If you want your company to be free of squeaks, create a tribe that lives by its values, encourages learning, and sees mistakes as educational moments. 

WD-40 Company, maker of the iconic spray that stops squeaks and makes parts run smoothly, knows something about creating a tribe that is happy to come to work. WD-40 pulled in $380 million in revenue last year and boasts an employee satisfaction rate of 92 percent, compared with a widely cited 2015 Gallup poll that puts employee engagement in the U.S. at 31.5 percent. Like its iconic product, the company has figured out how to minimize friction so that its people can go about doing their work with ease. 

Garry Ridge, WD-40's CEO, recently spoke at the  Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches retreat in Phoenix. Here are his tricks for creating a company that I call his "smooth operation":

1. Be a learner and a teacher.

Ridge says that the No. 1 responsibility of a leader is being a learner and a teacher. This is a CEO who signs his emails "ancora imparo," which means "I am still learning" in Italian. "The three most powerful words I ever learned are: I don't know," Ridge says.

To commit yourself to learning, Ridge has put together a WD-40 Maniac Pledge, below, which he describes as an oath to become a "learning maniac":

I am responsible for taking action, asking questions, getting answers, and making decisions. I won't wait for someone to tell me. If I need to know, I'm responsible for asking. I have no right to be offended that I didn't "get this sooner." If I'm doing something others should know about, I'm responsible for telling them.

Ask yourself this question that Ridge asks himself: When's the last time you did something for the first time?

2. Embrace mistakes as learning moments.

Just like its name--the 40 in the name WD-40 comes from the 40 attempts it took the product's creator to get it right--this is a company that sees mistakes as educational moments.

For this to work, Ridge sets the example himself. He is humble. His humility comes from knowing that "leaders need to exercise good judgment, but that good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from poor judgment."

Too often, people are afraid to learn because they're afraid of making mistakes. Let the tribe know part of learning is making mistakes. Set an example as the leader that it's OK to make mistakes, and show that even you are not perfect, and can and are open to still learn. 

3. Live your values instead of visiting them.

If you go to the WD-40 website and click on any job opening, you will come across this note:

"Please, only consider employment with WD-40 Company if you feel as strongly about our values as we do:  We live, breathe, and play by our values every day." In other words, if these are not your values, don't apply.

Ridge sees values as the description of the only acceptable behavior in a tribe. And a tribe is people gathered around one purpose. 

Here are WD-40's company values:

  • We value doing the right thing.
  • We value creating positive, lasting memories in all our relationships.
  • We value making it better than it is today.
  • We value succeeding as a tribe while excelling as individuals.
  • We value owning it and passionately acting on it.
  • We value sustaining the WD-40 Company economy.

Ninety-eight percent of WD-40 employees feel that their opinions and values are a good fit with the company culture. Ask your tribe the same question, and you will know if you're living or just visiting your values.

Published on: Mar 30, 2018