The RealMcCoy: Ford fires up the new year (too soon?)
by Sean McCoy (@TheRealMcCoyTRM) The start of the new year has had no shortage of brand action and the prevailing focus of this column, the internal brand, has hit the ground running – as it so often does.
Ford kicked off 2017 by setting the world alight (pun intended). At the time of preparing this article, the media was awash with commentary, social media outrage and legal intervention as the motor manufacturer astounded with a very inadequate response to the Kuga crisis and resultant obliteration of vehicle asset value, not to mention the tragic loss of life and outright damage to property in several instances. One might argue that its behaviour is neither as malicious nor downright devious as that of the VW executives with respect to the emissions scandal, but the actions (read internal branding) are regarded as fundamentally unacceptable.
As if the US carmaker’s woes are not enough, Brand America is under siege as President Donald Trump takes office and all hell is breaking loose on a number of fronts. The internal American psyche suddenly becomes very disparate, notwithstanding that they voted him into power, as does the global view of his decisions and leadership behaviour. “America first” is clearly his political mantra as I suggested in an international column late last year, but he has a long journey ahead of him insofar as the national internal brand is concerned.
The points above are divergent and clearly big issues – macro in the case of the broader American issue but micro to an extent within the Ford organisation. What part of culture, values and organisational purpose allows this kind of behaviour and suggests that it may be even remotely acceptable? Indicators may offer that people are disempowered, disenfranchised or simply disengaged, and the end result is prevalent in product or service outputs. Head of business psychology at University College London (UCL), Professor Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, suggests that less than a third of the world’s workforce is currently engaged, which mirrors the various global surveys conducted by the likes of Blessing White, who will concur. He suggests that this is worsening and refers to the “disengagement epidemic”.
This is fascinating in the context of a world where purpose-led businesses are increasingly de rigeur and we should have fully resolved the issues surrounding poor line management with the plethora of MBA output, leadership-development courses, mentoring and the increased attention to management coaching. Our leadership should be first-class and yet he maintains that one of the key reasons for the high level of global disengagement remains a result of poor leadership and management. One might argue that Ford perpetuates this sentiment.
Outsourcing the disengaged is not a solution. To the contrary, we need to own the challenge of organisational behaviour and culture, and hardly outsource it. The reality, however, is that we continue to do so in pursuit of all the MBA-speak – outsourcing, business-process efficiencies, resource optimisation, bottom-line performance and so the briefcase words go on. Nevertheless, we are only compounding the dilemma.
Back in the USSA
No, not a play on the Beatles equivalent for the former Soviet State, but a return to the beginning of the story and all things American. At the time of finalising this article, Ford has come out publicly opposed to Trump’s immigration clampdown and further opposing the travel ban, suggesting that “respect for all people is a core value of Ford Motor Company.” It is a great pity indeed that it chooses to be selective and ignore the plight that Kuga owners find themselves in, and have been so slow to respond in attending to the direct needs of its primary client base.
To end on a double irony, at exactly the same time, 2016 vehicle sales have been reported and VW has surpassed Toyota with a total of 10.3m units sold across its portfolio last year – with the key markets being the US and China. How fickle or forgiving or downright naïve we can be as consumers! Internal brand and organisational behaviour should matter and companies (or nations) and their leaders should remain accountable. It looks as if the rest of 2017 will be interesting, judging by our very turbulent start.
Dr Sean McCoy, MD and founding member of HKLM, is a prominent figure in the branding arena, with his expertise centered on client service, brand strategy and business development. He contributes the regular “The Real McCoy” column focusing upon internal branding to MarkLives.