The foundation’s operations depend on (a) a lean staff, which is given considerable autonomy; (b) a commitment to simple, flexible procedures; and (c) a cooperative working relationship between the board, the president, and the staff. The president is the leader of the foundation.

The foundation is committed to an operating model that is based on lean staffing for an organization with our resources and responsibilities. We make this commitment in part to reinforce other commitments, such as looking to grantees for ideas and leaving room for them to experiment and explore. By giving our staff broad responsibilities, we make micromanagement of grantees difficult, reduce the danger of inappropriate interference, and reinforce our preference for long-term, general operating support.

There is a cost. Sometimes lean staffing makes it hard to provide grantees with help or attention they actually want from us. We nevertheless err on the side of leanness. We do so, first, because experience suggests that this particular slope tends to get slippery fast. But second, and wholly independent, we keep the foundation staff lean because—reflecting a value important to the Hewletts—we care about the organization’s internal culture. None of us wants the foundation to become a place in which staff no longer know each other’s names; in which communication can no longer be face-to-face; in which meetings of the whole staff require an auditorium; or in which we have multiple layers of management, slow and inefficient decision making, and widespread office politics. We are, for these reasons especially, committed to keeping the foundation a small, intimate, relatively flat organization. This model depends for its success on a high-performing staff, capable of acting autonomously and taking initiative in executing the foundation’s goals and objectives. The “Hewlett Way” of managing—finding the right people, trusting them, and giving them room to find the best path forward—encompasses more than external relationships with grantees and other partners. It applies internally as well. We want and encourage staff to utilize their knowledge and judgment and creativity in finding ways to improve our work and make the foundation better.

Equally important for the success of our staffing model is a commitment to simple, flexible procedures. We try to minimize the burden we impose on grantees by asking only for what is needed for due diligence and legal compliance, by accommodating their methods and processes as much as possible, and by taking into account burdens placed on them by other funders. Our internal rules and procedures likewise are applied flexibly to encourage resourcefulness, creativity, and collaborative problem solving. We favor informal over formal process and consensual over hierarchical decision making whenever possible.

The foundation’s success ultimately depends on a high functioning board to provide balance and ballast. The board is small and places a high value on collegiality and consensus. New members are chosen for thoughtfulness, intelligence, experience, and general judgment more than for specialized expertise. Diversity is as important for the board as it is for the staff and grantees. While we are an independent, professional foundation, the board is responsible for preserving our commitment to the founders’ values. Read more about the board’s demographics and guiding principles.

Final decisions rest with the board as a formal and fiduciary matter, but the board makes these decisions with a healthy and prudent measure of deference to the staff’s expertise and judgment. The board safeguards our long term values and effectiveness by probing and challenging staff recommendations with an eye on the big picture—helping to ensure that grantmaking strategies have been thoroughly researched and properly vetted and are consistent with the foundation’s core values and guiding principles. The board’s approach is responsive rather than proactive, and it encourages and makes space for the president and staff to take the lead in recommending strategic directions.

Working with the board and staff, the president is responsible for setting the foundation’s overall vision, tone, and strategic direction, as well as for ensuring that its operations are efficient and its grantmaking effective. The president is expected to lead by persuasion: initiating new ideas, but only after listening; setting a direction, but one that incorporates and reflects the views of the board and staff. Relations among the three legs of the Hewlett stool—the president, the board, and the staff—rest upon mutual respect, candid and open communications, and a healthy degree of deference and understanding among all three components. Working closely with the board chair, the president is responsible for maintaining a healthy balance in this regard.

Illustrative Practices:

  • Housing the foundation in a single headquarters rather than working out of branch offices
  • Keeping the organizational structure flat, with few levels for reporting up or down
  • Providing opportunities for staff to socialize and learn together across teams and functions, including lunch, Shop Talks, in town weeks, social events, and dinners with the board
  • Emphasizing flexibility in grantmaking and in strategy origination and implementation
  • Reliance on cross-team task forces that consult widely to address important organizational issues
  • Making significant changes through consultation with the senior staff followed by recommendations to the whole staff for feedback
  • Having the president and senior staff maintain an open door policy
  • Helping preserve the founders’ values by requiring that three of the board’s permanent directors be members of the Hewlett family; a fourth position is reserved for a family member to serve for two years as Special Director, giving subsequent generations an opportunity to learn and prepare for later board service
  • Selecting board members through an extensive vetting process that includes one-on-one or small group meetings with everyone on the Nominating and Governance Committee and with most board members
  • Having the board engage in an annual self-evaluation to ensure it is operating as intended