At Ford, SpeeDialogues Foster Conversations about Culture and Inclusion
Ford Motor Company aspires to become the world's most trusted company, designing smart vehicles for a smart world. Understanding that culture and strategy go hand-in-hand, Ford recognizes that, as its business evolves, so must its culture. Ford also understands that there are many levers that can be pulled to impact culture: changing people policies and processes, honing assessment tools, furthering employee sentiment analysis, creating explicit leadership competencies, etc. While all of those are important, the one lever the company prioritized above all others was creating new and different employee experiences.
One exciting way Ford has acted on that priority is by creating a safe forum where employees are invited to share their experiences of an inclusive culture, and their experiences of barriers to an inclusive culture. By sharing their own stories in a safe setting, employees learn how to create respectful and inclusive work environments. The approach has participants describe efforts they’ve seen work well, instances where intentions have fallen short, and ways employees can learn from those experiences. Ford terms the forums SpeeDialogues.
This case study represents one of Ford's submissions to the i4cp Next Practice Awards. The awards will be presented at the i4cp 2019 Next Practices Now Conference.
Personal history and research teach that human interactions create experiences. To truly impact change, organizations must create different experiences for employees. In turn, those changes drive business results. If an organization is dissatisfied with current results, improvement begins with addressing the foundation of the business—organizational culture. Based on feedback from employees, Ford recognized the company had opportunities to improve the impacts of hierarchy and bureaucracy by breaking down barriers that could inhibit candid conversations.
The company also acknowledged diversity and inclusion as a pertinent thread running through all of the elements that contribute to Ford Motor Company culture. Although the current culture is highly inclusive, it is always possible to improve. It is possible, too, that employees still experience exclusion and disrespect at work. Unconscious biases challenge many organizations, affecting decisions and behaviors, and creating the potential for exclusion. Ford chose to be proactive—to shift experiences, beliefs and actions to create a new atmosphere of workplace inclusion.
Experience and research demonstrate that sharing personal stories and engaging in team-focused discussions are impactful in building empathy and shifting behavior. Ford recognized that stories about exclusion or bias experienced by their colleagues could motivate leaders and employees to empathize and help change behaviors to drive greater inclusion and respect in the future.
To act on that belief, Ford piloted a round-table SpeeDialogue event, designed around approximately 10 teams composed of three to seven employees from various functions and levels of the organization. The event created a safe, open environment with a couple of ground rules: Names mentioned in discussions were to remain confidential, and participants were asked to be open, empathetic, and flexible in their conversations.
During the event, participants watched a video of employees experiencing exclusion in the workplace. Viewers discussed their reactions to the video and their own personal experiences. Participants then rotated to new tables with different employees, “speed-dating” style, and discussed personal commitments each could make to create a more inclusive environment based on discussions from the first rotation.
Great feedback was received from employees at the event, affirming how appreciative they were to have a safe forum for inclusive discussions. It was the start of a conversation to understand actions each Ford employee can take to mitigate unconscious biases and be more inclusive in everyday workplace interactions—efforts that support the company’s culture shift to align with results Ford seeks to achieve.
In the wake of such positive response, Ford saw an opportunity to have more SpeeDialogue events as part of its culture transformation. Each month, the company is rolling out one of its new values and behaviors, known collectively as “Our Truths.” SpeeDialogue event themes will feature one of Our Truths, with accompanying discussion through the lens of diversity and inclusion. For example, the launch of the “Put People First” value applied the lens of civility to a discussion on how Ford is putting people first.
Ford empowered enthusiastic volunteers in various skill teams and regions to lead agile teams in creating and facilitating sessions. Thus far, more than 500 leaders and cross-functional employees have participated in 20-plus global SpeeDialogue sessions involving safe conversations about reinforcing and fostering a respectful and inclusive culture. As employees naturally lean into the culture transformation, the events offer opportunities to take on more active leadership roles, and build skillsets in facilitation, storytelling and project management.
Feedback has been collected after each session to enable continued improvement of the approach. Moreover, employee sentiment and experiences are gathered to be shared with leaders and employees who do not attend the live events.
The Ford team is filming a video of sentiments, experiences and stories told in the SpeeDialogue sessions to share employees’ voices and show how people can be more inclusive in day-to-day experiences at work. The intention is to share this video both internally and externally to tell the story of how Ford is reinforcing and fostering a respectful and inclusive culture.
Among the lessons learned: there are many nuances across regions and skill teams. The presence of many sub-cultures within the company has made it difficult to reach as many employees as desired, though the hope is to continue to iterate and be flexible as more sessions take place and the video is launched. Overall, it has been a great, new experience for employees and is helping shift Ford’s culture to align with results the company aspires to achieve.