When Ford sold the Model T in 1908 it was the first mass-produced car for the middle class. Henry Ford had a simple vision, “I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best material, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise…” When demand for the Model T increased dramatically in 1913, Ford switched to using only black paint to increase the efficiency of the assembly line and to keep prices affordable. It is here that Henry Ford is often quoted as saying, “Any customer can have any color paint as long as it’s black.” It was a simple vision.
By 2006 Ford was selling cars under nine different brands in six continents. It had become a much more complicated business and Ford lost $12.6 billion that year, the year that Alan Mulally became the CEO and began what would become one of the greatest turnarounds in business history.
Mulally re-focused Ford to simplify the business and return to profit using the same process he used as the CEO of Boeing, the same process that other great leaders had used in the past: Simplify the Message, Simplify the Schedule, and Simplify the Measurements. If you find yourself in a business that has gotten to complicated, take a look at this three-step process.
Simplify the message
Steve Jobs was a master at simple messaging. From the Apple logo to every new product release, the message was clear and easy to understand. Jobs said, “Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
Alan Mulally started with harkening back to the simpler time of the Model T. Henry Ford envisioned, “Opening the highways for all mankind,” According to Mulally, you have to figure out a way to, “Get every employee to understand the vision of the company, buy in to the plan, and feel supported in their jobs.”
Mulally introduced a simple message called One Ford. “One Ford optimizes our collective strength by aligning our efforts toward a common definition of success, with a clear focus on the skills and behaviors we must develop to accomplish One Team, One Plan, One Goal,” This would bring all the global businesses together to more efficiently and effectively achieve success. This included simple behaviors that were fundamental to One Ford: Foster Functional and Technical Excellence, Own Working Together, Role Model Ford Values, Deliver Results.
Simplify the schedule
Jim Rohn is best known for being a bestselling author and motivational speaker. He began his career as an entrepreneur in the direct selling business where he learned his craft and developed methods for success. Rohn’s simple method for success is stated as follows, “Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines practiced every day”
Alan Mulally joined as the CEO of Ford during “Meeting Week.” This was the time of the month when all of the corporate meetings happened across one entire week; finance, sales, products and others. Mulally sat through the week then cancelled all of the meetings and replaced them with one weekly “Business Plan Review,” meeting where the strategic focus of the company would be reviewed all in one day. If problems were identified in this meeting, follow-up meetings would be scheduled to dig deeper and identify solutions.
This new meeting structure brought the entire company into focus for every executive to see, offer opinions and solutions in line with the One Ford message of working as One Team, with One Plan, and One Goal.
Simplify the measurements
Theodore Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was the author of 51 books that sold over 600 million copies that were translated into 20 languages. His books covered deep, complicated subjects in simple ways that everyone from the youngest toddler to the oldest adult could understand. Seuss said, “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”
When Mulally joined Ford in 2006, the automotive business was complicated, and it would remain complicated. But Mulally could handle complicated. When asked how he would handle auto manufacturing when a car has 10,000 moving parts, the former Boeing CEO responded, “An airplane has two million, and it has to stay up in the air.” The questions would remain complicated while the answers would be simple.
Gone were the long presentations during “Meeting Week” from every division and they were replaced with color coded charts in the “Business Plan Review” that showed the same data for each division so everyone knew if they were on track or not, where they were not, they would talk about how to get on track. Mulally is known to tell his team to, “Let the data set you free.” These simple measurements would foster greater unity across the whole team in line with the One Ford message of working as One Team, with One Plan, and One Goal.