Recognise This! – Company culture, as the culmination of individual behaviours, can be the critical factor for success in very difficult times.

The 2008 recession was shocking to many for many reasons, not least of which was the failure or near failure of very large companies that had become institutions in the minds of many. In the US, just one example is the auto powerhouse of the Big 3 in Detroit – Ford, General Motors (GM), and Chrysler. All three were hurting badly by the end of 2008, with two ultimately accepting bailouts from the US government. All but Ford.

What kept Ford from needing a bailout? There are several factors, including prior leveraging of its assets. But I think it’s more than just the clear-cut monetary business factors. Much of Ford’s ability to weather the economic storm and emerge stronger than ever in a very competitive industry has to do with their culture. Long before the recession hit, Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally had begun reshaping the culture of Ford, describing it this way in a recent interview with McKinsey:

“At the heart of our culture is the One Ford plan, which is essentially our vision for the organisation and its mission. And at the heart of the One Ford plan is the phrase “One Team.” Those are more than just words. We really expect our colleagues to model certain behaviours. People here really are committed to the enterprise and to each other. They are working for more than themselves. We are a global company, so we really have to stay focussed on the work. There are so many people around the world involved in our daily operations that it has to be about more than a single person—it truly has to be about the business. Some prefer to work in a different way. Ultimately, they will either adopt the Ford culture, or they will leave.”

In this short paragraph, Mr. Mulally is conveying three important components of his company and what it takes for individuals to succeed in order for the company to succeed:

  1. One Company/One Team – We’re all in this together, working towards the same goal. Teamwork isn’t just a pretty framed poster on the wall. It is fundamentally how we behave, locally and everywhere in the world.
  2. Behaviours matter, in everyone – The same fundamental behaviours that drive our success are required from all Ford employees. Commitment, teamwork, focus, business vision.
  3. Success comes more easily when personal and company values align – Your personal work style may not mesh with how we work as a company. There’s no value judgment, but you’ll be more successful in another organisation that aligns to your personal approach.

Accomplishing this is far easier with a process and system in place to encourage and support it. Truly strategic, social recognition makes it simple for anyone to notice the good work of others in line the core values and recognise them for it. With everyone on board, the desired behaviours become much better understood in the daily work and therefore much more prevalent in how the work gets done – by everyone, everywhere. As important is the ability to then easily track where those desired behaviours are occurring and where not, so additional intervention and training can be provided as needed.

Should your company and industry find itself in a similar position as Ford and the US auto industry, how would your organisation weather the storm? What would sustain you and support both individuals and the company as a whole to succeed even in the toughest of business environments?