genuine concern for the impact of their actions upon other people if they dont have it.
There are certain things we have to take as given and if somebody doesnt have those as a given, they dont belong. For every company, those givens are different.
David Packard said the ultimate constraint on growth of the Hewlett-Packard is not technology. Its none of the traditional views of what constrains growthlimited opportunity, limited technology or limited innovation. Those are all, in fact, in abundance if you run yourself well. The ultimate constrain on HPs growth is its ability to find people who have a predisposition that fits with HP.
The other side of the coin is the learnable skills. If an individual has the basic character attributes that youre looking for, all the rest can be learned. Where I find companies unnecessarily limiting themselves in recruitment is that theyll focus on the wrong side of that coin. Theyll focus more on, Does this person have the right educational background?
NFC: If companies now are selecting
on attitudinal characteristics, what would the new contract with an employee
Take Mary Kay. People will laugh, but you shouldnt laugh at its performance, and you shouldnt laugh at its remarkable ability to accomplish a whole series of objectives.
Whats utterly fascinating about Mary Kay is its members extraordinary loyalty. People who are Mary Kay people are very loyal Mary Kay people to the point where thats the color of the car they drive. This is across nationalities. I mean this is in Russia, Europe, Australia and Asia. Almost all members of the Mary Kay organization dont have jobs with the organization. They have an opportunity, a contractual opportunity, to do well within the organization, but they have no guarantees and they have no jobs. The people at Mary Kay know what the company is about. They fit. Its an environment where if you perform well, youll do well. Theres this real sense of tight connection, but no jobs. And that is a fascinating potential model for the future.
NFC: One of the key findings
of your research is, Its not what you make, its what you
stand for. How can a company stay true to itself, stay profitable
and not reshape itself to give the market what it wants? How do you balance
that with the whole push in the last 10 years toward customer satisfaction?
You dont mention customers in any of your key findings.
What they said was, What we stand for, matters more. We will not introduce a compatible computer line until we can figure out how to do it in a way that is consistent with our purpose of making technical contributions.
NFC: Didnt that decision,
in the 80s, look like a bad decision for awhile?
And at the time, as a 25-year-old, I didnt understand that. I walked away thinking that these people are nuts. Of course the great wisdom in the system, was the very long-term view. The position that it may take us longer to get where were going, but when we get there, we will be getting there in a way that is both market-successful and not diluting what we are as a company. We may not attain that success in 1984, or 1985, but now its 1998. All of those other companies that were so much more expedient, most of them arent major players. Wheres HP? A major player.
NFC: I think of AQP as nonprofit.
What were about, fundamentally, is participation. We are about people
genuinely participating in their organizations and having a voice. And the
market, by market I mean organizations, doesnt really want that.
NFC: Or they want it at a very
NFC: Without real change. I
find us trying to make our message more palatable to the market. Participation
is good because it will give you the business results you want. Yet, its
hard to stay true to who you are in the face of the market demands.
The great genius is to figure out how to do that.
NFC: And to do that in a participatory
Those of us who have had the blessing of a really fruitful, long-term relationship with someonea significant other, a spouse, a son or daughter, a parentknow that what really makes it work is the discomfort that comes from having to address the aspects of the relationship that need attention. That is uncomfortable. It is that very discomfort that produces the fruitful long-term result. And I look at great companies and I think that it is very similar. True participation is like the hard discussions in a marriage. They have to take place for the marriage to prosper. But they are difficult to have because they create discomfort.
NFC: Isnt there a saying
about its in the struggle that you grow.?
NFC: Youre findings dont
really show that great companies have a bias toward participative cultures.
Is that true?
3M isnt what Id describe as a highly participative environment in the sense of they have a lot of participative types of meetings. But 3M is highly participative in the following sense. If the basic game is innovation, then a very large percentage of people are participating by their own initiative in doing things that create innovation. So its a little more cloudy than a straight definition of participation. But if we went back to the Built to Last study and systematically went across pair-by-pair, which companies had more participation than others, I am confident that you would find greater degrees of participation across visionary companies than the comparison companies.
I have been studying a remarkable group of companies with a remarkable group of executives who brought about significant amounts of change in those organizations. Every single one of them are fundamentally participative in their processes.
And what do they do? Their first step is not to figure out the direction of the company. The first step is to ask, Who is going to be on my team? And based upon who is on that team, Im going to use that team as a decision-making body to determine where we should go. I dont necessarily know where we should go. But I know that if I get the right people around me and we debate and argue and discuss the pros and cons, we may not come up with the perfect answer, but were going to come up with a very good answer. A very interesting part of their decision-making process is that it may take them a long time. Some of the more significant shifts in corporate history took over 10 years to decide what to do.
NFC: Thats encouraging
in a time where speed is everything.
NFC: In your book, you looked
at the visionary companies. Have you added any to that list?
NFC: Are there any books youre
reading that are influencing your work?
One is For Cause and Comrades, by James McPherson.
It is a study from the actual letters and diary entries of Civil War soldiers,
both North and South. Its about their motivations and why they would
re-enlistwhat are the real motivations in such situations.
I want to leave you with one thought from a person I admire greatly. Jim Stockdale said the most important book of all to read is the Book of Job. In modern America we do a great disservice to our students because we train them for success. But the great challenges in life are not dealing with success, they are dealing with setback, crisis, difficulty, failure. And you have to come to terms with the fact that life is not fair.
Well, I bet this wasnt your typical business interview.
NFC: Ah, who wants to be typical?