In topping the Sunday Times’ 2005 list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, WL Gore & Associates has claimed the honour for the second year in a row.
The company has achieved this by holding on to what it does best: fostering a culture in which the workforce is trusted, and knowing that workers, or associates as they are called, want to do their very best.
“It’s not Utopia, but it is a special place,” says Ann Gillies, a Gore associate of 30 years standing whose responsibilities, or commitments as the company calls them, include HR.
Manufacturers of the Gore-Tex all-weather fabric and special electrical cable assemblies, among other products, the company’s UK operations are centred on three sites in Scotland (one in Dundee and two in Livingston). Its employs 429 people.
The Sunday Times reported that WL Gore received “exceptionally high” scores on a survey question which asked the associates if they believed they make a valuable contribution to the company’s success (92% said yes) and if they would miss it if they left (93% said yes).
Trust creates a sense of responsibility
The company’s trust in its associates is the cornerstone of its unique culture.
“I don’t like the word ’empowered’ because that implies someone from above says ‘Yes, you can do that’,” Gillies says.
“It is more that we are responsible for what we do, and there is an expectation that we will do things in the best way.”
The lack of a traditional hierarchical structure is also a key to how WL Gore operates on a day-to-day basis.
“We don’t have managers because we do not believe that people need to be managed, but we believe in leaders emerging from teams, and more importantly, in followership,” Gillies explains.
“Lots of companies now talk about leaders, and leadership is very much a buzz word, but for us, you are only a leader if you have followers, and it is the followship that makes a difference to how the team performs.”
Most people will have more than one leader in the course of their everyday work commitments at Gore.
However, leaders are often called on to be followers, too, depending on the task at hand.
Followers are expected to “both support and challenge – in a constructive way”, Gillies says, so that the work is accomplished in the most effective way.
Obviously, adapting to such a work environment takes some getting used to for Gore newcomers.
In anticipation of such adjustments, the company is discerning in its recruitment and provides an intensive orientation programme. A starting sponsor is also designated to help the newcomer integrate.
“And, with the other associates, it is inherent we would be trying to help this new person succeed as well, because it is to our benefit that people succeed in our organisation,” Gillies said.
Such attitudes virtually eliminate the cut-throat competitive factor often present at other companies, where one employee’s failure might help another to succeed.
“When new people join us, they often comment on how welcome they are made to feel,” Gillies said.
Winning the top ranking for a second year in the row in the Sunday Times list has pleased the company no end, but do not expect W L Gore to go out of its way to dream up some new scheme just to win.
“Our practices may change because they are subject to the environment – the outside world, if you like, such as our customers, for instance.
“How we react to things has got to [change] to keep us moving on and keep us successful,” says Gillies.
“Change is kind of an everyday activity for us, but it is very unlikely our culture will change.
“We will absolutely hold on to our fundamental values. I mean, we are here as an organisation to make money and have fun. That’s our objective