Nov 19, 2013

The 2008 recession was shocking to many for many reasons, not least of which was the failure or near failure of very large companies that had become institutions in the minds of many.

In the U.S., just one example is the auto powerhouse of the Big 3 in Detroit – Ford, General Motors (GM), and Chrysler. All three were hurting badly by the end of 2008, with two ultimately accepting bailouts from the U.S. government.

All but Ford.

What kept Ford from needing a bailout? There are several factors, including prior leveraging of its assets. But I think it’s more than just the clear-cut monetary business factors.

At Ford, it’s adapt to the culture – or leave

Much of Ford’s ability to weather the economic storm and emerge stronger than ever in a very competitive industry has to do with their culture. Long before the recession hit, Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally had begun reshaping the culture of Ford, describing it this way in a recent interview with McKinsey:

At the heart of our culture is the One Ford plan, which is essentially our vision for the organization and its mission. And at the heart of the One Ford plan is the phrase “One Team.” Those are more than just words. We really expect our colleagues to model certain behaviors. People here really are committed to the enterprise and to each other. They are working for more than themselves.

We are a global company, so we really have to stay focused on the work. There are so many people around the world involved in our daily operations that it has to be about more than a single person — it truly has to be about the business. Some prefer to work in a different way. Ultimately, they will either adopt the Ford culture, or they will leave.”

3 important components of success

In this short paragraph, Mulally is conveying three important components of his company and what it takes for individuals to succeed in order for the company to succeed:

  1. One Company/One Team – We’re all in this together, working towards the same goal. Teamwork isn’t just a pretty framed poster on the wall. It is fundamentally how we behave, locally and everywhere in the world.
  2. Behaviors matter, in everyone – The same fundamental behaviors that drive our success are required from all Ford employees. Commitment, teamwork, focus, business vision.
  3. Success comes more easily when personal and company values align – Your personal work style may not mesh with how we work as a company. There’s no value judgment, but you’ll be more successful in another organization that aligns to your personal approach.

Noticing good work, and recognizing it

Accomplishing this is far easier with a process and system in place to encourage and support it. Truly strategic, social recognition makes it simple for anyone to notice the good work of others in line the core values and recognize them for it.

With everyone on board, the desired behaviors become much better understood in the daily work and therefore much more prevalent in how the work gets done – by everyone, everywhere. As important is the ability to then easily track where those desired behaviors are occurring and where not, so additional intervention and training can be provided as needed.

Should your company and industry find itself in a similar position as Ford and the U.S. auto industry, how would your organization weather the storm? What would sustain you and support both individuals and the company as a whole to succeed even in the toughest of business environments?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

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