Decision-Making Advice for Ford in the Wake of Big Change

May 23, 2017

By Les McKeown, CEO of Predictable Success
Ford: Here's What Happens Next

Yesterday, Ford announced that it had effectively fired Mark Fields, its President and Chief Executive Officer.

And while a lot of the media’s focus has rightly been on both the impressive background of Jim Hackett (Fields’ successor) and industry-shifting overarching trends in the motor industry, the underpinning reason for the dramatic change at the top was buried a few paragraphs into Executive Chairman Bill Ford’s accompanying statement:

“We need to speed up our decision making…”

Just eight words – but eight powerful words that precisely summarize the existential threat to every growing company: Can an iconic business remain nimble and innovative in the face of growth and scale, or will it atrophy and become increasingly, lumberingly irrelevant.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is (rightly) preoccupied with the same fear – of what he calls becoming a ‘Day 2’ company. As he explained in a recent letter to shareholders: “Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1,” he wrote.

Will Ford “speed up its decision-making”? Will Amazon avoid becoming a ‘Day 2’ company?

In both cases – and indeed, for every highly successful company, beating the odds of a decline to irrelevance lies in undertaking one very specific, but rarely achieved transformation: Moving from ‘Heroic Leadership’ to something much more mundane, less headline-grabbing, but ultimately much, much more scalable: ‘High-Quality Team-Based Decision-making’ (HQTBDM).

Alan Mulally, Fields’ storied predecessor at Ford, was the exemplar of an Heroic Leader (and was exactly what Ford needed at the time). Not a soul on the planet would deny that Jeff Bezos is an Heroic Leader (and was exactly what Amazon needed for a long, long time).

But as Jack Welch intuited at GE, as Warren Buffett has known for, well, forever at Berkshire Hathaway, and as even Steve Jobs came to understand at Apple, there comes a point when the role of the Heroic Leader needs to transform: specifically, to cease being a decision-making bottleneck, and instead become an inspirational rallying point and great PR generator, while underneath, the heavy lifting moves into the engine room of HQTBDM – the whole senior management team, united, aligned and making, well, High-Quality, Team-Based Decisions.

How do you know when you’ve reached the point when the shift needs to happen from Heroic Leadership to HQTBDM?

Simple: When the complexities of scale overwhelm the ability of any one person, however much a superhero they are, to keep making (and executing) great decisions. Put bluntly, if you’ve had a run of outstanding, jaw-dropping success, then for reasons unclear to you, decisions either go badly awry or just don’t get implemented, you need to shift to HQTBDM – pronto. Even if you’re the President of the United States.

The good news? There’s a guide that will tell you how to do it.