Morning Star: principles of corporate culture and motivation
In June, we met Morning Star’s top executive. They are a California agribusiness and food company. They process 25% of the state’s tomatoes and have over 50% of the industrial tomato paste market in the United States. Imagine the scale: if you’ve ever been to America and eaten anything with ketchup there, you’ve probably already used the company’s products))But that’s not all they’re known for in the US. Morning Star is known for its philosophy of no supervisory control. Instead, employees are encouraged to innovate on their own, determine their own job responsibilities, and even make decisions about equipment purchases.
Off-season, the company only has just under 500 employees. During the season, the number of employees goes up to 3,500 people. How do they manage to scale in such a short time and still respect the principles of self-management? We asked the company’s organizational change consultant about that, and we’re sharing the information with you.
How Morning Star principles came to be
Thirty years ago, a company owner organized a meeting to talk to employees about structuring the company. They all got together in a small construction trailer. The owner handed out small brochures to everyone called “Morning Star Company Principles.” They all basically boiled down to 2 points:
“A person may not be violent toward another person.”
This principle is the basis of every law around the world. Any laws against theft, theft, assault, and ultimately against murder all boil down to one thing: do no harm to another person.
The second principle relies on involvement. People have to be involved because neither laws nor contracts matter if people are not dedicated and accountable to the work.
A group of 24 people discussed the principles all evening and adopted them. They went into that trailer as a team of workers and came out as a company that runs itself. It was March 1990.
At the time, the company needed to build a $27 million factory, which required hiring hundreds of workers, developing tens of thousands of acres of tomato fields, and accepting equipment that came in from Italy on ships. Hundreds of different people without a manager or supervisor worked at the factory around the clock: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Eventually, in July 1990, the company launched the factory and began processing 45 million kilograms of tomatoes.
The company began to grow. They built another factory, then another one. Spread the limits of its influence on customers: now Morning Star works with partners all over America without having direct contact with them. And all the work is built without bosses.
More accurately, it’s not. When there isn’t one boss, everyone becomes the boss and is responsible for the process. The logic of the owners is simple: each person is the manager of his or her own personal life. We decide for ourselves who to date, who to marry, where to live, who and where to work, etc. We all have the right to choose. And all of these decisions that we make without a direct supervisor make a huge difference in our lives. If you make global decisions about your life, you can handle your job as well. Morning Star believes this and strives to pass this idea on to other organizations.
Managing in a company without bosses
People are certainly not born with the conviction to “work without bosses. For many, this is quite difficult. How, then, does a company manage to scale quickly?
At Morning Star, the hiring process for a job seeker is very challenging. You have to go through several interviews to get a full-time position. Most people hire their own colleagues: electricians hire electricians, accountants hire accountants. It is important for them to find people they feel comfortable working with. Already in the interview process, the team assesses how qualified the person is. It’s easy for them because they understand the specifics. When HR does the hiring, they can’t always objectively assess how professional a candidate is.
They also identify if the person has the ability to work in a system where you run the job yourself. People already have an idea of that system before they are hired. Once hired, the process doesn’t end: newcomers go through intensive training, just like the rest of the staff.
The Collegiate Letter.
The company also has a unique tool we haven’t seen elsewhere – the Collegiate Letter.
This is the kind of contract that employees enter into with their colleagues. For example: “I take products from you like this, and I give them to you like this.” Individual contracts between two people.
Each employee enters into this letter of understanding with 7-12 colleagues.
First, it explains their personal commercial mission. Answers basic questions answers: why you come to work, what your level of functionality looks like, what your role is. And even if their contract only lasts six months, employees are clear about when and what is required of them.
Secondly, when a person signs a “letter”, he agrees to do his tasks and gets involved in the processes. And from this he makes his own decisions, determines how he will measure his effectiveness, what metrics he will set. All this the employee coordinates not with the manager, but with those with whom he directly works.