No bosses? No wonder people like to work here.
Known mostly as the maker of the Goretex fabric found in all types of outerwear, W.L. Gore & Associates is becoming well known as a good place to work.That's mostly because of its unusual corporate culture where employees are known as associates, bosses are not to be found, so-called leaders can't give direct orders, and company facilities house no more than 200 employees so everyone can know each other. The stock option plan that made one 25-year veteran machinist a millionaire also helps.
"There are no titles, no special offices, no big perks. There's the ability for anyone to talk directly to anyone. Not just the ability, the assumption you are responsible for talking directly to those who can help you problem solve," said Sally Gore, daughter-in-law of late founder Bill Gore.
The company, based in Newark, Del, is known for contacting as many as 10 references and put-ting applicants through a rigorous interview process. About 25 percent of the company is employee-owned, while the rest of the shares are predominantly held by the Gore family.
"We don't have bosses, but we have leaders, people go to certain people as a matter of course," said Heidi Cofran, who works in corporate communications at Gore. "It makes much more sense to let those people emerge as leaders, because others are much more likely to follow those people than people who are thrust upon them."
Bill Gore started the company in 1958 after leaving DuPont, where he was frustrated in his attempts to use Teflon to insulate electrical cable. Forty years later, the company has grown to more than $1 billion a year in annual sales, almost entirely on various uses of polytetrafluoroethylene, the compound also known by the brand name Teflon.
In March, Fortune Magazine ranked W.L. Gore as the seventh-best company in the United States at which to work, the latest in a string of similar accolades for the company.
Henry Sims Jr., a professor of management at the University of Maryland School of Business, a supporter of the team-management concept, said such management styles work best in environments where creativity, initiative and innovation are needed.
At a team-managed company, "It's not a `You do what I tell you,' or `Here are my orders.' It's more like here's our project, here's the end result we are trying to achieve. What do we need to do to get it done?"
The system, however, does not work smoothly for everyone. Levi Strauss switched to a team-based system in 1992, dumping the piecework system in which workers were paid more if they produced more. Levi officials were hoping to reduce repetitive-stress injuries and relieve the monotony of highly specialized tasks such as continually sewing zippers on pants.
Instead, the company found that highly productive workers often resented slower-performing members of their teams, creating tension among team members, Sims said.
One of the most successful switches to a team-based approach was the mutual fund IDS. Under the new system, each employee had to be able to perform a variety of functions, which required more training, but they were able to better tolerate sudden increases in work volume and errors were substantially decreased, Sims said.