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Thinking in the Rhythm With the System: Organizational Change in the Ford Company


Despite the fact that at the beginning of the XXI century, the ford Company was at the brink of failure, with the help of Jeremy Seligman and his concept of system thinking, Ford managed not only to stay afloat, but also to remain one of the world’s leading companies. While the process of changes seemed dangerous and was somewhat rough, with the adoption of a new principle of running the company, Ford managers have finally boosted the company’s revenues. As a result, Ford now is among the most influential companies period.

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Introduction: Where the Problem Started

“Ford” and “failure” do not seem to mix well, seeing how the former has become a household name the very first decade that the company was founded. However, as the recent research shows, the Ford Company has recently been on a brink of failure, and only with the help of series of efficient organizational changes, it managed to survive the crisis. According to Seligman (2005), the basic problem that the company was facing concerned the way in which decisions were taken by the company’s manager and employees.

Without proper understanding of how the Ford Company ticked, its new managers were unable to bring the mechanism to work, whereas the senior members could not get the key message across to the former. By introducing the principles of system thinking into the company, Seligman managed to restore the company’s balance.

Analyzing the Problem: What Made the Ford Company Fail

As it has been stressed, the basic issue that Ford Motors faced was the inability of the new staff to go back to the roots of the company and accept the necessity to learn more about the organization processes peculiarities instead of switching straight to the currently accepted standard management principles (Kotter, 2008).

Convincing Employees and Managers: Leading the Company to Victory

Conveying the idea of system thinking to the new managers and persuading the senior staff to take actions and raise concerns about forgetting the company’s history was, perhaps, the most challenging task. It should be mentioned that Seligman faced not one, but two challenges; first, it was necessary to convince the senior employees that the issue was worth being raised and that the risks should be taken – as the research says, senior employees were concerned about possible loss of their jobs.

Another issue that Seligman had to deal with concerned changing the mindset of the younger and the more influential staff of the Ford Company – primarily, the company’s managers. The given task raised much more concerns, since, having little to no idea of the company’s roots, the latter could ignore Seligman’s proposal. It must be admitted, though, that Seligman chose a very efficient method to approaches the senior employee and the managers. To persuade the former, Seligman reminded them of the advantages that the methods adopted by Ford himself allowed for.

However, the company’s managers and the younger employees were rather easy to recruit into becoming the adepts of system thinking as well. As Seligman pointed out, the method chosen by him to show the benefits of system thinking to the aforementioned target audience was rather primitive yet very efficient. By influencing the younger company staff through transformational leadership style, Seligman and his “support group” consisting of the senior employees managed to make it clear that Ford needs radical changes and that the integration of the communication, production and management processes with the system processes is crucial.

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The Desired Outcome and the Actual Results: What No One Could See Coming

Despite the fact that the training program was implemented in accordance with the plan promoted by Seligman, not all the results It must be admitted, though, that Seligman should have been well aware of the possible obstacles that he would most likely bump into when implementing his plan. After all, Seligman himself offered a quote from one of the senior employees saying, “We all went underground. There are more systems thinkers here than you know about, but they are not willing to come out of their caves yet” (Seligman, 2004, 7). The given quote literally screams of the senior employees’ reluctance to come out of their shells and influence the way in which the company is run.

Even with the aforementioned issues having stood in the way of Seligman’s project, the Ford Company seemed to have been reformed its organizational structure considerably. According to the existing evidence, the latest reports and the observations made by Seligman in the distant 2004, the Ford Company has finally started following in Henry Ford’s footsteps by connecting technical, production and management issues when evaluating the company’s performance: “A systems thinking project produced a broader understanding of the causes of the resistance, and provided insights into how to intervene in the system and get things moving again” (Seligman, 2004, 9). In addition, as the recent data shows, Ford’s score has been improved greatly over the past decade, as the following chart shows:

Stock Chart.
Figure 1. Stock Chart.

Seligman’s another impressive achievement concerns his incredible skills of convincing people and the ability to outline the future of a company with the system thinking strategy as its basis (An interview with Marv Adams and Jeremy Seligman, 2005). As it has been stressed above, the major issue regarding his task concerned convincing the managers that his idea of system thinking will work for the company’s benefit: “Adams, an engineer by training, had long been convinced of the power of a systems thinking approach in understanding both information technology and business problems” (Seligman, 2004, 7).

What Could Have Been Done Differently: A Retrospective

In a retrospective, Seligman did quite a good job of restructuring the company. It could be argued, though, that he should have also encouraged lifelong learning in the employees. While the fact that the problem of “learning disability” (Seligman, 2004, 18), which the new staff of Ford Motors suffered from, has been removed successfully, it still must be admitted that the change could have been pushed even further.

Conclusion: There Is Still Much Room for Growth

Despite the fact that it too quite a while for Seligman to introduce the concept of system thinking, the changes in the organizational structure of the company, as well as the way in which the company processes were managed, have led to impressive results. As the recent data says, the dialogue and the “mood of reflection” (Seligman, 2004, 11) among the company’s “seniors” have been enhanced considerably: “we were able to strategize together about how they could take what they had learned and embed it in their work and approach to problems” (Seligman, 2004, 11). With a new principle of decision making, production process supervision, organizational behavior and knowledge management, Ford is likely to top the charts of successful companies for the next few years.

Reference List

An interview with Marv Adams and Jeremy Seligman (2005). Web.

Kotter, J. P. (2008). A sense of urgency. Harvard, MA: Harvard Business Press.

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Seligman, J. (2004). Building a systems thinking culture at Ford Motor Company. Reflections, the Society for Organizational Learning Journal, 6(4/5), 1–36.

Stock chart (2013). Web.

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