Changing the Culture at Ford

At Ford, the ‘Outsider’ Is Optimistic – WSJ.com

There’s an interview with Ford CEO Alan Mulally today, we’ve featured him before on the blog (click the “Ford” link at the bottom of the post for more on the company).

The article focuses on leadership and, although not mentioning Lean or TPS (a first for a Mulally article?), you can see leadership and Lean culture traits that he is trying to instill in the executives and the company.

He first says:

“I listened to everybody. You use facts and data, and must demand and have high expectations for absolute clarity around the business environment. You talk to all the stakeholders, starting with the customers. You also look at the macro economics, the economy. You talk to customers, dealers, Ford employees, UAW, your suppliers, your investors, everybody.”

This reminds me of quotes from Toyota’s Gary Convis, you listen to folks, you look at “facts and data” (reminding me of the quote, from Ohno I think, that “data are nice, but facts are better”). Data can be fudged, facts are things you can see with your own eyes. I remember the NUMMI-trained plant manager who came into my GM factory. He spent months walking around and talking to people. Some of us were hungry for action, “Just tell us what to do!” But he took a very measured approach to understanding the problem and building trust, which seems to be Mulally’s approach, as well.

Mulally also talks about the concept of making problems visible. He’s talked before about how Ford had a culture of making things look good, of hiding the problems. As the Toyota saying goes, “No problem is a problem,” or as David Mann (author of Creating A Lean Culture) puts it, you have to “embrace your problems.” Again, Mulally tells a story:

“One of the first meetings we had, I asked how it’s going, and most of it was all green and a little yellow. I said, “Hey, we lost like $12 billion, it can’t all be green.”

The next week, [Ford Executive Vice President] Mark Fields was launching the Edge [Ford’s new small sport-utility vehicle] up at Oakville [Ontario]. He had a technical issue, so he chose not to deliver the car because we wanted to start off with the highest quality. In the weekly review, he presents the chart with all the launches. It has all the greens, yellows and this one big red box. The place goes silent.

I started to clap. I said, “Mark, that is great visibility and I am glad you understand that. Is there any help you need? Other resources you could get from technical or product development?”

So, within a couple weeks it went from red to yellow to green and we had a great launch. It’s not a warm and fuzzy thing, it’s relentless focus on your area. The expectation is we will portray it exactly as it is, and that’s OK. What will not be OK is not dealing with it.

I love that, “What will not be OK is not dealing with it.” Baby steps toward changing the culture at Ford. I wish them luck. Maybe they should be bumped up a few places in the Best Lean Companies poll?

Does anyone else, short of the executive suite, see signs of similar culture change throughout the company? Click comments to tell us.

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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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