Three incredible things created by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard that were not technology

As of September 23, 2013, Hewlett-Packard, the original garage start-up that birthed Silicon Valley, will cease being a member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA). I was lucky enough to work at HP during the celebrated days when Bill and Dave were still around and the company was steered by the likes of John Young and Lew Platt. I know change is certain, but I join many who are saddened by this announcement so I wanted to share a few lasting lessons from my days at Bill’s and Dave’s place.

HP is best known for technology innovation and rightly so, but some of the greatest contributions made by Hewlett and Packard had more to do with a work culture that was fondly referred to as The HP Way. It is important that we remember some of the out-of-the-box non-tech benefits Bill and Dave brought to the industry.

Management-by-Walking-Around (MBWA) – This HP practice was actually studied and promoted in business schools in the 1980s. The goal at HP was to create a community that fostered creativity and teamwork. To achieve this it meant people had to know each other along with what was happening around the office beyond just the things assigned to them. One of the tools Bill and Dave implemented was MBWA where we were encouraged to enter the building at a different door each day, take different walking routes to lunch and to ask people how they were. (Note: This was before the proliferation of email and social media.) When I first started at HP, I was in an office of over 200 people and within two weeks, everyone took the time to make a personal introduction to this MBA intern from the University of Washington. They would come by my desk, say hello at the coffee machine or invite me to lunch… in person. That was The HP Way.

Everyone is a customer – Whether a co-worker or a buyer of goods, everyone was treated as a customer. Whether they managed the business or managed the cafeteria, they were a customer. Bill and Dave believed that everyone needed other people’s help and that everyone had help to offer no matter what their job. One of my best customers was Jeanette Erickson who was one of our administrative assistants. Jeanette knew how to do everything and she would move mountains to help people who helped her. There were many days when the difference between getting a proposal submitted on time depended more on Jeanette’s smarts and experience than any effort by any of the sales and engineering teams. I reciprocated by helping her any chance I got because I was happy to be her customer. Notably, the lessons we learned by satisfying our co-workers spilled over to external customers as well leading to multiple years of awards for the best sales and support organization in the industry. That was The HP Way.

Welcoming workplace – People look at the cool, open environments touted by the likes of Google, Apple and Facebook but forget that it all started with HP. HP had open work spaces, free pop and donuts, ping pong, pool and Friday beer bashes before Apple and Google were born. Unfortunately, we broke a lot of furniture throwing footballs and baseballs in the office.

Another part of being a welcoming workplace was using people’s first names no matter who they were. Hewlett and Packard were just Bill and Dave even when Dave was US Deputy Secretary of Defense. Lew Platt was just Lew even when his face was on every business magazine on the planet. I recall while at both HP and Microsoft, friends would think I was being braggadocios when I referred to Bill, Dave, Lew, Bill and Steve rather than Misters Hewlett, Packard, Platt, Gates and Ballmer. Aggressive innovation combined with informal leadership has become the norm in tech and it saw first life under the leadership of Bill and Dave. That was The HP Way.

As globalization changes everything, especially in the tech industry, I guess it is inevitable that companies like HP take some time away from being bellwethers of industry. For now, the DJIA sees fit to remove HP from their list. Even so, I will be looking forward to the return of that quiet, humble competitiveness, that so defines Bill and Dave, and I will look forward to the day HP returns to the DJIA. After all, that was The HP Way.

©2013 Rick Wong – The Five Abilities LLC


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