The HP Way – more than a myth

The HP Way is legend. It was Hewlett-Packard’s set of guiding principles – a sort of yardstick – a road map.

I had not been with the firm very long when I first heard the words HP Way. At an HP staff meeting, a manager berated one of the team. The subordinate responded without blinking, “that’s not the HP Way.” The manager changed tone immediately.

At that moment the founders’ principles were in the room even though Hewlett and Packard where elsewhere.

At the time, people at HP loved to repeat the legends about Bill Hewlett and David Packard. They were called “Bill and Dave stories.” Some of them were funny.

Bill Hewlett went on vacation to Phoenix and after three days of vacationing decided it was too boring and paid a visit to the Phoenix sales office – unannounced. He introduced himself to the receptionist who went back to get the “big boss.” “There’s a crazy man out there claiming to be Bill Hewlett. And the weird part is, he kind of looks like him.” Afterward, everyone had a good laugh.

There’s the famous bolt cutter story. I think it was Packard, but

one of them went on site on a week-end and found the supply room padlocked. “Why?” The security people said it was to protect against theft of components for home projects. “Unlock it.” The security man did not have the keys. “Get the bolt cutters.”

The moral of the story is, you never know where creativity will come from and what home project turns into the next HP bonanza.

My boss said, “Bill Hewlett is a wild man.” Huh?

Bill Hewlett had acreage – a ranch – and was out with some others folks one day 4-wheeling in a Jeep before it was fashionable to spend time doing that sort of thing. The Jeep tipped over and everyone, but Hewlett, who according the story was driving, got clear. His legs were pinned, but good. He pointed to the Jeep’s tool chest – as it turned out, complete-with-saw – and said, “if she catches fire, cut ’em off.”

Although Hewlett was shorter than Packard by quite a bit – the corporate photos were often posed with Hewlett seated and Packard standing to make it less obvious – Hewlett lost no inches that day.

What Laura and I did was to develop our own corporate credo over time. It took a year of discussion and visioning to come up with what we have set down here.

A credo is lived and workers can smell B.S. or some put-on in an instant. We’ve all seen where credos sound good, but people don’t live them. Credos are the latest rage.

But coming up with values we believe in and we can live by – that’s the mystery and the mastery.

I will be looking deeper into the HP Way and at the principles I saw practiced at DuPont as well as other firms.

If we get these right, the organization can execute. Get it wrong or pay only lip-service, and there’s chaos.

The stories in any firm, true or not, are its mythology. In life we don’t espouse a creed. We live it.

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