WordPerfect Business Advice

In 1980, as a $5-an-hour part-time office manager, W. E. Peterson joined the small company that would go on to become WordPerfect Corporation. Then, twelve years later, after helping grow the company to half a billion dollars in annual sales and becoming the Executive Vice President, Peterson was forced out of the company and set out to chronicle the rise and fall of WordPerfect in his book, Almost Perfect.

You can read Almost Perfect online like I did after hearing about it from Jeff Atwood two years ago. Why am I posting this now? Now that the book has a Kindle version I’m re-reading it and liked this paragraph of business advice from the afterword:

If you read [Almost Perfect] hoping to learn more about running a business, then I hope you noted the parts about teaching correct principles and allowing employees to govern themselves. In spite of the problems I had understanding and implementing this philosophy, I am convinced it is the best way to run a business. In today’s competitive environment, businesses can no longer afford the overhead of one supervisor for every five or six employees. As organizations flatten and supervision decreases, employees will make more decisions on their own and govern themselves much more than they have in the past. If a company is to function effectively, its employees must have a good understanding of what is expected of them. Very small organizations may be able to find success without defining and teaching correct principles, but any business with more than 25 or 30 people must get organized.



3 responses to “WordPerfect Business Advice”

  1. Peterson is letting his Mormonism show. 🙂 I don’t know if the book covered it, but the idea of teaching people you supervise “correct principles” and letting them “govern themselves” is attributed to Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism.

  2. I know next to nothing about Mormonism, but Peterson does indeed cover this, if briefly, at the start of Chapter 11:

    [Alan Ashton] and I, and [Bruce Bastian] to a lesser extent, claimed that our management approach was defined by the statement “we teach correct principles and our employees govern themselves.” We borrowed the statement from Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Mormon Church, who said “I teach correct principles and they govern themselves,” when asked to explain how the church was governed. We had attempted to follow this philosophy, but over the years we had not done a very good job of teaching correct principles. Our company was run with a philosophy closer to “we let employees govern themselves, and when they make a mistake, we try to correct them.”

    Seems like fairly solid advice.

  3. Agreed that it’s solid advice. I wish more of my past managers had followed that philosophy.