Ford CEO: Employee Involvement is a Top Priority

On my flight back to Denver from Houston last week I had the pleasure of sitting next to a consultant from Ethisphere. The research-based Ethisphere Institute is a leading international think-tank dedicated to the creation, advancement and sharing of best practices in business ethics, corporate social responsibility, anti-corruption and sustainability.

I was thrilled to learn of this consultant’s work with organizations, including those that are serious about business ethics and those that are quite a bit more casual. Can you imagine a client asking a well-regarded organization like Ethisphere to “draft us a code of conduct so we can get back to our day to day business”? Unless the organization is willing to create AND enforce the code of conduct, little long term benefit will occur.

The Ethisphere consultant described a recent trip to Dearborn, MI to present Ford Motor Company with Ethisphere’s “Worlds Most Ethical Company” award for 2010. Ethisphere conducts an annual assessment to identify the world’s most ethical companies each year. Ford not only won the top prize but was the only automobile manufacturer to make the list in 2010. Ford’s description of their ethical journey is described here.

The consultant described meeting Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford, CEO & President Alan Mulally, and other senior leaders when they presented the coveted award. Ford and Mulally gave the team a tour of the corporate offices and the new, highly green, highly automated truck plant in Dearborn.

I was intrigued to hear about how Mulally has refined the weekly “business plan review” meeting, where senior leaders presented a three-minute report on key projects and progress on goals. These meetings and Mulally’s focus on honest diagnosis of business issues have been credited with Ford’s tremendous turnaround during Mulally’s tenure. The Ethisphere staff were shown the “Thunderbird” executive meeting room with it’s huge round table with 16 chairs around it. Each seat has a microphone in front of it, and the room has many video screens and cameras standing at the ready. The consultant said to Mulally, “So, this is where your senior staff sit to present their business plan reviews?” Mulally said no, and explained how this important meeting has evolved.

Employee Involvement at the Business Plan Review Meetings

Mulally said that senior leaders make their presentations from wherever they are in the world via video conferencing. The people who sit in the room for those presentations are employees chosen by their division presidents to participate that week! The mix could include front line staff from a US or South American plant, a player from the R&D team, a personnel clerk from a European facility, etc. Employees who are the heart of the company’s operations travel to Dearborn (some have never traveled anywhere, ever), treated as honored guests, and sit at the very table where key decisions about this global organization are made every day.

Mulally explained that, once the business plan review reports are made, he turns to the employees in the room and asks questions like, “What is your experience? What could we be doing better for you and your peers? What issues exist that, if resolved, would make your work easier and more productive?” These discussions help educate senior leaders on how well their strategies are working and help clearly identify issues that need immediate attention.

This is a simple and amazingly effective way for employees to feel heard and included in business strategy. How can your company bring employees “to the table”?

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