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August 1999

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Ford Takes Road Less Traveled

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Ford Takes Road Less Traveled
Accountability, Team Focus and Trust Help Ford's Visteon Enterprise Tap New Business Markets

NFC: As I understand it this enterprise, Visteon Automotive Systems, was formed two years ago. And the company is a supplier to the automotive industry?

Berdish: Yeah, they'll provide automotive components and systems - interior, exterior, glass, electronics, climate control, energy, power train controls and chassis. Visteon is a wholly-owned enterprise of Ford Motor Company. It's the first time this kind of thing has been compiled into one organization. This is relatively new and the newness is that we're trying to go out and sell our products and services to people other than Ford.

NFC: Visteon's mission is to think beyond the conventional - to initiate breakthroughs of lasting impact.

Berdish: That's what we want to do. And it doesn't have to be just automotive industry. We can be a business that delivers products stand alones. We're going into different areas than just automotive. We're actually bidding theaters. We've taken our interior business and we've taken our technology and used it to make theater seats. It's really some breakthrough stuff.

NFC: How do you go about aligning 78,000 employees around this mission and vision?

Berdish: We're trying to set up an environment to tap people's potential. We also want to tap all the technological ideas that are out there. And the best way to do that is to encourage people to learn. And the best way to encourage people to learn is to make an environment where it is okay to say, "I don't know."

If you want to learn you have to admit you don't know something. And Ford doesn't have a culture that generally rewards people for not knowing. They have a culture that makes you want to kind of tell fibs, cover up, or delay the answer. So we're trying to make it so people are open and honest with each other. An environment where people share their assumptions and perceptions with each.

We need to make people understand where they fit in the system, but still hold people accountable and encourage a culture of learning. That's how we're going to see different possibilities. And the way to do that is just to tie in the learning with the vision, strategy and the purpose.
We're trying to say that we're all going to learn together. So, we offer organizational courses, we offer systems thinking courses and we facilitate team learning workshops.

NFC: But all the training in the world isn't necessarily going to translate into a shared vision and accountability.

Berdish: Well, actually, training is a secondary thing for me. It's a way people can sheep the people in and say, you know, "Chip and Chucky, they took this course." The real movement's going to be when people use this stuff in their everyday work. When it becomes part of their behaviors. And when leadership walks the talk and encourages this.

But, on the other hand, it's a setback when leadership gives out performance reviews or when they have management meetings and kick people around, and focus on individual objectives. Then it ain't never gonna happen no matter how many courses I teach.

NFC: Okay, we talk about management meetings where someone's being kicked around because they haven't met their objectives, but yet on the same hand, we talk about having individual accountability. So I if I haven't met my objectives how does accountability play into that? How do you balance accountability with entitlement?

Berdish: I think people should be held accountable, but I don't think people should be entitled to be off the hook. But we're telling people we want to encourage super-integrated business practices, that we're going to be leading-edge and uncover lots of potential for brand new business opportunities. So what's that going to require?

It's going to require people to say, "I just can't worry about my own job, I have to worry about how I fit within the system." If I say, "I'm gonna have to give up a little bit of profit, or I'm gonna have to give up a little bit of weight in the packaging in this thing, so we can win in the entire business." Then when people go to get their performance review they can say, "Look, I took some hits on my profitability but those hits contributed to the success of this integrated business." If we beat these people up for not making the individual objective, then we're in trouble.

We need to figure out a way to tie reward and recognition into an operating system that's consistent with the business that we're going to go into.

NFC: And how are you going to do that?

Berdish: Well, that's the struggle now. If we're trying to create shared vision, we have to have a clear understanding, a collective understanding, about what we're trying to do and how we're going to be rewarded and recognized for those efforts.

Even if I could train it, it wouldn't be successful unless we figure out rewards and recognition. It's a gradual process, it's a learning process. We're all going to make mistakes as we work on these issues. This as an evolutionary process. We're not just going to wake up one day, put together a strategic plan in five days, and lay it out.

NFC: So how will you overcome that?

Berdish: We have to focus on making the business successful and we need to make sure that we reward people who do that. So we promote people to program management spots that fulfill the criteria of a leader, a systems thinker, a learning person, a team player rather than someone who's just a good engineer

NFC: To switch topics, there's a sense of urgency with team behavior - to work to develop an effective team relationship and to influence the bottom line. How do you balance all that?

Berdish: Equal speed. Whenever anyone says to me, "How do you do a learning organization? We're in a high tension business and I don't have time to have dialogue or relationships with other people." We spend so much time planning, it's sick. People say, "I have too much to do. I don't have time to reflect or learn or build relationships." But if you think about the way we learn, which is to research, to plan, to do and then reflect on what we've done - well that's a quality circle of plan, do, check, act.

It's sick how much time people spend on planning rather than learning. That's one of the things from the quality circle that I really get frustrated with. What we need to do is work quicker, not spend so much time on upfront planning and make decisions better because we trust each other.

What I often tell people is if they need to find time to build relationships or reflect with each other, take this time from your time doing, take it from your time planning.

If you spend time building relationships with your team upfront, instead of planning upfront, you'll trust that person to be there when you need them. You know those team members are there getting stuff accomplished.

NFC: How do you go about building this level of trust?

Berdish: You have dialogue sessions, team learning sessions, go through some mental model exercises like the ladder on inference, left hand column, the stuff that's right out of Senge. We do system archetypes-trying to talk through the system that we're part of, and try to see how we can build it better.

NFC: Have you found that people can go through these exercises to develop trust but not carry it back to the workplace?

Berdish: Well, first of all, we try to make as many people take these exercises in the workplace - on the factory floor or design office. We don't pull them out. We don't pull them offsite to some soft and squishy thing.

NFC: What about empowerment? Empowerment in the traditional way of thinking, is something that leadership management gives. I can try to be empowered all I want, but isn't it something that is given by those who have the power.

Berdish: I think the intention was that people empower themselves and take accountability for the business themselves . We're trying to encourage people to be entrepreneurial and take charge of that themselves.
When you work at Ford Motor Company for 15, 20, 25 years and you're just one of 400,000 people it's so easy to say, "Who's gonna notice if I don't do anything today?"
What we're trying to say to people is, "You're accountable to run your own business. Do whatever you think is best. Don't get bogged down by these bureaucratic rules that come with a big, big company."

NFC: So what's your biggest challenge in doing this?

Berdish: I think my biggest challenge is to break up the old mental models about Ford. It's hard to get people excited about doing it because we've been in limbo for a couple of years. We don't really know what the rules are. If I could get people around a lasting vision I think people would get excited about it.
People get excited about the new business opportunities, the different potential. We try to build off of success stories where people have hit a home run in either processes, or new businesses or new products.

And then again, always communicate to people good news and bad news. Always communicate to people where we're at, where things are changing. Communicate new awards, and then make sure people understand the vision and the strategy by constantly reinforcing it.

NFC: You've used the example of a rock band. But the difference between that and a work group is that the rock group is clearly defined, which goes back to leading with vision and clarity. The rock band is intimately connected in terms of knowing each other. They know their roles are very clearly defined. And then the magic happens as a result of the freedom that they've had to explore within those clearly defined parameters.

Berdish: That's exactly it. The thing is, we have to try to create that in our work groups. But the problem is when you think about rock bands-they rehearse. In Manufacturing you can't say, "I'd like to have $10 million so we can rehearse before launch next year, and, by the way, give me another $10 million to buy the real thing." We have to set up scenarios to allow people to research, to rehearse, to practice and learn with each other without spending a ton of money for our dress rehearsal.

NFC: When will your work at Visteon be completed?

Berdish: I guess it'll be done when these concepts are part of our operating behavior.
There's certain pressure points that I'll be looking for. I'll know we're making progress when someone will go request a capital project and they don't get any contingency on it. When people say, "I need $10 million," they really need $10 million. It's not, "I'm asking for $10 million because I don't trust you guys and I know you'll cut it. I only really need $8 million, but I know you'll take $2 million away."
I see some if it now. Not as much as I wish, but it's big organization. People carry their own baggage on how they think business should run.

NFC: How do you get them to give up the baggage?

Berdish: Just keep working through that stuff. And frankly, every once in a while when we lose a big business I say, "Maybe they'll learn from this." I hate the fact that we lost, but on the other hand, if we're losing business because we can't get together and work better then...

NFC: ...then we should be losing business?

Berdish: Maybe we need to lose business before we'll get it right.

NFC: What motivates you?

Berdish: A couple of things. I really believe that one thing that's infinite is the potential of human beings, and I think learning facilitates us to tap that potential.
And this sounds corny, but I really want to be the Bruce Springsteen of the automotive industry or the learning organization because he cares about all people, and I really come to work worrying about everyone. It sounds really dramatic, but it's really, really true.

Another thing is, and this is a little bit more emotional, but a couple years ago, my wife got breast cancer. And when you have a doctor tell you the person you chose to spend the rest of your life with has a 50 percent chance of dying, all of a sudden you want to get to the heart of the matter quicker. You want to cut through the crap and say, "We need to do what needs to be done, live every moment as if it's the last one.
That's what gets me geeked about coming here.

NFC: Everybody we work with probably has, maybe not the same stimulus, but has similar reasons for why they get psyched for coming to work.

Berdish: Absolutely, because one thing I've learned is that it doesn't matter if you're in Budapest, or Belfast, or Indianapolis, or Ann Arbor or Dearborn. People pretty much care about the same things. They want to be successful, they want Ford or Visteon to be successful, and they want to be able to provide for their family and live in good communities where their kids can go to good schools and they're safe in the streets at night.

August '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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