Responsive Audiobook: Chapter 3, Purpose

I’m very pleased to share, exclusively for this podcast, a chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization. The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it out in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt. Subscribe and listen to The Robin Zander Show for the full chapter!

The Morning Star Company

Doug Kirkpatrick was one of the earliest employees at The Morning Star Company. Founded in 1990, Morning Star would go on to trailblaze self-management in business. But as might be expected of any start-up, let alone one committed to innovative management, the company’s early days were intense times.

Morning Star is a tomato-ingredients manufacturer based out of Sacramento, California. The agribusiness and food-processing industries are notoriously old-school, known for strict command and control structures and rigid bureaucracies. The small group of employees who initiated the Morning Star project had a six-month window to start up the first factory and had committed to beginning operations on a specified day and even at a specific hour. They were a high-performance group, and Doug describes those initial weeks as a high state of flow, with each person striving cooperatively to bring the new company into existence. The company consisted of seasoned employees, and Doug, at thirty-four, was considered quite young.

Several months before the factory opened, the owner of The Morning Star Company, Chris Rufer, called a leadership meeting. The Morning Star founder and twenty-four members of the team met on the job site. They pulled steel folding chairs into a circle, and Chris passed around a page titled “Morning Star Colleague Principles.”

The sheet included just two points:

  •      Don’t use force.
  •      Keep your commitments.

The group spent several hours discussing what these principles meant. Questions cropped up. What happens if you have to fire somebody? What if someone quits? In the end, no one found a reason to reject these ideas, and every person there had reasons to embrace them.

Together, the group concluded that these two points were necessary and sufficient, and they would make up the core of all human interactions at the company. Adopting these principles wouldn’t change the day-to-day operations of the nascent company, but they’d have clear guideposts by which they’d proceed.

What they perhaps didn’t fully process at that moment (and what Doug has spent his career implementing, first at Morning Star and now with companies all over the world) was the far-reaching ramifications of adopting those simple principles. Consider, for example, that “Don’t Use Force” effectively implies:

  •      No one can require anyone to do anything.
  •      No one can unilaterally make anyone do anything.
  •      No one can fire anyone unilaterally.
  •      Each person has a voice within the company and each voice is protected; no democracy or majority rules.
  •      Checks and balances will be inherent.

At the time, it didn’t register how profoundly that meeting, and its eventual outcomes, would impact the team, and its members individually. As Doug said, “What we did would end up being very radical—but we were so busy we didn’t necessarily see it since it didn’t seem immediately to impact our day-to-day lives.” More than two decades later, those principles—don’t use force and keep your commitments—continue to serve as the bedrock of a successful, self-managed company.

Shortly before opening, Doug and his colleagues celebrated his thirty-fourth birthday outside the same farmhouse where Chris Rufer had called that fateful leadership meeting. The company has gone on to become a model of self-management and the world’s largest tomato processor, handling between 25% and 30% of U.S. tomato crops.

If you’ve enjoyed this chapter of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.