Ford: Gaining Agility for the Road Ahead

Reframing culture around changing marketing demands enabled Ford IT to maximize corporate agility, improve demand management, implement more efficient workflows, and achieve global cohesion.

“We have been able to make this a truly global movement. Ford’s culture transformation has positioned us to deliver faster, better solutions in every marketplace and maximize our achievement in the automotive world.”

Rekha Wunnava, Director of Global Manufacturing IT at Ford


Ford Motor Company, founded by Henry Ford in 1903 and made famous by the release of the Model T in 1908, has burgeoned into a global automaker, boasting among the highest production rates in the world year after year. From the advent of the modern assembly line and the economization of the industry, to the introduction of “smart” driver assistance technologies, Ford continues to propel innovation.

Ford is driven by its belief that “freedom of movement drives human progress.” The company is well acquainted with evolving market conditions. Increasing consumer demands and changing technology have led to accelerated speed-to-market, elevated rates of change, and greater pressure for both vertical and horizontal organizational integration.

Rekha Wunnava, Director of Global Manufacturing IT at Ford, oversees a team of more than 1,100 technologists operating in more than 80 facilities worldwide. As a leader and veteran in the automotive information technology space, Wunnava claims, “The industry is seeing the rapid maturation of new technologies and, as a result, witnessing an evolution towards mobility.”

Changing Culture for a Changing Marketplace

Leaders at Ford IT have been agile in adapting to these marketplace changes. The team saw that they could implement new strategic approaches designed to improve operational efficiency and still not fully realize their topline organizational goals. “We realized that a robust operational strategy cannot make up for a disengaged or disharmonious workplace culture,” Wunnava says. Indeed, strategy and culture thrive when deployed in tandem, and also given the same weight, to drive sustainable organizational success.


Creating a Vision for IT

“We learned that maintaining a competitive edge in the marketplace and attaining our desired results requires a vision framed by clearly defined cultural beliefs,” says Wunnava. Cultural beliefs inform the way employee think and act on a day-to-day basis. As such, cultural beliefs have the power to mobilize change within an organization and propel it toward desired results.

Ford IT introduced five cultural beliefs to shape their new workplace culture:

Solve the problem: By encouraging creative problem solving across role and team boundaries, Ford IT seeks to dissolve silos and encourage collaboration in order to achieve winning outcomes.

Express yourself: Ford IT urges every employee to balance active listening and honest expression, creating a team dynamic that values every member’s voice equally.

Build trust: Encouraging all employees to maintain faith in one another, Ford IT sees trust as a critical foundation for strong, solutions-driven relationships in the workplace.

Shape our future: By leaving room for both anticipated and unanticipated change in the workplace, Ford IT empowers all employees to shape the organization’s future together.

Respect knowledge over hierarchy: Ford IT incentivizes increased egalitarianism by elevating expertise and insight—regardless of which employee offers it—over official titles or rankings.

Implementing these cultural beliefs has allowed Ford IT to more effectively marry culture and strategy, mobilizing them toward sustained success amid high-stakes market conditions. Ford IT’s culture shift has been integral to its evolution as a leading industry force in four distinct areas: corporate agility, demand management, product-driven work structure, and global cohesion.

Corporate Agility in a Rapidly Innovating Industry

To succeed in business today, companies are forced to match the speed at which technology advances. Consider just one example of the quick rate of technological advancement: in the last few decades, cellular technology has developed from expensive, cumbersome mobile phones to mass-produced models in the pockets of 95 percent of all Americans. Hopeful in its suggestion of democratized access to technology, this number serves as a symbol of a larger technological tidal wave.

Corporations like Ford that are invested in innovation can no longer afford to adhere to stagnant protocols for developing and introducing new technology. “In the past, we had a reliable sequence of gathering requirements, performing analysis, and then designing solutions in response—a process that could take between six months and two years,” Wunnava attests.

In order to achieve accelerated delivery and turnaround of transformative solutions, Ford IT rethought these operational systems and the cultural beliefs keeping them in place. “By abandoning restrictive fixed systems in favor of flexibility and adaptability, we’ve empowered employees to take ownership for what they do every day and identify consumer pain points early in order to preemptively solve problems,” says Wunnava.

By living the cultural beliefs of solving the problem and shaping our future, this change has increased the organization’s ability to stay nimble and deliver high-quality results at speed.

Demand Management

Hand-in-hand with its streamlined approach to corporate agility is Ford IT’s renewed commitment to demand management. “IT has historically occupied the position of a service provider,” says Wunnava. “However, we recognized that reframing our identity in relation to our business counterparts as a partner, rather than a service provider, could serve as a crucial element in remaining agile and meeting the needs of our customers.”

Ford Vice President and CIO Jeff Lemmer attests, “Culture change has become a critical enabler for us to achieve our results. It also allows us to achieve those results at an improved pace, in today’s rapidly changing business environment.”

Working with Partners In Leadership gave Wunnava’s large IT team a scalable model for revitalizing its culture to produce growth-driving results. Instead of receiving tasks and simply carrying them out, Ford IT team members began establishing a point of view with business partners, exemplifying the cultural beliefs of Expressing Yourself and Shaping Our Future, in order to create alignment around desired solutions and quantify returns on investments.

“In this way,” Wunnava said, “we can ensure that the initiatives we prioritize, and the strategic approaches we take to complete those projects, have the most potential to add value to our customers and to our business.

Product-Driven Workflow

Before its culture transformation, the IT team at Ford employed a “waterfall” approach to project management: leaders with compartmentalized duties oversaw different aspects of a given project. In the course of its development, a project might have been handed off to a developer, a tester, a business analyst, a project manager, and any number of other relevant players to manage a specific area.

“This process ultimately restrained bandwidth at Ford IT,” says Wunnava. “With so many different team members responsible for specific components of the project, employees were unable to take collective accountability for the overall status of a project.” By failing to connect their individual duties to the organization’s topline priorities, employees at Ford IT felt they had a limited scope and could not overstep their bounds.

Ford IT addressed this problem by redesigning team configuration. Now, they organize by product instead of project and function in “two-pizza teams”—groups small enough in size that two pizzas could feed them. The system has created greater trust and transparency around responsibilities: when one member of a team finishes a task, they have a clear view into the status of the project or feature and can take action on the next task in the backlog.

By respecting knowledge over hierarchy and building trust, Ford IT is able to unify all employees around the same priorities rather than compartmentalizing responsibilities. As a result, employees demonstrate greater personal and collective accountability for delivering on desired results.


Global Cohesion

As a global corporation employing 199,000 people worldwide, Ford has a vast network across which to unify its company culture, each touched by IT. “From an IT perspective, we do not treat our offices outside of the U.S. as regional or otherwise auxiliary,” says Wunnava. “Each one is integrated into the global product or service line, and as such, plays an important role in creating a flourishing culture.”

Partners In Leadership’s culture management process helped Ford IT zero-in on their most important deliverables and create a Culture of Accountability across locations that propels the achievement of these deliverables. Recognizing that their cultural change could not have taken hold without complete top-down buy-in, Wunnava says, “Jeff Lemmer, our CIO, has served as the face of the movement, modeling cultural transformation best practices for all employees.” In turn, leaders across the organization have adopted these practices, diffusing them throughout their respective branches.

By implementing programs with regional language capabilities, Ford IT has been able to deliver the Partners In Leadership process to its employees in all regions. What’s more, within each division, the company has delegated a number of Cultural Champions who embody the cultural beliefs and promote greater accountability and employee engagement. Further, Ford actively recruits Cultural Ambassadors—volunteer senior leaders who are knowledgeable about Partners In Leadership models for culture and are passionate about sharing them with others.

“We have been able to make this a truly global movement,” says Wunnava.“Ford’s culture transformation has positioned us to deliver faster, better solutions in every marketplace and maximize our achievement in the automotive world.”

Lemmer states, “I have seen over the last two years how culture change has really become the foundation for how we play a new and different role to support our business. The role of IT has fundamentally shifted, and we needed the organization to make that same shift. How we work together, interact, and solve problems has changed, and that is due to the evolution of our IT culture.”

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