Dr. Carl Frost, a good friend and adviser to our company, tells a story of his experience in Nigeria during the late sixties.
Electricity had just been brought into the village where he and his family where living. Each family got a single light in its hut. A real sign of progress. The trouble was that at night, though they had nothing to read and many of them did not know how to read, the families would sit in their huts in awe of this wonderful symbol of technology.
The light-bulb watching began to replace the customary nighttime gatherings by the tribal fire, where the tribal storytellers, the elders, would pass along the history of the tribe. The tribe was losing its history in the light of a few electric bulbs.
This story helps to illustrate the difference between scientific management and tribal leadership. Every family, every college, every corporation, every institution needs tribal storytellers. The penalty for failing to listen is to lose one's history, one's historical context, one's binding values. Like the Nigerian tribe, without the continuity brought by custom, any group of people will begin to forget who they are.
Herman Miller's stock of values is an example of the continuity I'm talking about. Herman Miller is a group of people who, working together and, more often than we care to admit, fighting together, have made a difference. this has made us a leading company. Our stock of values has risen from our history and our customs. These values are concrete examples of what a vital company today passes along through tribal storytelling. Perhaps you and your company share some of these values with us.
We are a research-driven product company. We are not a market-driven company. It means that we intend, through the honest examination of our environment and our work and our problems, to meet the unmet needs of our users with problem-solving design and development. Thus, we are committed to good design in products and systems.
We are committed to extending that design into the work environment, including especially our own architecture and facilities that serve us and our customers. We are committed to applying the same standard of design to all of our communications and graphics. We are committed to good design even in the design of situations, especially in those situations and events that bear on the quality of our relationships with each other.
We intend to make a contribution to society. We wish to make that contribution through the products and services we offer, and through the manner in which we offer them. In an era of high technology, we wish to be a "high-touch" company that makes the environmental connection between persons and technology in the markets we choose to serve. We intend to be socially responsible and responsive.
As Tom Pratt, a friend and member of my work team at Herman Miller, has observed, "Life and work are intrinsically meaningful and, therefore, worthy of enlightened attention and support."
We are dedicated to quality. Quality, as D.J., my father, has said, is a matter of truth. When we talk about quality, we are talking about quality of product and service. But we are also talking about the quality of our relationships and the quality of our communications and the quality of our promises to each other. And so, it is reasonable to talk about quality in terms of truth and integrity.
My dictionary, when defining the word integrity, recommends looking up the word honer. Among many choices, there is the phrase:"A fine sense of one's obligations." This, I believe, is the way to look at quality.
We must become, for all who are involved, a place of realized Potential. This is a value at Herman Miller. Any organization, meaning the people who constitute such a body, needs to offer outstanding education and training. We each have the right, at Herman Miller, within the participative process, to genuine opportunity.
Each of us, but especially those with the responsibility for leadership, must be dedicated to making the "gift of space" available to others--that is, space to be what we can be in the corporate environment.
We each have the right to this gift of space without regard to color, creed, sex, or level of talent and coordination. In our goal to be a place of realized potential, the Herman Miller population must be reflection of God's diversity, not of our choices.
We are committed to a high sense of initiative in doing everything we can make capitalism an inclusive system of relationships, not an exclusive structure of barriers.
We are committed to using responsibly our environment and out finite resources. We are devoted to outstanding performance through out stewardship of telent and resources, of tools and jigs, of ideas and designs, of facilities and situations. All combine to provide a legitimate result in equity for employee owners, customers, investors, the public, and the communities in which we live and work.
We commit voluntarily our energy and talent, as well as our financial resources, to those agencies and institutions whose purpose is the common good. We cannot live our lives isolated from the needs of society.
It is essential to us that we preserve our future economically. Profit, like breathing, is indispensable. While it is not the sole goal of our lives, in the context of our opportunities, profit must be a result of our contribution.
We at Herman Miller acknowledge that issues of the heart and spirit matter to each of us. They matter in our families, in our work, and in our extracurricular activities. We are emotional creatures, trying through the vehicles of product and knowledge and information and relationships to have an effect for good on one another both personally and through what we can do to improve the environment.
In a difficult and fractured and complex world, in problems of failure and of success, but especially in the joys and tragedies of our personal lives, we touch each other. This "touching" is at the heart of who we are.
Deep in who we are today lies waiting a challenge. It is not an external mystery--the question of what we can be lies within us, for whatever we do expresses the character of the people who are this company.
We are deeply committed to the Scanlon idea, a plan for practicing participative management, including productivity and profit sharing, used by quite a few companies in the United States. There are some beautiful and fundamental reasons why this way of participative management especially thrives at Herman Miller.
It enables the expression of diverse gifts of persons with an emphasis on creativity and on the quality of the process. It fuels the generation of ideas, the solving of problems, and the managing of change and conflict. While we have worked at it over thtirty-five years, it's still an idea, an idea with tremendous impounded energy. It is the constant search for what is and what can be that enables persons and groups to reach their potential.
In a group like Herman Miller, we have both personal diversity and corporate diversity. When we think of corporate diversity, we think about the gifts and talents and commitment that each of us as individuals bring to the group effort. Channeled correctly and integrated properly, our diversity can be our greastest strength. But there is always the temptation to use these gifts for our personal benefit rather than dedicating them to the best interest of the group. If used selfishly, they will cause serious internal erosion. The process of integration is simply abandoning oneself to the strengths of others, being vulnerable to what others can do better than we can.
The concept of human equality is not affected by the corporate hierarchy. We understand that the corporation is an entity only in that it is an expression of each of us as individuals. We know that the soul and spirit, the gifts, the heart and dignity of each of us combine to give the cooperation these same qualities. We who invest our lives in Herman Miller are neither the grist of a corporate mill nor the hired guns of distant, mysterious stockholders. As a faculty and staff are a university, so we are Herman Miller. The cooperation can never be something we are not.
To a great extent we at Herman Miller, a vary diverse group of individuals, share this set of common values. The roots of this value system differ almost person by person, but our spoken and understood expressions of it are remarkably coherent.
Shared ideals, shared ideas, shared goals, shared respect, a sense of integrity, a sense of quality, a sense of advocacy, a sense of caring--these are the basis of Herman Miller's covenant and value system. Our system of values may not be generic. It must be explicit. The system and covenant around it make it possible for us to work together, not perfectly to be sure, but nevertheless in a way that enables us to have the potential to be a gift to the spirit.
We work to maintain these values. Yet a system of beliefs is always threatened by change, and change is something no one can avoid. Successful entrepreneurships tend to become cooperations. Successful cooperations tend to become institutions. Institutions foster bureaucracy, the most superficial and fatuous of all relationships. Bureaucracy can level our gifts and our competence. Tribal storytellers, the tribe's elders, must insistently work at the process of corporate renewal. They must preserve and revitalize the values of the tribe. They nourish a scrutiny of corporate values that eradicates bureaucracy and sustains the individual. Constant renewal also readies us for the inevitable crises of corporate life.
The goal of renewal is to be a corporate entity that gives us space to reach our potential as individuals and, through that, as a cooperation. Renewal comes through genuine service to others. It cannot come about through a process of mere self-perpetuation. Renewal is an outward orientation of service, rather than an inward orientation of maintenance. Renewal is the concern of everyone, but it is the special province of the tribal storyteller.
Every company has tribal stories. Through there may be only a few tribal storytellers, it's everyone's job to see that things as unimportant as manuals and light bulbs don't replace them.