To that end, Nissan has spent the last year trying to remake itself from a business with a manufacturing mind-set into a market-oriented company that can provide consumers with all that they look for in a superior brand: the manufacturer and retailer understand their needs, a sense of confidence those needs will be met, credibility and, of course, great products and service.
RETHINKING CULTURE AND BEHAVIOR
When we began this process, it was a given that we would put customers at the center of any new strategy. But before we could change our outward philosophy, we had to change our company's inward culture and the behavior of individuals.
We were working within certain parameters, of course. I had no intention of putting the company at risk, so any changes had to be productive under all known industry and market conditions. I also committed to our parent company that we would continue to achieve our annual vehicle sales and corporate profit objectives throughout the change process.
Before we went to our retailers with our ideas, we spent several months working together internally, beginning with seminars for the most senior-level executives. My goal at the beginning was to create a strong team by developing trust and to get the senior people to re-conceptualize their roles. Their responsibilities had been divided up functionally, which is appropriate for a traditional company, but not for one trying to effect fundamental change.
During the initial phase of our overall corporate self-examination, which I have led personally throughout in order to keep our respective learning curves the same, I started with the small group of officers. Surprisingly to me, they were largely defensive, resistant or uninterested, and they were easily influenced by defenders of the status quo. I had to act, so I shifted virtually every officer's functional assignment and reduced the number of officers to six, from nine. Finally, after some key officers reached the same transformation as I had, the tide turned.
The officers and I then engaged with our field management (regional vice presidents) and our national headquarters management (directors), to go through the same self-examination for their benefit. The initial range of resistance in the officer group was present in these groups as well. At the time, I attributed a lot of this to human nature, but have come to also link it more and more to the consequence of bureaucracy.
Dealing with the management group in total (consisting of approximately 50 officers, regional vice presidents and directors) had some advantages and some disadvantages.
This large group was effective for one-voice positioning on issues, and even self-evaluation activities such as developing our "Belief Stream": our core values, vision, mission, objectives and strategies.
However, we weren't effective as a large group in the synthesis and alignment of those things that were exposed as weaknesses or opportunities. I found that in those areas, it worked much more effectively if I personally provided a synthesized straw man for the group to evaluate and improve upon. But even then, it was hard to transfer our group dynamics into the workplace.
As a concession to our ingrained bureaucracy, we formed a management "Align" team in order to translate our new culture and strategies into our roles back at work. (It hurts even to write this down as a well-intended action, because the inevitable paralysis of this initiative would be obvious to even the casual outside observer.) We quickly found that people did their old work during the day, and their new work on evenings or weekends, as proof of their commitment to the mandated change. Which wasn't what we wanted at all.