On the flip side of the U.S. auto industry coin is Ford, which, ironically, on the very same day announced that it will be increasing manufacturing output for the first time in over two years beginning the third quarter of this year. How did they pull this rabbit out of the recession hat? Ford's leadership team has been drooling sadistically over the opportunity to capture additional market share as they watched their chief rivals spiral into the ground. But seizing this golden opportunity wouldn't be possible if Ford leaders hadn't committed to shareholders to find a way to not only weather the economic storm but turn the company around and into a market leader.
Since pounding its stake in the ground, the leadership team has been working feverishly to streamline operations, cut costs, and increase product quality and appeal, all without taking the bailout shortcut that seems increasingly popular, but has yet to produce real turnaround results. Interestingly, we haven't seen this kind of skin in the game from the leadership teams of other American and European auto manufacturers, and not surprisingly, results seem to match.
Commitments can be powerful. People who figuratively wave their hands in the air saying "take me seriously" take their commitments public and are more likely to follow through with them. We've been writing about ways to not only keep our organizations breathing through the downturn, but reshape and reposition them to come out of the recession as healthy market leaders. To take your organization to the next level, try unleashing the power of commitment. As leaders, commit to a vision of what your organization should be, a vision of how it should run, a vision of the level of service it should provide both to internal and external customers, a vision of employees engaged and accepting accountability for achieving results.
Achieving the vision requires more than a kingly pronouncement by leaders. It requires individuals committing to work differently. The status quo never changed an organization, took it to the next level, or turned it into a market leader. Neither did simply sharing a vision.
A production team we worked with makes the case. This team was heading toward life support and recognized it needed to operate differently just to survive in the marketplace. We met with team members individually and as a group to identify specific changes that needed to be made. At the appropriate time, the manager stood up and committed to the team to let team members resolve production problems that plagued the team each day and allow production teams to accept responsibility for figuring out how to maintain daily outputs. Team members, likewise, declared specific commitments related to changing the way they worked with the group including taking responsibility for the total process and making sure shifts were always staffed to meet production needs. Everyone committed to supporting and engaging in process improvement and even wholesale redesign, if necessary. As a result of making and keeping their commitments, within a few short months the team doubled production, significantly increased yields, and drastically increased customer satisfaction.
There was nothing particularly unique about this team. They had their share of petty bickering and blaming that occurs in most organizations. What set them apart was that none of the individuals in the team conditioned their commitments on what any of the others were willing to do. They simply and publicly stated what they would do, and then followed through on those commitments. There were no pie-in-the-sky commitments or regurgitating what the manager wanted to hear. Team members had all the information they needed to know what they were committing to so they could confidently make meaningful commitments.
Like this production team, Ford's long-term success will be in large part determined by the commitments of not only its leaders, but its employees as well. Time will tell how well individual leaders and employees have committed to the success of the business and, consequently, how well they execute. So far, their success shows up as a bright spot against a backdrop of failure and bankruptcy and an ugly reminder of what can happen should they lose sight of their commitments.
Trying it on for fit: Consider the following actions for building and obtaining commitment:
- As a leader, publicly state your commitment to a vision or outcome. Provide generous data to support the conversation.
- Determine what you will personally do to better support the vision and then commit to your team that you will follow through. Communicate your commitment succinctly and in person.
- Speak often about the vision or outcome and act consistently with it, no excuses, no compromises.
- Ask your team members what they will commit to doing differently to support the turnaround your organization needs. Ask them to develop specific commitments to each other, and total team goals, to achieve the vision or outcome.