Ford CEO Put “Adaptable” Theories Into Practice

| Management

I often think, and speak, about transformational moments and “The Adaptable Corporation.” So I was eager to check out Bryce G. Hoffman’s new book, American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company (Crown Business, March 13, 2012).

Mulally’s philosophy is terrific.

• You must change the culture in order to transform the company. At Ford, this began with eliminating all corporate meetings except two – a weekly must-attend business plan review, and a separate meeting called the special attention review.

• First, as CEO, Mulally had to earn his colleagues’ trust. He did this by publicly applauding the openness of an executive who came forward at a business plan review meeting to admit that he was delaying an important product delivery date because of a product safety problem. This set a new tone that it was okay to discuss problems honestly and openly.

• No significant change is possible without an “Adaptable Leader.” Mulally was driven to fix Ford; he had boundless energy, he attacked problems with data, and he carefully outlined organizational structures and specific rules of the road.

• Mulally took time to understand what others care about and get them to really invest themselves in the larger cause. This meant making himself accessible to all ranks within Ford by eating in the company cafeteria, popping up at meetings, and responding to emails.

How Mulally pursued his mission to save Ford is further evidence that traditional systems of top-down leadership no longer work. If they want to survive, other old-guard, iconic American corporations would be wise to follow the trail that Mulally has blazed.