Session 9: Terri Kelly

Terri Kelly is president and CEO of W.L. Gore & Associates, a 50-year old, multi-billion dollar enterprise that is often profiled as an example of the future of management. A pioneer in lattice-based management structure, Gore’s “associates” become leaders based on their ability to gain the respect of their peers and to attract followers. Kelly became president and CEO in 2005, after she was elected by her peers to serve in that role. Employing more than 8,000 associates in 45 plants around the world, Gore produces many unique products, including Gore-Tex┬« fabric, and is perpetually named on lists of “the best places to work.” Kelly will explain how this unique culture works on a practical level.

When Leaders Emerge: The Story of W.L. Gore & Associates

  • This session is a video interview.
  • Terri is the CEO of Gore
  • You must create the right foundation and values.
  • You must create an environment of collaboration.
  • What is different about Gore as a company?
    • It is a peer based organization. We work collectively together. Everyone’s job is to make everyone else better around them.
  • What does on-demand hierarchy mean?
    • If there is a formal hierarchy then that assumes that the person at the top is the most knowledgeable.
    • But we think that it shifts depending on the situation.
    • Some people are more knowledgeable in some areas than others.
  • Ladder vs. Latus Organization
    • Latus is that we are all connected with each other, rather than only having 2 contact points with my leader.
  • “We don’t tell people what to do, and we don’t tell people what projects to work on.”
    • Leadership plays a very different role.
    • Leaders have to do it through influence. We don’t tell people what to do, but we might influence people towards what is important. We want the energy to shift towards the broader organization, rather than just doing it for your boss.
  • What are the common values?
    • Belief in the individual and respect that everyone can make a sigifnicant contribution.
    • The power of small teams, as we get larger, we still want to keep small teams.
    • We are all in the same boat. Even though small teams can do a lot, the entire enterprise can benefit when we are all successful.
    • We want to take a long term view.
  • Lets say, “I’m an associate at Gore, and I have an idea, how does my idea get money?”
    • A lot of internal selling.
    • Convincing others that your idea is a good idea.
    • How much passion does the individual have?
    • We use a peer review process.
    • We create success factors, and let the team look at the projects, and map out which ones are the most attractive, and the least attractive.
    • Peer Evaluation – They are asked to rank who is making the biggest impact on this project?
    • After you’ve figured out what that ranking looks like then we offer compensation accordingly.
    • Our success is developed and measured by the organization rather than just a key few people.
  • You have more “coaches” than “bosses”
    • A concept put in place was the role of a sponsor – each person in Gore has a personal sponsor, someone who has made a commitment to help an associate grow.
    • Sponsor really believes in them, and there is a different level of trust and conversations.
  • It has to be expensive to keep your plants at 250 people each. Why?
    • It is an investment, but you find a different level of engagement, and ownership. People reach out to build those relationships.
  • Is it scalable?
    • We now have 9,000 associates.
    • It is absolutely scalable.
    • What binds us together is the common set of values. Who doesn’t want to be believed in?
    • Those values are transferable.
    • The culture may need to be adapted to that local environment.
  • What are the practical things you do to protect the culture here at Gore?
    • It is critical in our hiring process.
    • We spend a lot of time in behavioral interviewing to make sure that this person fits with our beliefs and values, and the we are watching to see if they align with us.
  • What is the “water-line principal”?
    • If everything is put into a manual, then it is not tapping into their wisdom.
    • If you’re going to consider an action, then we don’t want to drill holes below the water-line to sink the ship.
    • Within your water-line you can drill lots of holes, but when it comes to things that could harm our company then we’ve gotta back up.
  • Leadership is defined by followership at Gore
    • Their only a leader if people want to follow them.
    • The leader always knows that they have not arrived. They understand that they are earning that respect and followership everyday.
    • Through our contribution process we start to see who is gaining that followership.
  • Leaders take a lot of time explaining their decisions here at Gore
    • We encourage leaders that their roles does shift. We view that as precious time.
    • We have our poster on our wall about culture, but they need to bring it to life with their words and their actions.
  • With so many leaders, what is your job as CEO?
    • I couldn’t even attempt to be the most knowledgeable spokesperson for the whole organization.
    • I need to adapt and change based on the current situation.
    • We need to keep our values, but we need to adapt to our culture.
    • How do we continue to get better as an organization?
    • Spend a lot of time with our leaders. Are they living up to our values?
  • Can anyone lead at Gore?
    • On our survey 50% say that they think they are a leader.
    • This is good. Distributing that leadership load where everyone thinks they can make a difference.
  • In church everyone is called to lead, and at Gore everyone is encouraged to lead.
  • Everyone develops as they are being developed.
  • What if every church was a place where people were constantly growing?
  • A church where leadership happens more as influence rather than title.

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