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REFM -  Adrian Photo Square - CATOBThe omniscient manager.

You know: the mastermind, who has the vision, and orchestrates all the pieces in a three-dimensional chessboard, to achieve a magnificent result. They are filled with sage wisdom, far-seeing insight, and a gut instinct that never errs. We watch with awe and aspire to one day be that person.

Might I humbly submit…they don’t exist. Or at least they are as rare as unicorns.

So why are our business structures built on this myth? Why do we have managers, or at least, why are they endowed with powers and expectations that far outstrip a realistic understanding of what they can accomplish? Is it helping, or hurting, to follow this accepted “professional” model?

But what would a world look like without managers anyways?

Meet Morning Star. “If you’ve ever eaten a pizza, dumped ketchup on a hamburger, or poured sauce on a bowlful of spaghetti, you’ve probably consumed a Morning Star product.” Not to be confused with the financial services company, “Morning Star is the world’s largest tomato processor, handling between 25 and 30% of the tomatoes processed each year in the United States,” and is featured in Gary Hamel’s book entitled, “What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation.

According to Morning Star’s organizational vision, their goal is to be a company where all team members “will be self-managing professionals, initiating communications and the coordination of their activities with fellow colleagues, customers, suppliers and fellow industry participants, absent directives from others”.

If you’re curious for some details, I highly recommend reading the book (which has a lot of other great content too), but some of the tools Morning Star uses are:

—Every team member is responsible for drawing up a personal mission statement that outlines how he or she will contribute to the company’s goal’s of “producing tomato products and services which consistently achieve the quality and service expectations of our customers”.

—Each year the team member articulates the commitments that help them fulfill their personal mission statement in a Colleague Letter of Understanding (CLOU). The CLOU is actually a document negotiated with the colleagues most affected by their work, and spells out performance metrics.

—There is no central purchasing department, and no senior executives that have to sign off on capital expenditures: a colleague’s name is attached to the purchase order, and larger decisions need to be backed by a solid business case with demonstrable returns, but as long as it’s there, and fellow colleagues are on board, the trigger can be pulled.

—Disagreements are settled through peer mediation, only working up to the company president if the peer appeals process doesn’t resolve the issue (which is rarely).

—At the end of each year, each colleague performs a self-assessment against their CLOU and metrics, a compensation committee is elected to consult and validate or uncover additional contributions, and then adjust individual compensation levels based on value added.

There’s more, and as with everything, there are imperfections: not everyone is suited to the environment, the systems rests in large part on colleagues holding each other accountable, growth cannot happen rapidly due to the adaptation time for new colleagues, and mobility in and out of the company is hard because it’s not comparable to how other places are run.

Still, revolutionary. And something to be gleaned from nonetheless.

Now, you and I may perhaps not be ready to go full on with this approach, but I think we can all take the step suggested by VeraSage Fellow from across the Pacific, Matthew Tol: start with trust.

How do you lead intelligent people? Trust them. In his blog post reflections, Matthew talks about the importance of ‘allowing your team members to make mistakes, and support them when they do.’ Many of these reflections came out of reading a book by Covey, Link, and Merrill called “Smart Trust.” A key quote he took from that book: “There’s no doubt that making the Smart Trust choice takes courage. For some of us, it’s much easier in the short run to choose blind trust…[for] others, it’s easier to choose distrust.”

I strongly believe that as human enterprises, business practices should flow from natural human principles of interaction. A business that doesn’t allow for trust in its team fosters a weak environment which is less robust and adaptable. For there to be trust, though, there needs to be clarity and transparency: clarity of focus and transparency of information.

When the goal is clear, and when everyone can see and impact what’s going on, we can really put the “team” back into “teamwork.”

Adrian G. Simmons is a CPA innovating ways to put money in its place. After working as an auditor out of college for KPMG, he joined his father in public practice in 2002, and now acts as the Chief Creative Designer there. With the team, he looks for ways to help their customers become financially strong, so that they can focus on what truly matters in life. Adrian likes tech, uses a fountain pen, successfully attempted a half-marathon (and may try another) :) , and prefers dark over milk chocolate.

Leadership, Management and Operations
  • On 04-01-2013 at 4:01 pm, Greg Kyte said:

    Hamel wrote an article for HBR last year about Morning Star Tomato Co. The part of the article that Harvard will let you read for free is at

  • On 04-01-2013 at 5:52 pm, Adrian G. Simmons said:

    Thanks Greg! Morning Star is an interesting case study — there’s things I think they’re still figuring out, but they’ve got a lot going for them, and some things they can teach us all.

  • On 05-02-2013 at 2:03 pm, Adrian G. Simmons said:

    I’ve come across a couple of other articles/websites about Morning Star recently, for those who are interested to read more about them: Enterprise without Bosses founded by Morning Star entrepreneur

  • Melinda Guillemette

    On 05-02-2013 at 3:47 pm, Melinda Guillemette said:

    Adrian – Your description of leadership brings clarity to an often fuzzy understanding. I’ve always said we lead people and manage processes, which helps clear things in my own mind. The challenge is to teach people who have heretofore managed processes how to lead human beings. And that requires time (…and we’re back to the billable hour BS), education, communication skill, and an executive structure that supports working on the business rather than just in it.

    Morning Star probably spent a boatload of energy, time, and money creating its business model. Looks like it was worth the effort. Thanks for writing about this.

    • On 05-02-2013 at 4:10 pm, Adrian G. Simmons said:

      Thanks Melinda — perhaps we can say: those who don’t make time, let time make them.


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