Are You Weighing Opportunity and Risk? By Marshall Goldsmith To...
The Ford executives initially had a hard time believing that the meeting was truly a no-cynicism, no-judgment zone. This is one reason the executives balked at assigning the color red to any of their projects: They feared their colleagues’ derision.
Alan shut down the sarcasm the first week simply by calling it out on the spot. And all the executives got that message. Willingness to report red—that is, admitting a weak spot in their division—took longer. No one wanted to test Alan’s promise that people could be transparent and honest with absolutely no reprisal.
A month into Alan’s tenure, when the head of North America reported the first red at a shutdown Canadian production line, Alan applauded him for his honesty and visibility, a response that wasn’t lost on the room. That’s the moment Alan knew he had reached his leadership team.
But not all of them.
Keep in mind that, except for the weekly two hours of the Thursday meeting, Alan left his team alone for much of the other 166 hours. He was there to serve them and not micromanage them. Alan believed that the transparency and decency he demanded in the BPR would eventually penetrate the rest of Ford.
This process began to reset the culture.
Nevertheless, two of his senior executives told him they couldn’t live with his philosophy.
This meant, in effect, that they admitted that being nice felt phony and inauthentic to them. Alan told each of them that he was sorry they felt that way, but it was their choice, not his. They knew the rules, no exceptions. He wasn’t firing them. They were firing themselves.
Readers of my book Triggers will note that this is not the first time I’ve written about Alan Mulally’s methods. I think his BPR is a brilliant management tool, the most effective strategy I’ve encountered to create alignment between people’s stated plans and how well they execute the plan. It is a masterstroke of accountability that more managers should emulate.
But in recent years, I’ve come to appreciate the BPR’s strictures for its psychologically incisive lessons — not so much about our choices, but rather about what follows, that is, how we take responsibility for those choices. This is particularly apt in the context of creating an earned life.
Alan’s rules for how to behave in the BPR were a gift to the executives, not, as they initially feared, a draconian attempt to control them. Alan gifted his new team with what I call the Agency of No Choice.
They could either behave in a positive way or find work elsewhere—which sounds like he was offering them a binary choice, except that it wasn’t because the executives could have left Ford on their own steam for other jobs before Alan ever called the first BPR. Alan wasn’t the one coercing their departure. He was giving them only one choice—behave and communicate in a positive way in the BPR—which is effectively no choice. It was a new show. They had to commit to it, or get off the stage.
This was the “no choice” part of the Agency of No Choice. Alan fostered the “agency” part by making the BPR a weekly event.