"I’ve been flooded with e-mails from employees with ideas — and not just product innovation: everything from plant ideas to saving money, ideas to reach the customer," Ford said in the conference call. "There is a lot of pent-up demand, apparently."
The Ford that said this is Bill Ford, Chairman of the Ford Motor Company. "This is not something that’s the flavor of the quarter," he goes on to say. All this according to a story in the Detroit News.
He asked Ford employees for suggestions about how to improve the company and they have swamped him. Sounds like he has been reading one of Norm Bodek’s books.
Asking for ideas is one thing. Acting on them – or better yet, letting the employees act on them without having to check with the boss on everything – is quite another. We’ll see soon enough whether this marks a true culture change at Ford, but there are some positive signs.
The best sign that things might really be moving toward leaner, smarter manufacturing at Ford is the fact that they have been pretty quiet over the last few months. While GM reacted in immediate GM fashion by announcing that 25,000 people would have to go, assaulting the UAW for apparently duping GM into signing all those labor agreements, and playing pricing games, Ford has been pretty pensive. Their reaction to all of the bad news in automotive is not going to be announced until January. Until then, they seem to be doing a lot of thinking about things like culture, strategy and people.
Ford has a little less pressure from Wall Street than GM and maybe that gives them more breathing room. Almost half of the controlling stock in Ford is controlled by Bill Ford’s kinfolk, although answering to Wall Street may be less stressful sometimes than answering to disgruntled aunts and uncles.
Regardless, while asking for suggestions is a long way from becoming lean, it sure is a great first step. No matter where it leads, Bill Ford deserves the respect of the manufacturing community for the leadership it takes to step back under intense pressure and try to see the bigger, long range picture; and even more respect for having the character to ask his employees for help.