Alan Mulally, Ford’s CEO since 2006 managed to get the company back on tracks with 6,6 billions of dollars of profit in 2010. When he arrived, people would be reluctant to talk about problems during the weekly global meeting. Games were being played, so when problems came up, it was often too late…
• Kill the Messenger: This is an ancient tradition; you take out your frustration on the people bringing you bad news, rather than on those who have created it. This is a game for leaders who lack a tolerance for negative information. Being able to absorb and learn from negative events is a critical skill for leaders today, yet rather than develop this skill, they play Kill the Messenger,
• No Bad News: In this game, players avoid or suppress negative data in relentless pursuit of a positive approach. This game can present itself in a variety of situations but in the case of Ford, we can identify two: avoiding giving someone negative feedback and hiding poor results from a boss to avoid his wrath.
• Half-Truths: The player states only half of what would be necessary for others to know. As a result, people make decisions as if half-truths were whole truths. In this game, people pretend not to know all the facts so that if they’re later accused of misleading the group, they can claim ignorance.
The main impact of those games is that people filter their reports, taking out any reportage that might engender an outburst. People learn not to communicate problems, so managers operate in a blissful bubble, thinking that everything is going fine when in fact there are serious problems. When those games are played, the company is at risk due to its lack of visibility. As issues are disguised through the games, no red flags go up when problems arise, and with poorly informed leaders, the company loses agility. They operate from an unrealistically optimistic perspective and are unable to plan for downturns or competitors’ moves.
A very drastic transformation in Ford management style supported the strategic changes implemented. Tom Grant, in charge of executive development, came up with special management trainings for 15 000 executives. Gathering for a week groups of executives from diverse countries and functions, the participants would share their views and experience about work and personal life. Creating mutual trust, games at work would be reduced. This program had a fantastic impact on work atmosphere and efficiency. With less office politics, no one is afraid to announce bad news. When problems come up, executives are not afraid to ask for help and this way Ford can address all the challenges that arise. The next step is to spread this attitude to the whole company.
Source: Exame, Abril Publishing, Brazil, February 23rd 2011