Category Archives: Motivation

Redesigning an Industry Icon

Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally was a runaway winner of the 2010 MarketWatch CEO of the year, easily beating out Steve Jobs, Vikram Pandit, Jeff Bezos and Reed Hastings.  Since the hiring of Mulally in 2006, Ford has been on a roll.  While Ford continued to post financial losses through 2008, the company turned the corner in 2009 and started to reap the benefits of Mulally’s turnaround strategy.  Sales and profits are up, the stock quadrupled in 2009 and doubled again in 2010 and the company has gained market share in back-to-back years for the first time since 1993.  The company even posted its best third quarter profit ($1.7 billion) in over 20 years.

So how did an old aerospace guy with no automotive experience turnaround a struggling industrial icon?  Let’s look at six elements of Mulally’s strategy that have enabled Ford to transform their financial and cultural picture in four short years:

Create a Simple and Compelling Message – By defining a simple, but powerful mission to build higher quality, more fuel efficient, safer cars, Mulally gave Ford’s employees something they craved: a message they could rally around and a vision of a company in which they could believe.  “The more each of us knows what we’re really contributing to, the more motivated and excited and inspired we are.”

Make it About the Long Term – Second, Mulally invested in a long-range plan to create a global design language he called “One Ford.”  The One Ford strategy meant selling off higher profile brands (Land Rover, Jaguar, Aston Marton and Volvo), bringing back a completely redesigned Taurus, and designing cars on a global platform.

Exude Contagious Optimism – Mullally understands that his positive energy is contagious.  He exudes an optimism that is both inspiring and credible.  He has an unwavering belief in his team’s plan, balanced by relentless realism about current market conditions, and a willingness to make adjustments along the way.

Develop a Truth Telling Culture – Mulally has created a culture in which telling the truth is paramount and gets rewarded.  As an example, Mulally presides over a weekly “Business Plan Review” where the heads of Ford’s four profit centers and its 12 functional heads report on progress relative to their targets, share problems and collaborate on ideas for improvement.

Be Profitable on Lower Volumes – Under Mulally’s leadership Ford has reduced structural costs by more than $10 billion and will have reduced its production capacity by 40% by the end of next year.  In a drive to be right-sized, Ford now has fewer factories, each producing more vehicles, which has allowed the company to be profitable at near-record-low sales levels.

Create Intimate Customer Relationships – Led by Scott Monty and his talented social media team, Ford has created an extensive online presence committed to creating transparency during the turnaround.  In addition, Monty launched “The Ford Story,” a social media hub which builds intimate customer relationships through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other online communities.

Regardless of your size, industry or business goals, Mulally’s vision and values are equally relevant to every leader responsible for aligning people and driving change.  If you want to dramatically increase your effectiveness and post unprecedented results, “stand for something beyond profit…rally your employees around a shared mission…practice realistic optimism…and tell the truth without fear.”


Changing How We See Ourselves

Meet Bill Strickland.  He is the President and CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corporation and delivers educational and cultural opportunities to students and adults within a culture that fosters innovation, creativity, responsibility and integrity.  But perhaps more importantly, “Bill is a genius because he sees the inherent genius in everyone.” – Jeff Skoll (first president of eBay, Founder and Chairman, Skoll Foundation).  Bill uses his ability to spot genius in others and his belief in the power of a vision of hope to transform the lives of thousands of people.

So why am I introducing you to Bill?  In past posts, I have talked about the importance of simple, repeatable processes in creating a culture of continuous improvement.  And while I believe creating and implementing these processes is critical to your success, equal time needs to be spent on the role people play in creating and improving these processes.  Bill is world renown for his ability to inspire others to achieve more than they think is possible and become positive agents for change.  And while Bill’s primary goal is not to engage people in continuous improvement, we can learn a lot from his approach to motivating people to take action and accomplish lofty goals.

Based on Bill’s experience working in inner cities, “you have to change the way people see themselves before you can change their behavior.”  As long as people see themselves as victims of change or inconsequential to the change, they become disengaged and create barriers between themselves and the ideal environment they desperately need and want.  If you want people to break out of current habits, you must first create an expectation of positive results before you can motivate people to undertake the actions necessary to realize the results.  This is a subtle, but important point.  You have to change the way people think about themselves before you can hope to change the way they behave…and if you don’t change the way they behave, you can’t create a culture of continuous improvement.

So how can you start to change the way people think about themselves?

First, by realizing that each of us thinks in pictures and uses these pictures to tell ourselves stories about how the world works.  These stories form a narrative of how I think about my environment and more importantly, my ability to change it.  If you want to change the way people think, you need to change the stories people tell themselves by creating and reinforcing the right pictures in their head.  To help do this, find examples of people in your organization doing great work, creating innovative ideas and inspiring others.  Bring these examples to life with photos, testimonials, and public recognition.  The better you are at promoting these pockets of brilliance, the more successful you will be creating a new story for the organization to tell itself.

Our role as leaders is to create pictures of hope, confidence, purpose, inspiration, and action.  More importantly, our goal is to impart a picture of success and belief that each individual can positively affect their environment through the engagement of their hearts and minds in the process of continuous improvement.  There is nothing more powerful than a person who believes in their ability to influence the future, armed with the skills and tools necessary to do so.

The Power of an “Impossible” Goal

A $2,000 car?  The Chairman of Suzuki Motor Corporation said it was impossible…but, that didn’t deter Ratan Tata.  Motivated by a passion for meeting the needs of India’s impoverished people, the Chairman of Tata Motors assembled a five person engineering team (with an average age of 27) and launched a four year journey which began with an audacious goal and ended with a paradigm shift in the auto industry.

Rather than begin with a set of design criteria for the team to use when approaching the problem, Tata gave them an impossible goal: build a car for $2,000.  In fact, the cost target was the only fixed point with which the team was forced to work.  In every other aspect of the project, the team was challenged to “question the unquestionable” and utilize an open innovation model which considered ideas from anywhere and everywhere.

The audaciousness of the goal combined with the freedom to “break the rules” led to many industry leading innovations.  The Nano is the first time a 2 cylinder gas engine has been used in a car with a single balancer shaft.  Adhesives have replaced all rivets and mechanisms from a helicopter were used when designing the seats and windows.  The car’s 9 foot frame is 8% shorter than other compact cars, while providing the passengers 21% more interior room.   In addition, each part in the car serves a dual function, resulting in 1/2 the total number of parts as a normal car.  Finally, the team also had to think about its supply chain differently.  The Nano was designed in partnership with Tato’s vendors and suppliers, 100 vendors were co-located adjacent to the plant and the company developed a new business model for dealerships which slashed distribution costs.

The development of the Tata Nano is one of many examples of leaders inspiring teams to achieve seemingly impossible goals in the midst of tight deadlines.  As with each of these game changing innovations, it was Tata’s unwavering commitment to an impossible goal combined with a freedom to experiment by the engineering team which caused a shift in the paradigm.  All to often however, leaders take an opposite approach when trying to drive innovation.  The goals set are far too safe to force a new way of thinking and rather then giving teams latitude to experiment, they script their actions through detailed charters, procedures and return on investment criteria.  The combination of weak goals and stifling process boundaries kills creativity and ensures mediocrity.

If you want to experience the power of a inspired team who believes there is nothing they can’t accomplish, set an impossible goal and give your people the autonomy to discover radically new solutions to some of your toughest challenges.

“Impossible is nothing.” – Adidas

Discovery-Based Implementation

In his work as an educational theorist, John Dewey believed that discovery-based education yielded the best learning.  By allowing learners to connect with information through participation and experimentation they engaged more fully and identified new ideas and conceptual patterns through the interaction.  In addition, the brain activity is heightened when the information presented is slightly ambiguous rather than explicit.  By leaving “gaps” in the information and some “fuzziness” in the details, you encourage the learner to use their brains to fill in the blanks.  By doing this, their creativity and imagination is sparked and the learner is better able to catalogue and retrieve information easily in the future.

I believe the same principles apply when engaging people in process improvement.  If your goal is to create a culture of continuous improvement, it is critical to structure the environment and daily processes to promote discovery-based learning.  Similar to Dewey’s findings in education, the key to driving high levels of creativity, initiative, and ownership in the improvement process is to leave the details of the plan “fuzzy” and create opportunities for people to struggle and identify new ways to accomplish organizational goals.  The trick is to allow people the time, resources and latitude to take ownership of the issues, tinker with new process possibilities and discover how creative they can be.  The tradeoff for allowing people the opportunity to discover their own solutions, is that you create a powerful group of explorers who have confidence in their ability to take risks to accomplish stretch goals while at the same time learning at an exponential rate.

One of the difficulties in implementing this approach to learning, is finding the right balance between being crystal clear about your expectations for results while at the same time being ambiguous enough to allow the learner to take ownership of the details and exercise autonomy in the creation process.  While I have yet to achieve a perfect balance, I think it is wise err on the side of allowing people to struggle with ambiguity rather than rest in clarity.

“The belief that all genuine education comes about through experience does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative.” – John Dewey

Starting a Movement

It is rare I come across information on the practice of leadership rooted in actionable advice and useful for my clients.  Recently however, I discovered a brilliant 3 minute talk on the role of leaders in starting a movement.  The creator, Derek Sivers, is the former CEO of CD Baby, and now travels the world as a self-proclaimed “nomad” researching, speaking and volunteering his time.  I was so impressed with the content and the delivery of his message, I formally integrated it into a Coaching Camp I created.  The following are a few of the key leadership lessons Derek covers:

First, a leader needs to have the guts to stand out of the crowd and risk being ridiculed.  During the initial phase of any new initiative, success is directly correlated to force of will and willingness to take a risk.  Second, leadership which seeks to engage the people in the change is less about the leader and more about the followers.  The first follower fills a critical role.  Identifying and recruiting the first follower “turns the lone nut into a leader” and future followers look to the first follower for guidance rather than the leader.  Next, to fully engage the follower, the actions must be easy to follow and the leader must embrace the follower as an equal.  This, combined with making the movement public allows the first follower to attract others and spread the change quickly and effectively.  Finally, when each of these elements are in place, more and more followers engage, making the movement less risky and creating an “in crowd” that others want to join.

So what can we take from this?  Creating a movement is more about attracting and nurturing the first followers than it is about the actions of the leader.  By keeping actions simple to learn and reproduce, and ensuring the movement is visible to the organization, the leader is able to create “pull” until the movement reaches a tipping point and takes on a life of its own.  Finally, being a leader is risky.  If you are not willing to take a risk and move the organization in a radically different direction, neither will anyone else.

Leadership and the War of Art

Recently, an executive asked me to help develop a profile for recruiting new sales managers.  The company currently uses a highly refined and successful selection process which hires results-oriented sales managers who aren’t afraid to give pointed feedback and hold people accountable.  This approach has catapulted the company to great success and led to numerous industry leading benchmarks.  Over the past few years however, results have plateaued and traditional methods of leading a salesforce have reached a point of diminishing returns.

To solve the problem, the company wants to move from a traditional top-down “carrot and stick” culture to one that is driven by high levels of employee engagement and intrinsic motivation.  This requires a different type of leader who can connect with people, inspire them to embrace the challenge to grow, and engage them in the process of making daily improvements.  It requires a leader who understands that true accountability is less about waving a big stick and more about creating an environment where people own their results and find joy in continuously pushing themselves to get better.

So how do you find a leader like this?  In my experience, you can’t find them around every corner and they don’t all share similar backgrounds, education and experience.  They do however, possess similar characteristics that enable them to connect with others and create high performance teams.  Novelist Steven Pressfield outlined some key characteristics of successful creative professionals in his book, The War of Art: Breakthrough the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles that I believe are consistent with some of the characteristics we should be looking for in a leader.

First, the type of leader we are looking for is not afraid to act in the face of fear and endure adversity.  Second, he or she accepts no excuses and “plays it as it lays.”  Next, he or she is dedicated to mastering technique but does not show off as their skills improve.  Fourth, we need a leader who recognizes his or her own limitations and does not hesitate to ask for help.  Finally, regardless of the outcome of any singular event, he or she does not take failure (or success) personally.  They understand that “everything can look like a success or a failure in the middle” (Rosabeth Moss Kanter) and thus is never afraid to take on new challenges and risk being wrong in the pursuit of discovering what is right.