One of the conferences of the World Forum in Lille was named “Management 2.0”. Three companies – HCL, Morning Star and Hervé Thermique – shared their view on what it means to be an open, freedom-based or democratic company. As you may know, I am very involved in this topic, through some of my clients and also through a team of liberating leaders who meet regularly to share their experience. It was very interesting to see in action three different ways of conducting a similar quest. Let’s see what each company delivered before attempting a kind of synthesis.
- HCL Technologies, an Indian-born global IT company, is very well known through the book of its CEO Vineet Nayar, Employees First, Customers Second. In Lille, Chris Connors, Head of Benelux and France, gave some practical insights on the basis of the company’s principles, like transparency or inverted organizational pyramid . He gave a lot of importance to the 360° process and how this permanent transparency about his own performance changed radically his relationship with his colleagues. Another very interesting process is the dedicated internal customer (i.e. employee) service, called Smart Service Desk, whose task is to eliminate daily problems that employees can meet. This unit has a 48 hours to 2 days delay to solve the difficulty that an employee reports. I have also been quite impressed by the internal social network that they have put in place to help their 70.000 people understand available skills and projects that the company his running.
- Morning Star was presented by Ron Caoua, who despite the fact that people at Morning Star don’t have titles, presented himself as a Director of Business Intelligence. This tomato-processing company has one main motto : self-management. This means that bosses have no employees, nor employees have bosses. The driving principles of the company are the following : no coertion (you should not use force against other people) and integrity. The absence of formal hierarchy is fully compatible with what R. Caoua presented as an informal dynamic hierarchy, based on social capital. Everybody can know how you have performed that they can decide if they want (or don’t want) to work with you. Authority is not given by titles, but by aknowledged performance (by your clients or your colleagues). Another interesting principle of Morning Star : Profitability and growth are NOT worthwhile goals, which means that there are no assigned budgets or profit goals. To them, only perfection is a worthwhile goal. Other operating principles have also been described (right to acquire resources, no decision without talking with potentially impacted people, freedom to get involved anywhere,…). An interesting practical tool embodies the particular culture of Morning Star : the CLOU (Colleague Letter of Understanding), a kind of letter of mission that describes your guiding force, the people you are daily working with and tells to others what you are doing in the company (in fact, you are responsible for documenting your activity). All this, of course, is available on line for everybody…
- Hervé Thermique was presented by its founder and owner, Michel Hervé. “If you want happiness for you (as an entrepreneur), it is necessary that people have happiness for them”. And, according to M. Hervé, people can have happiness when they discover that they can become entrepreneurs. This means that people have to learn (re-learn) to take risks, to work together and to respect one another. This is how he helped both his company and its employees to grow. On this basic principles, M. Hervé detailed some of the key practices that the company uses, like the limitation of size of teams : no more than 20 persons. You can learn more about this company in a previous post I wrote.
What was fascinating in these presentations was to see so diverse ways of experiencing liberated companies. Of course, some similarities could be observed, like public accountability that goes with freedom or like the focus on how to reduce if not eliminate all kinds of hassle that an employee can have BECAUSE of management. At the same time, there were some differences that I would like to highlight :
- HCL presentation was fine, but I could not help thinking that it was too much of a nice marketing package to sell the company’s service. I am not questionning the sincerity of the person who gave the talk, nor the real committment of people at HCL. Some of the tools that were shown were indeed innovative and worth presenting. But I could not really feel the powerful culture that other liberated companies demonstrate around them. In fact, I could not sense anything really different from what was in the book. So how can you know that the key principles are more than what is written on a slide. Google sounds like a great place to work, but it is definitely not a liberated company. Lesson #1 : In a liberated company, processes and tools are important, but not sufficient to ignite a freedom and accountability culture.
- Michel Hervé speech was very philosophical. I could not agree more with some of the leadership principles that he expressed (and that you can also find in his latest book – in French : Le pouvoir au-delà du pouvoir / Power beyond power). But is it because of a tendancy of French people to try to evangelize the Universe ?, I had the impression that this set of principles and conceptual considerations was not really what people in the room were expecting. Principles are great, but stories are better. And I know that Hervé Thermique has plenty of them, because it is a very advanced organization in this search. Lesson #2 : Liberated companies inspire people through stories – not through concepts.
- This was the first time I listened to someone from Morning Star. Tools and processes were there. Principles and concepts too. But more than this, there was a vivid example of what it means to be “employee first” and having power to act. Guess what : Ron Caoua’s Personal Commercial Mission is “advancing Morning Star systems that support Self-Management through technology”. Which means that despite of a very “technical” focus, what radiated from his presentation was the power of a culture deeply anchored in practice. This is the most difficult thing to achieve. It would have been very valuable to learn more about the story of how this company became what it is now. Lesson #3 : Freedom culture lies in people, developing free and accountable people should be priority N°1 for any liberating leader !
As a matter of conclusion, I’d like to insist on the fact that discovering how liberated companies work today is interesting, but it cannot replace a thorough understanding of how their leaders built or transformed their organization. It cannot replace either what you can learn through direct experimentation. Each company has to discover its own path, and this is a learning by doing process.
N.B. I am aware of the limits of my perceptions (especially in such a short workshop), so I would be happy to continue this conversation with people who attended this conference – or with HCL, Hervé Group or Morning Star people of course.