Silicon Insider: Putting HP Back Together

Worse, this heavy lifting will have to be done by an organization that has driven off or fired much of the intellectual capital and institutional memory. Silicon Valley and the other HP enclaves around the world are littered with loyal 20-year Hewlett-Packard veterans who were unceremoniously dumped during the many Fiorina purges -- and now, when it needs them most, HP is too poor to hire them back.

The task is so daunting that around Silicon Valley you can already hear comments that HP should simply be broken up, its various pieces spun off or sold to the highest bidder. I don't think the solution is that draconian. Companies as diverse as IBM, Xerox and Apple have shown it is possible to re-emerge from the ruins -- but only if you first rediscover who you are

In other words, if HP is to survive, its first step must be to restore the HP Way. To do that, it must strip away both the myth and the calumny that now encrust the HP Way and see it as it really was. Hewlett-Packard at its best was neither a sweet corporate kumbaya (as some old HPers remember it), nor some "paternalistic" peaceable kingdom ruled by two kindly old monarchs named Bill and Dave. It was rather a tough, competitive, highly innovative corporation with an unmatched reputation for quality, integrity and fairness. And the HP Way, rather than being an anachronistic leftover from a slower, quieter age, is in fact the most avant garde management model ever devised for a large company -- and one better suited for today than ever before.

The HP Way is not a technique, but an ethos of restraint, responsibility and, most of all, trust. It begins with the simplest possible precepts -- profit, customers, fields of interest, growth, our people, management and citizenship -- that are increasingly elaborated as they move down through the organization. Decision-making follows the same path, with the key decisions made by the employees closest to the problem.

It sounds easy, but the HP Way is nearly impossible to execute because it demands forbearance by the very people most likely to aggrandize power, and almost infinite trust from the people least likely to give it.

When it works, as it did at Hewlett-Packard for decades, the HP Way creates a decentralized, cohesive and intensely competent organization of stunning resilience -- and a genius for innovating itself out of hard times. The HP Way resists empire building and eschews flash -- which is why it is hated by CEO superstars and dismissed by the press. Yet, in the age of global organizations, independent work teams, and lightning decision cycles, the HP Way is better suited for modern organizations than any other. For the company that invented this model to die now would be a singularly cruel irony.

So, this is the ultimate test of Hewlett's and Packard's vision. The battered employees of HP have been betrayed by a CEO who was more interested in résumé building than company building, a board of directors that acquiesced to this hijacking and a media that went into the tank over the whole idea. Now, in fighting back, HP's employees can only trust themselves. But if Bill and Dave were right, that is all they need. They alone can restore the World's Greatest Company.

It's the HP Way.

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