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Action Learning

Strategy, Tactics & Corporate Culture 

Strategy Versus Tactics

Ford Assembly Line

Ford Assembly Line, Circa 1913

Long hours, repetitive, unfulfilling tasks and harsh supervision made Ford Motor Company an unpleasant place to work.

Strategic issues relate to the long-term, difficult-to-change elements of a business that create competitive advantage. They are elements that competitors cannot quickly duplicate.

Action Learning is a strategic tool because it changes corporate culture. It encourages people to examine the mental models of the current culture as well as their own assumptions, prejudices, beliefs and mental models. As this re-examination migrates through the organization, it allows for the possibility of creating new models and beliefs that are more consistent with the current environment, more productive and more conducive to company survival.

Corporate Culture

Corporate culture is usually the most strategic of these elements. It is notoriously resistant to change, particularly in larger organizations. Attitudes, policies, practices and behaviors are unconsciously interwoven into the daily patterns of employees.

Many companies find success with approaches to business that suits a particular time and technology. Then, when external conditions change the organization cannot cope because the culture perpetuates the original formula. When changes are made in some organizational areas, the mental models in surrounding functions and areas resist. The changes then revert as the pervasive influence of culture restores things to fit the original mental models.

Battle of The Overpass

Battle of The Overpass, 1937

Ford "Goon Squads" beat labor leaders Walter and Victor Reuther.

The Ford Example

Ford Motor Company during the 1930s and 1940s is a well-known example of this.

The problems at Ford during this period were generally blamed on the founder and his peculiar personality. That is certainly true in the sense that Henry Ford established the culture.

However, this author worked at Ford in the late 1960's, nearly two decades after Henry Ford's death and there were still many of his counter-productive attitudes and policies in place. The corporate culture originated by Henry Ford I outlived him by at least several decades. I suspect that it may still be an influence.

The same phenomena affects the other Detroit automotive companies and is largely responsible for their recent troubles. When it comes to cultural change, the only certain things are uncertainty, inertia and difficulty. This is the least understood and most troublesome aspect of a Lean implementation. Action Learning can help.


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