Maintaining a profit and happy employees during a recession

protalk podcast cover image for the episode about the man who transformed boeing and ford - alan mulally

As the former CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes and Ford Motors, Alan Mulally has helped pull two major companies through intense times in recent U.S. history. He helped Boeing restore American’s trust in flying after the 9/11 attacks. And under his leadership, Ford Motors became the only major American car company to avoid a bailout during the 2008 recession. This was after helping the company return to profitability following a $17 million deficit.

A true measure of Mulally’s leadership, all of this work was done while increasing employee satisfaction. When Mulally joined Ford, employee satisfaction was at just 42% and when he left, it was at 91%.

Everything that Mulally implemented at Boeing and Ford to achieve these successes can be scaled down and applied to a home service company of any size. 

At the heart of Mulally’s effort has been a management system that encourages all stakeholders of a company to work together. In this podcast, he goes over a list of ten principles and practices that make up this system, and he talks about how home service companies can implement them.

Protalks: Changing Boeing & Ford with Alan Mulally

In this writeup, we skip around to present you some of the highlights of the podcast. We’ve also included the whole interview for you to stream.

1. Meet weekly to review business goals and actions [13:23]

Mulally led Ford in weekly two-hour “business plan review” meetings that included leadership teams from across all the different divisions of the companies internationally. Within these two hours, each leader would briefly explain what they were working on and how it was going. 

These weekly meetings created transparency and accountability that led to more stability across the company. Mulally believes that these kinds of meetings work across businesses of all sizes and encourage everyone to strive for the same vision.

2. Everyone is included in creating and implementing the plan [12:46]

Mulally stressed that it’s important to get the feedback of all stakeholders of the business, including your customers and employees: everyone that has a good reason to want the business to be successful.

“Everyone knows the plan. Everyone knows the status … This is very rare in business today,” he explained. While your customers don’t need to be included in weekly meetings, including their input into your company’s vision can be extremely useful.

3. Encourage honesty [14:28]

Mulally implemented a color-coding system for each element of the business plan that they would review weekly. Green meant everything was going according to plan. Yellow meant there was an issue but they had a solution. Red meant there was a new issue and they were working on finding a solution. 

When Mulally rolled out the color-coded system, nobody wanted to be open about problems. They were afraid if they brought up an issue (showed a red), they’d get fired. But when they learned that Mulally responded positively to this honest problem-solving, they began to be more open. A few weeks after someone announced their first red, he explained, instead of seeing all green, the plan looked like a rainbow. “Everybody knew why we were losing $17 billion now. And now we could go to work to create a viable company.” [35:08]

Responding positively to challenges and issues created a company that could talk openly about them and resolve them.

4. Make work enjoyable [23:12]

“In today’s world, it’s going to continue to be very competitive in every business. And so having people that really want to be there and really are joining it and feel appreciated and respected and loved is going, I think is going to be the differentiator in business going forward,” Mulally explained.

That rise in employee satisfaction we referred to earlier, Mulally believes it is the result of people finding satisfaction in their work: “Because people knew what they were doing. They were contributing, they were proud of it … and they felt loved themselves.

5. Don’t expect linear growth [26:36]

When you understand that business is going to go up and down, you learn to “expect the unexpected and expect to deal with it.” Mulally explained that not expecting linear growth is part of the mindset that can keep businesses moving forward through difficult times.

He went on to say that you should encourage your entire team to have this attitude “so they’re not going to get down during a tough time, just like what we’re going through now. They’re going to work together to find solutions so that we can turn it around and get going again.”

Keep your team inspired by bringing them in on a business plan that extends out a couple of years. Help them see the vision for the company and see their part in it. Give everyone a say. “In the meeting,” he explained, “everybody on the team will not only go through their plan and the status, but they’ll also go through their view of the business environment.”

Giving your team a chance to offer their feedback on their work environment can keep them satisfied, loyal, and ready to grow with your business.

6. Live your life [38:15]

Mulally managed all of this while raising five kids. He even implemented a form of the weekly business review with his family! Mulally gave his advice for how to maintain a work/life balance. [45:19] His advice is to see it all as one life. He recommends looking at your calendar every morning and every night and writing down all the elements of your life, such as family life, work-life, community life, etc. Jot down the things that are important and make sure you have activities associated with your priorities. 

“Just make sure that those things are included in your calendar, you’re going to have an integrated life,” he explained. “That’ll be your one life, but what you don’t want to do is compartmentalize them and then try to work one separately from the other. I don’t know how you would ever be able to pay attention to all the things that you think are important.”

Resources mentioned in this episode

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