Ford’s Culture Hackathon—A Next Practice in Innovation

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Ford Motor Company’s aspiration is 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. 

The company 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 Ford prioritized above all others was creating new and different employee experiences. One exciting way the company has done this is by inviting people to #hackFORDculture.

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

Business Challenge 

Ford saw an opportunity for a diverse group of interested employees from all experience levels and functions to come together, define their vision of Ford’s culture and generate ideas to bring that culture to life.  

The aim was to engage the group to discover:  

  • What do employees love about the current culture and want to see fortified?
  • What about the culture needs to be fixed?
  • What is not present in the current culture that employees want to see in the future?  

Dialogue based on the answers set the tone for the two-day event, where employees worked in randomly selected teams to #hackFORDculture and generate ideas to fortify elements of the culture they loved and fix elements that weren’t serving the company well. 

The Culture Hackathon’s objective was threefold:

  • Give employees a chance to share their stories and become part of the movement
  • Generate diverse and global ideas to help transform Ford’s culture
  • Teach and practice tools that inspire innovation and curiosity

Achieving those objectives was key to creating a catalyst for culture transformation, which—in turn— is key to improving results as a company. 

Solution 

Ford took a human-centered approach when designing the Culture Hackathon event. After teams identified what would be hacked, members created a central question to help focus prototyping. They conducted multiple rounds of user research to get feedback from other employees. Ultimately, they presented their ideas to event judges, who represented a mix of leaders and informal influencers throughout the company. 

Ford’s hackathon research started in late January 2018. The effort did not find a company that had necessarily hacked its culture explicitly, though it did locate a few companies that had used hackathons for nontechnical topics. However, none was an exact match for what Ford’s team sought. There were a few suggestions that the hackathon idea was crazy, but the company wanted to experiment, to try something new. So that is exactly what it did.  

Once the idea was firmly in mind, the Ford team had about four weeks to plan—an extremely fast turnaround time for such an event. A cross-company, cross-functional agile team worked on implementing the plan that was developed based on internal and external benchmarking. There would be room for 70 people to participate in Ford’s Dearborn, MI, pilot. When more than 700 employees signed up in only 24 hours, the team knew it was onto something good. 

What would become a global journey began in Dearborn, where the planning team learned a lot. Participant feedback drove the next iteration, and the team moved on to Shanghai, China. There, additional lessons learned enabled the team to enhance the experience. Subsequent events took place in Cologne, Germany; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Mexico City, Mexico.


Results 

At the end of each event, participant teams shared their central questions and the prototypes that resulted from their two days of intensive design thinking. Teams were then partnered with process owners and leaders throughout Ford Motor Company to further progress their ideas, if they chose to do so.  

As a result of the Culture Hackathons, ideas generated in each region have been put into place. Just as rewarding is the level of engagement seen in participating employees. In each region the organizing team was able to engage with employees and empower them to serve as agents of culture change. Survey data collected at the beginning and conclusion of the global events found 20% to 40% increases in the percentages of employees who felt they could change company culture through participation in the hackathon and applying the lessons and tools acquired during the experience. 

Conclusion

The last Culture Hackathon in Mexico City recently concluded and Ford is continuing its culture transformation journey, rolling out evolved values and behaviors that were validated by feedback in the culture hackathons.  

A hackathon is an event that creates an experience. A series of experiences that start a movement. A movement led by the people of Ford Motor Company. A movement where each of the ideas generated can be driven at a grassroots level by company teams with the support of company leaders. As these ideas come to life and new ones unfold, this cultural transformation will be a key enabler of Ford Motor Company’s becoming the world’s most trusted company. 

Upon reflection, there were three critical success factors for the Culture Hackathon project: 

  • Raise our gaze – Planning team members were bold and dared to try something new. The group looked up from day-to-day responsibilities and networks to connect with others who had experience with hackathons and innovation challenges—both internal and external to Ford.
  • Follow the energy – The project planning team leveraged people who already saw the value in spending time to work on culture. When selecting participants, volunteers were requested. The pilot had room for only 70 participants, yet more than 700 people raised their hands. Judge selection found people who were passionate about joining the movement. When the team followed the energy, it resulted in a diverse group of people from all areas of the company—exactly what the project needed.
  • Good is better than perfect – Planning team members challenged themselves to be agile and worked very fast to deliver the pilot event. Understanding that striving for perfection would hinder that ability to deliver quickly and start the movement, the team chose to focus on the moments that mattered most—creating a new and meaningful experience for employees—and iterations evolved as the events moved around the world.

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