Use of Pyramids in Ford Motor Company:
A Conversation with Tom Grant
Thomas Grant, the manager of New Markets and Associations at Ford Motor Company, reflected on the use of pyramids in his organization. He has used pyramids for about three years and has worked with them extensively both in the US and in Asia. These are the excerpts from his conversation with Prasad Kaipa in March 1998. Here is Tom:
About the process...
When I think about the pyramid process, its most powerful effect has been helping me to think more strategic while maintaining a systemic focus.
When I moved into my job, there was a lot that I needed to accomplish in a very short time frame. So we spent time thinking through how broad this assignment is and how to get it done. We really started thinking about priorities. The thing I like about the process --- what made it exciting --- was that it provided many possibilities while forcing us to think clearly about the work to be completed. Instead of just responding to a wide variety of requests from customers --- many of which were competing priorities --- it allowed me to take a step back and think about how and what I would really like to do to maximize my resources and be effective. The process took a number of iterations, but it provided a very worthwhile framework for defining how we run the business. Not at a detail level but at a broader level. It put the energy back in our hands.
The process allowed me and my colleague Al Solvay to come together and build a team. It drew us broadly and more energetically about what we had to do. This forced a lot of debate on what we were going to face.
Pyramid building is not a process that you knock out in half a day. You spend time on it, you struggle through it, and in the end you gain a richer understanding of what you really want to do. The temptation in business today is to search for the magic pill --- the pill that provides insights quickly and with little effort. Pyramid building is not a pill!
On what it does...
It is useful for me as a tool to develop my people and myself. The focal points of the pyramid apply equally to my group in addition to my customers. We created development opportunities around all the words we have on the pyramid. It allowed them to work on themselves and build the camaraderie in the team. It is quite useful for assessing people that I hired into the team. A variety of questions [based on our pyramid] I developed and used in my interviews. It is a very clear and useful tool to bring new people on board and to form a new team and decide on where you are going and how you are going to get there.
As a framework...
The pyramid is systemic tool and made us step back and go deeper and deeper into whatever we were doing.
I take it out a lot in the plane when I am traveling. It is valuable in helping to see patterns. I use it to think about the situation I am going into. It helps me lose assumptions; there is always unlearning involved.
That framework is what we use in every intervention we do. I used the pyramid to analyze and plan program development; I ask myself: Do I have all of the pieces to develop an organization that is a model of excellence?
Working with joint venture partners...
This is a good framework for developing people across a variety of cultures, in a wide variety of situations --- including working with our joint venture partners.
In a negotiation program with the Chinese, I reviewed the pyramid for planning and checked to clarify objectives of what I wanted to do. I used it [the pyramid] to help us think about how to get balance in the program and this was a means to helping my people understand what we were facing in the negotiations.
The pyramid was used in India, by an associate to help develop country teams. He developed a questionnaire around the pyramid concepts.
We went to Thailand, did needs assessment, worked with country managers on policy deployment. We used the model very clearly to step back and identify the core competencies that were needed. On the business side we had to energize people and making them more accountable and clarify what is it that they had to deliver. We had to help them 'unlearn' or step back and think differently about what they have been doing. We had to bring managers together from joint ventures and build relationships ---what we called camaraderie. The pyramid helped us to identify all this stuff.
To get the most out of pyramids...
You need to be careful not to present pyramids as gimmickry; it is not a new fad. Practice working through this with receptive people. I do not use the pyramid as a demo or as a promotional tool. If people are not comfortable with non-linearity and a fair amount of ambiguity, it may not be well received at first. By presenting the same material linearly and once they understand the content, then you pull out the pyramid. When I am able to present it properly, people's eyes light up and they like the pyramid.
The bottom line...
You can't be in a hurry while using this tool or you will not go deep; it is only useful to the extent you own it and use it, apply it to the context of use to you. You get out of it what you put into it. It's greatest value is in driving clarity about what you want to do and how to do it.
To ask further questions or to seek clarifications about the use of pyramids in Ford, you can contact Tom Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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