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Old 01-16-2006, 05:11   #1 (permalink)
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US:Ford to workers: Share a new idea

Ford to workers: Share a new idea
Mailing seeks bold ways to boost sales

BY TOM WALSH

DETROIT FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

Ford mailed this 12-page brochure, which includes a postage-paid response card, to all of its employees and dealerships in North America. "I need you to challenge the status quo," Bill Ford wrote. "I need your input so we can be first again in delivering innovative products to our customers."
Ford Motor Co., stepping up efforts to boost innovation and revamp its stodgy top-down culture, has begun mailing a 12-page brochure -- including a detachable, postage-paid response card -- to every Ford employee and dealership in North America.

The brochures, to arrive this week at employees' homes, are intended to spark a wave of innovative ideas to add to the more than 1,000 that salaried Ford employees have submitted since November via an internal Web site.

Chief Executive Officer Bill Ford has asked for a report on some of the best ideas so far, which he may discuss with top executives as early as next Monday, the day of the company's much-anticipated restructuring announcement.

While keeping mum on details of the restructuring, Ford executives are urging journalists not to portray it simply as a cost-cutting plan, but rather as a sweeping effort to energize the company around building bold, new products and boosting sales, even as auto-building capacity shrinks to reflect Ford's smaller share of the U.S. market.

Ford's U.S. sales have dropped from more than 4 million vehicles in 2000 to 2.95 million last year.

"I need you to challenge the status quo," Bill Ford wrote in a message to employees and dealers in the 12-page brochure. "I need your input so we can be first again in delivering innovative products to our customers."

The CEO's message is both an admission that Ford Motor is no longer perceived as the industry leader in product innovation -- otherwise why talk about becoming "first again?" -- as well as a statement of resolve to regain that leadership.

Skeptics will ask: What's really new about all of this? Doesn't every company want to innovate? Isn't this just a version of the old suggestion box that most offices have in some form? Doesn't every business want an open culture where people feel free to offer new ideas?

Bill Coughlin, president and CEO of Ford Global Technologies -- the chief protector of intellectual property for Ford Motor and all of its worldwide operations -- is a big part of what's different about Ford's new approach.

Innovative ideas submitted by Ford workers don't go to some anonymous clerk in the company mailroom for screening. They go directly to Coughlin, who personally read all of the first 1,000 submissions.

"We've committed to give everyone a substantive reply after evaluation of their ideas," Coughlin said. "About 30% I can respond to directly because I know what the company's doing in a particular area. Others, I send to the VP for a particular area.

"Some of the ideas," Coughlin said, "are completely thought out, with graphical images and designs and so forth. And some of them are just a few sentences long. Even those can be fairly profound."

Some Ford employees, Coughlin acknowledged, wouldn't know where to go to submit an innovative idea, especially for something outside their area.

Top Ford executives privately admit -- and Ford isn't the only company with this problem -- that too many employees are just plain afraid to speak up. They're afraid of being ridiculed for a bad idea, or afraid that if they have a good idea, they might upstage their boss by mentioning it out loud. And indeed, 11% of those who have submitted suggestions via the Web site so far have asked to remain anonymous.

Bill Ford and his new president for the Americas, Mark Fields, are talking a lot internally about breaking down the old cultural barriers and enabling the free flow of ideas.

But doing it is harder than talking about it.

Ford's culture still reflects the influences of the famed Whiz Kids, 10 former World War II military officers that former CEO Henry Ford II recruited in 1946. The Whiz Kids -- who included Robert McNamara, who would later become Ford Motor president and then U.S. defense secretary -- were credited with bringing discipline and financial controls to Ford. But they were also blamed for creating an elitist, authoritarian top-management group.

Fields, the point man for Ford's North American restructuring plan and an evangelist for a more open culture, admits to being a hard-charging Type A personality -- and not a good listener -- early in his career.

That changed, he said, when he joined Mazda Motor Corp. in Japan as a sales executive in the late 1990s and had to communicate entirely through an interpreter.

Of necessity, he had to speak more slowly and precisely and listen more carefully -- and he found himself impressed by the quality of ideas from his Japanese colleagues when he took the time to hear them.

As more innovative ideas come in from Ford workers and dealers, time will tell how well Fields, Bill Ford and the rest of the top brass listen, and whether Ford Motor really can vault back to an industry leadership position.

Pictured Below
Ford mailed this 12-page brochure, which includes a postage-paid response card, to all of its employees and dealerships in North America. "I need you to challenge the status quo," Bill Ford wrote. "I need your input so we can be first again in delivering innovative products to our customers."
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Stacy94PGT
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Old 01-17-2006, 02:10   #2 (permalink)
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Re: US:Ford to workers: Share a new idea

They used to pay people down here for good ideas that could save the company money, now they don't give any form of incentive. I'm sure a lot of good ideas would suddenly appear if they started doing this again.
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