The CEO of W. L. Gore & Associates offers insights into how the company has built a culture that fosters innovation.
W. L. Gore & Associates has been called “the most innovative company in America” by Fast Company magazine –and has been named to that magazine’s current Fast 50 list of innovative companies. It’s consistently been listed as one of the best places to work. And its corporate culture de-emphasizes hierarchy so much that its current CEO became CEO only after her peers nominated her. It’s no wonder that W.L. Gore’s current CEO, Terri Kelly, thinks the company’s corporate culture has a lot to do with its ability to innovate.
As Kelly said in a recent presentation at the MIT Sloan School of Management,
A lot of companies ask about ’How do you innovate ? What do you invest in R&D?’ They’re not really the right questions to ask. We would flip that and talk more around ‘How do we create the right environment where collaboration happens naturally — that people actually want to work together, that they actually like to be part of something greater than just the individual contribution?’ And if you get that part right, all the other pieces fall in place that allow us to creat this great innovation cycle within Gore.
Kelly’s 55-minute presentation describes how W. L Gore’s unusual culture nurtures innovation through a variety of atypical practices and values — from a preference for small facility size to the idea that “leaders….are only leaders if someone wants to actually follow them.”
Her talk is well worth listening to and offers an example of how one company has, over time, distributed leadership and developed a culture of innovation. It’s tempting to highlight a number of individual practices here, but, as Kelly points out in her speech, “it all has to work as a system.”