Develop a History of Credibility

Sally Gore, HR leader at W.L. Gore, talks about how HR can fulfill the role of a strategic business partner.

March 1, 1999
Workforce spoke with Sally Gore, HR leader at W. L. Gore, about how HR can fulfill the role of a strategic business partner.

How would you describe HR’s role at Gore?
We assure the unity between our business and people practices. We partner with our business leaders to make sure our core principles and values are reflected in our business activities, and we help our business groups recognize and capitalize on their people resources.

How does HR foster the company’s core values?
We guarantee that people considerations play into business decisions by grounding all of our new programs and practices in our core values. For instance, by offering maximum flexibility, our cafeteria-style benefits plan reflects our respect for each associate’s unique needs. We base our compensation program on peer review, reflecting our emphasis on teams. Also, we invest in a four-day orientation program for new associates to ensure they understand our unique culture and business practices from the start. It’s a powerful indicator of how central we believe those practices are to our success.

How important is it that HR people think of themselves as businesspeople?
It’s critical. We emphasize that an HR associate needs to understand fully the goals, challenges and financial position of his or her business to be an effective business partner. At Gore, influencing the direction of a team or business requires a history of credibility above all else. Our HR generalists are part of their plant leadership teams. If they think of themselves as business partners and, more importantly, demonstrate that they understand the business, they’ll have far greater impact.

If HR at another organization wanted to install a similar culture to Gore’s what advice would you give them?
I’m afraid any existing organization would find it difficult to transition from a more traditional, hierarchical structure to our Lattice. People who are thinking about applying our approach in their own businesses tell us that newly forming companies have a much easier time creating a Lattice-like environment than established ones. It’s a structure that requires constant reinforcement and widespread support to be successful, and that’s not easy to develop in companies with a history of traditional management.

What are the greatest challenges of having this type of culture?
The greatest challenge is that it requires a commitment to direct, person-to-person communication by everyone. That may sound simple, but it’s not easy to practice. Issuing orders, writing rules and releasing memos is much easier than trying to obtain buy-in from a group, selling another associate on a new idea, or encouraging and motivating an individual or a team.

Workforce, March 1999, Vol. 78, No. 3, p. 52.