Coach’s Challenge for 3/30/09

Good day, team,

This week I’ve been trying to figure out whether all the bad news we’re hearing about the economy is educating us or making things worse. We have more access to information than any other generation before, and so are more informed, but this plethora of information also colors how we think about events.

For every bit of bad news I read, I can also come up with a number of positive interpretations. But I have to work to turn my perspective around. For example, Powell’s Books (now the biggest book store in the U.S.) decided not to go through with a planned $5 million expansion, even though the company had financing for it. But because of a recent 5 percent drop in sales, Michael Powell didn’t think it was prudent to expand right now.

My first thought was, what bad news. Think of all the people who would have benefited from the jobs created: the architect, the builder, the banker, etc. But then I realized it’s not such a bad idea for Powell’s to think about better ways to use the space it has and support sustainable growth. Maybe it means more job security for the people already employed there if they have to do more with less. And taking a conservative approach sets a good example for future generations of the Powell family members who hope to continue running a successful business.

If I had taken the news on face value, I would have run the risk of believing a partial truth, that is, just one view of the situation. But if I consider the same situation from different viewpoints, I can often find underlying benefits.

It also helps to seek out good news in the midst of all the dire reports about the economy. One such example is the article I’m including here, “Four Reasons Why Ford May Be the Company of the Future,” by Tony Schwartz, president of the Energy Project.

“If you could look inside the inner sanctum at Ford, what would you expect to see? Anxiety? Panic? Despair?

“The economy, after all, is getting worse not better. Monthly car sales in the U.S. have continued to drop precipitously. Ford has lost market share during the past year and reported $5.9 billion of losses in the last quarter of 2009.

“But if you spend a day with CEO Alan Mulally and his top executives, as I did recently, what you discover is a group of people who are laser-focused, hopeful, proud and incredibly passionate about the mission they’re on—even without retention bonuses or long-term incentive plans.

“Here are the four reasons I believe Ford is modeling how companies of the future ought to operate:

“1. Creating value by valuing people. Alan Mulally is fiercely realistic about the steep challenge Ford faces, but he’s infectiously upbeat about their ability to meet it, and he makes the people around him feel good, including about themselves. He truly understands that only positive emotions fuel sustainable high performance and that the more valued people feel, the more they’re freed and inspired to create more value.

“2. Transparency rules. My colleague Annie Perrin and I began our day at Ford at 8 a.m. by attending Ford’s weekly Business Plan Review, which includes all of its senior executives around the world. Outsiders are regularly invited to observe the meeting. Every executive reports any new information that might influence Ford’s overall revenue projections, or any other part of its plan. Mulally operates on the assumption that the truth will set you free, even when it hurts.

“3. Personal responsibility. The day we were there, one Ford executive described a significant shortfall on a particular projection. It was the sort of acknowledgment that might have prompted high drama in many boardrooms. In this case, the executive simply went on to list the ways he intended to address the shortfall over the coming days and invited other suggestions. No energy was wasted in wringing hands or avoiding responsibility or assigning blame. The focus was entirely on solutions.

“4. A mission worth believing in. Mulally believes that ‘to serve is to live,’ and he has rallied the notoriously factionalized and siloed Ford around a shared mission that is simple and compelling: make Ford the leader in quality, safety and fuel efficiency.

“Public opinion may not have caught up yet, but the company has made significant progress on each of those fronts. Consumer Reports last month recommended 70 percent of Ford’s vehicles, for example, versus 17 percent of GM’s and none of Chrysler’s. Ford’s cars have significantly improved in reliability, and the company has an aggressive commitment not just to hybrids, but also to plug-in electric cars and to equaling or exceeding its competitors in fuel efficiency in all classes.

“In the midst of a perfect storm, Mulally has created a culture in which his team is working together closely to create a new kind of company. When the economic clouds finally do part, these executives have a shared conviction that they’ll emerge, along with Toyota and Volkswagen, as one of the three truly global automobile companies.

“I’m not about to bet against them. I haven’t owned an American car in 20 years, but after a day hanging around Mulally and his team, I intend to buy a high-mileage electric Ford as my next one.”

This article encouraged me because, in the midst of great challenge and adversity, a car company executive is rallying his troops and making smart business decisions to accomplish a mission that will benefit many people. He’s using his motto “to serve is to live” as a way to conduct his life with integrity and meaning.

Your challenge this week is to find ways to think positively about what’s happening economically by seeking out optimistic ways to interpret difficult situations. Perhaps you can’t hire someone for a new position but have to think of new ways to train your existing workforce so they work more efficiently.  Maybe you plan a celebration at work or at home and think of more creative ways to make it happen, like having a potluck. I have been creating new payment arrangements with some of my clients to make it easier and more equitable for both of us during these lean times. Think of giving your people a mission that’s simple and easy to believe in, something that will allow their passion and commitment to transform much of what is negative into a positive.

As my grandmother used to say, “Try turning lemons into lemonade.”

Have a good week,

Kathleen

Kathleen Doyle-White
Pathfinders Coaching
(503) 296-9249

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