Company A has not been unionised, pays just basic benefits, and works 12-hour shifts in a heavy duty industry where it offers the lowest starting pay. Obviously, this is a tough, no-nonsense company where the low staff turnover (just two per cent) must result from local pressures.
Nevertheless, you might not think it's a very attractive place to work – quite different from another organisation, Company B.
In Company B there are no edicts, no budgets, no human resources managers, no task forces, no management reports, no performance reviews, no disciplinary procedure, no training days and no paper trails.
This is clearly a high-nonsense organisation, perhaps from Silicon Valley, which has an experimental approach to business and pays little attention to the staples of well-organised company management. It could be riding on the crest of a wave but is no more likely than Company A to achieve significant and lasting success – unlike Company C.
Company C has £14.7 billion of sales and has enjoyed a decade of high-powered growth. From 1996 to 2006, according to Fortune magazine, the earnings per share have gone up by 23.2 per cent annually, meaning a total return to investors of 17.5 per cent per annum.
The decade also includes a wonder-year – the latest – with the shareholders making 70 per cent on their money. So this money-machine must surely be the pick of the bunch?
Well, it's a catch question. A, B and C are the same company: Nucor, now the largest steel producer in the US, with highly productive mini-mills in 17 states.
The CEO of Nucor Steel, Dan DiMicco, has an 18-word theory on company management: 'Hire the right people, give them the resources and tools, and get the hell out of the way'.
Guided by clear rules, Nucor people learn constantly how to run a steel business the Nucor way.
Those clear rules number only five, and are impeccable for top company management and the shopfloor:
Know the job; ask questions and experiment; share what you learn; do what it takes to be sure something goes wrong only once; let us know how we can help.
The things that mark out Nucor can be summed up in the phrase 'power to the people'. But there must be a source to the power: one man's empowerment is another person's loss of loved authority. Accepting this means saying goodbye to hierarchy and command-and-control.