Sustainable Change

I watched an interesting story on CBS Sunday Morning detailing why our Detroit auto manufacturers are trailing the Japanese auto manufacturers in sales. Apparently the data shows the gap is closing (safety, quality, etc), but perception hasn’t changed.


The reporter interviewed workers at Ford Motor Company’s Wayne, Michigan assembly plan. Jim Stone, a 40-year veteran at Ford, said “When I first came in here and I started thinking on my own — I tried to think on my own! — I was told that I was not paid to think. I was paid to do,” he said. “We got the feeling that: it’s a part you put in, don’t worry about it. Now, it’s that if the part don’t fit, stop the line, get it to fit, find out what the root cause is.”

“Root cause.”  Wow. I wonder when Ford started teaching that.

“Because if we don’t build it right, then you’re not gonna buy it,” Stone said. “And if you don’t buy it, then we’re out of a job.”

“We’re out of a job.”  Wow again! Talk about understanding a ‘burning platform’ or need for change!

When Change is Sustainable

Change isn’t easy. Leading change, doing change, managing change, going through change. It’s all hard. A lot of companies embrace some sort of change management model or philosophy. Many employ John Kotter models or some sort of six sigma approach.

Applying a change model is required. Without some methodology to guide the company, it is like traveling sans map. Abusing the map/travel analogy a bit more: the map is the beginning!

Three keys to sustainable change

1. common language – everyone involved needs to get the terminology and reason for the change.
2. experienced/educated practitioners – you need the people with the flashlights, those not afraid of the darkness, the ambiguity of change.
3. leadership – where speeches and posters are in line with activities and compensation.  Nothing is more telling about a company than whether the speeches line up with the compensation plans and actions.

Will Ford make it back to profitability again? With more people like John Stone speaking that common language, they are on the right track.  If only there is enough time.

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