I’m in the middle of reading a fantastic book called “American Icon” about Alan Mulally, one of the key players in turning Boeing around and the CEO who led the Ford Motor Company back to greatness. These are extremely complex companies and products. The average commercial airliner has more than 4 million parts and Ford has roughly 213,000 employees at 90+ plants and facilities worldwide. During his tenure at Boeing, Mulally played a role in the development of every major plane they brought to market including the Boeing 727, 737, 747, 757, 767 and Boeing 777 projects. He helped steer the company through turbulent times including the 9/11 terror attacks in which all four planes were Boeing aircraft. When Mullaly arrived at Ford they had just posted a $12.6 billion loss – the biggest in the history of this century-old company. Yet, in just three years he was able to turn the company around and make it the world’s most profitable car company. How did he do it? By sticking to the fundamentals.
During his time at Boeing, Mulally had developed a leadership framework he called “Working Together: Principles and Practices,” which he considered the foundation behind his successful management style. Although the folks at Ford said it would never work because of the massive bureaucracy and infighting at the Corporation, Mulally insisted that, “this is really all I know,” and then used his framework to completely change the corporate culture within the organization.
Here is Alan Mulally’ s 11-point system for leading a company to greatness.
- People first
- Everyone is included
- Compelling vision, comprehensive strategy and relentless implementation
- Clear performance goals
- One plan
- Facts and data
- Everyone knows the plan, the status and the areas that need special attention
- Propose a plan, positive, “find-a-way” attitude
- Respect, listen, help and appreciate each other
- Emotional resilience — trust the process
- Have fun — enjoy the journey and each other.
As you look at this list you’re probably saying to yourself, “that is not very complex, there is nothing here I haven’t seen before.” I agree, these are all common leadership and management ideas. They may look simple, but they are devilishly hard to do consistently and it is extremely uncommon to see an organization that can effectively implement all 11 of these items. I have had several senior executives and CEOs tell me that these things are too fundamental, that they couldn’t possibly be enough to run a successful organization. Well, tell that to the folks at Boeing with $94 billion in revenues and Ford with $145 billion. To quote one of my heroes, Leonardo da Vinci, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Whether you run a small company or one of the largest on the face of the Earth, here are 11 things that you can focus on to help make your company more successful. It’s also important to note that these are not location specific; they’ve proven their effectiveness all over the world and – this is really important to realize – they cost nothing to implement. These are all focused on building a high-performance culture with transparency, trust, disciplined execution, teamwork and clear expectations of what success looks like.
Even though Alan Mulally was an aeronautical engineer and had dreams of working at NASA, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that it’s all about people, processes and principles.