The Sunday Times published its annual "Best Companies to Work For" list at the weekend.
Where most of these awards seem to be nothing more than self-serving PR puff, trolling out the usual list of Blue Chip names and bland case studies, the Sunday Times list is interesting at least for its winner (for the second year running), outdoor fabric manufacturer WL Gore – a company whose philosophy is anything but bland.
Gore's success is particularly interesting in the light of a report produced last year by think-tank Demos suggesting that firms need to “disorganise”, shed their hierarchies and offer greater flexibility and autonomy if they are to retain their best people.
Gore has long been noted in the business world for its employment practices, just as it is famed in the wider world for the breathable water-resistant fabric it manufactures for an extensive range of outdoors wear. In a flat company structure, all staff are associates, there are no managers, and pay and position are partly governed by colleagues, who rate individual contribution on a scale of one to six.
John Kennedy, head of the UK associates, says: “Sometimes it’s a tough environment if you don’t have any frames of reference. But if you do any basic fundamental research into management, you know if you can get people to also think (what you’re suggesting) is a good idea you’re going to get things to happen a lot better and stick a lot longer.”
Kennedy adds: “That’s not rocket science. It’s pretty simple stuff, but it’s amazing how many companies can’t get their heads round that.”
Gore’s triumph is remarkable. It has the highest scores in 37 of the 66 questions in our employee survey and finishes second or third in a further 11. It top scores in six of the eight “factors” — or groupings of questions around a similar theme.
The eight factors, by the way, are: leadership; wellbeing; my manager; my team; fair deal; giving something back; my company; personal growth.
The success of this approach is obvious. More than a quarter of Gore's UK workforce has up more than 15 years’ service, 93 per cent say they would miss it if they left and a similar proportion also believe they make a contribution to the firm’s success.
Admittedly it is much easier to implement this sort of 'disorganisation' in a firm with fewer than 500 employees. But with UK workers some of the least engaged and emotionally attached to their companies in the world, surely it is time for a fundamental rethink of many of the traditional methods of motivation and people management.