Sunday, September 27, 2009

Simple Employee Messages

While GM and Chrysler struggle to succeed despite $17 billion in government bailouts, Ford stands out for building success without putting its hand out. Ford claims it started this process by recognizing the industry problems back in 2006 and acting before the crisis.

In 2006, then-CEO William Clay Ford, Jr. recognized his inability to restructure the struggling business. He took the bold act of replacing himself. He brought in Alan Mulally, who had succeeded in restructuring Boeing through its troubles. I imagine that board members "helped" William Ford with his decision, but Ford was able to act on it where other CEOs fight to the death of their companies.

I'm a strong believer in the value of leaders presenting simple messages to their teams. One of the turnaround techniques that Ford is now using is to spread its simple message in a plastic card that employees carry with their badges.

Many people find such things to be silly management techniques. I see them as powerful leadership tools for focusing the team on a simple goal. In each employee that mocks such efforts, you will find an employee who understands the message on the card. They play another valuable role in solidifying the message: They are the first to call out their leaders when they don't act toward the stated goals. Even such mocking acts can serve the goal by acting as a conscience to keep the leaders on track.

As a leader, you could take your first lesson from Ford by having a simple goal for your teams. Your second lesson from Ford is to not be shy about sharing it until your team thinks you are being silly. Here's wishing success to Ford.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why Samoan Survivors Follow thier Leaders

Last night I watched the first episode of Survivor Samoa. The participants broke into two tribes and their first task was to pick a leader for each tribe. They elected leaders with a simple ballot, with the highest vote-getter becoming the tribe leader. At this point in the game, they only had visual first impressions to go on. Up to that point, they were not allowed to talk to each other.

I found it interesting that throughout the rest of the episode, each tribe was happy to take direction from their simply-picked leader. The leader had done nothing to deserve the role, but yet the tribe followed them.

So, what can we learn from this. It would be simple to dismiss this willingness to follow as a tactic for staying under the radar in the game. That probably is part of the dynamic. In my experience, I see people relieved not to have to take on the leadership role. Most people are happy to follow anyone who is willing to take the role, so long as they don't abuse the role.

One good example is when a bunch of friends are planning to go out to dinner together. One person says, "Where should we go," and there is silence. What is that silence? It is a pause while everyone avoids the risk of being the leader in that decision. I know that whatever the first person suggests, someone in the group will shoot down. But, most people would rather just follow the leader's choice. After all, the restaurant is not the important part; going out together is.

I think the Samoan Survivors were willing to follow their leaders because someone was willing to be the leader. You might assume that your teams are willing to follow you until you deserve that they shouldn't. Don't be afraid to take the lead. People will appreciate your willingness, even if they don't say so.