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Sep 26, 2014

Driving Fear From Ford

Driving The Fear Out Of Ford

Colin D. Baird

Frederick Taylor and Henry Ford have been dead for many years, but their legacy of command and control is not. American workers have been subjected to generations of fear built around the notion that managers, not employees, know best how to perform value added work for customers. Those actually closest to the value being added, know how waste affects their jobs, but have no control over the system designed by management to run the business.


CEO’s must come to grips that America’s employment culture is in a death spiral. Fear dominates the American landscape yet remains a preferred tool for CEOs to create motivation according to While only 10% of CEOs claimed to use fear as a motivator, execs ranked it as the #1 motivation tool of their own company’s CEOs. General employees and executives who also feel the wrath of fear, rank it dead last in terms of effective motivators.


Leaders must take action to eliminate fear, or it will continue to take many men’s souls away like the Black Plague did in the middle ages. History has a strange way of repeating herself. Nevertheless, it’s a useful tool to help understand human behavior when fear pervades a culture.


As symptoms of The Black Plague began to appear throughout Europe, fear caused mass hysteria. People did not know what to do, they had no control, no cures, no understanding of what was happening. The same signs have been clearly visible in America’s workforce for nearly 50 years, but few executives recognize its damaging long term societal affects.


Fear strips away a man’s natural desire to cooperate, to learn, and to feel dignified from knowing that his contributions matter. Fear denudes him of his self esteem, and drives away his intrinsic motivation and curiosity. While the Japanese learned this 60 years ago, and went to great length to drive fear out of their culture, American leaders still refuse to.


The good news is the Japanese influence is now moving its way east since Allan Mullaly began transforming the culture at Ford. He replaced fear with trust, command and control with collaboration, and focused employee attention on continuous improvements and one another. He transformed the organization with amazing efficiency during the worst financial crisis in automobile history. He is a classic American leadership success story. His story needs to be sung from the tallest mountains so other executives can follow in his footsteps.


Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the American profit, and statistician who first introduced the ideas about driving out fear, improving culture, and nurturing man’s intrinsic motivation, heavily influenced The Nation of Japan beginning in 1952 after being rebuked by American executives. Deming served Japanese industry for 42 years then got a chance again to drive his thinking home to Former Ford CEO Don Peterson in 1982.


Deming’s meeting with Ford came after Peterson witnessed the NBC News documentary, “If Japan can, why can’t we” and then hired Deming.  Peterson implemented some of the Deming principles, but never had the full faith of the Ford family to make it meaningful to the culture. Fortunately for America today, the Ford family had a reawakening before they hired Mullaly. Mullaly had learned the principles at Boeing. He began applying them when he took over the reigns at Ford in 2006. Mullaly made it happen, but Deming’s ideas to help guide him. 


Amazingly enough, Deming’s principles are still not required course work in American business schools. Perhaps the command and control style of leadership is still preferred by academia. While change is difficult however, it must take place for the betterment of our societal needs.


Experts like Robert Mauer Ph.D. suggest execs take small incremental steps to begin transforming their culture. As new good habits slowly replace the old bad ones, people begin to see and feel the difference. As momentum rolls on, you can continue to introduce small changes that make big differences.


These concepts can be applied to improving the lives of employees. It’s not easy, but it’s mandatory if we want to improve. Here are simple steps you can use to begin eliminating fear from your culture.



(1)   Go and See For Yourself-Often The Japanese use the concept of Genchi Genbutsu which means ‘going and seeing for yourself at the places where things happen and value gets added.” Collaboration can be used to replace command and control by spending increased amounts of time with employees at the worksite, seeking their ideas for improvement, then implementing those improvements.


(2)   Establish Trust In order for collaboration to begin, trust must first however be re-established, and then all parties can begin to comfortably tell their truth. This can’t happen from your executive offices. Spend more time with employees, not with your reports.


(3)   Don’t go undercover. Television seems to think you need to go undercover, but you shouldn’t. When you have driven fear out of your culture, employees will be happy to see you, and trust you have their back. Stay highly visible and communicate often with vision and clarity that can be sustainable as improvements begin.


There is opportunity for improvement in the executive suite today. Driving out fear, re-engages the CEO’s most valuable asset, the employee’s mind. Margins improve, inventory declines, and capacity expands as they did at Ford all the while improving the lives of those you serve.