Marginal: Sell the Furniture

“We will sell the furniture to support our new products,” Mark Fields, Ford president, the Americas, announced when he was unveiling the 2008 F-Series Super Duty trucks in Dallas.

“We will sell the furniture to support our new products,” Mark Fields, Ford president, the Americas, announced when he was unveiling the 2008 F-Series Super Duty trucks in Dallas. That, I would submit, should be a model for all companies that wish to be competitive in this market. Sell the damn furniture. Make products that are so good, so appealing, so innovative, so desirable that people will not merely want them, but actually demand them—and pay full price for them.

How many companies are seemingly more worried about the drapes than they are about their products? How many executives are more concerned with their perks than with making sure that they do a first-rate job each and every day? How many products are foisted upon the market that are full of compromises because of cost cutting? How many people are wondering whether they’ll be employed tomorrow because of the furniture, because of the perquisites, and because of the compromises? The answer to those questions is: Too many.

Sell the damn furniture. Get card tables and folding chairs. Focus on the things that are important: Like empowering your people and letting them design, engineer and produce the kind of products that are truly competitive. Isn’t this the point of business? If you want a new couch, buy one for your living room. OK. Yes, I know that Fields was being metaphoric. While I’ve not been in his office, I am sure that it is a nice one. But it is also evident that he understands what the priorities are, and it is what he can bring to the market. That is first and foremost. And that is commendable.

One thing that is troubling about the current scene is that there are apparently too many people at companies who are—metaphorically or literally—seemingly more concerned with their furniture than they are with their people. I’ve talked to plenty of people in the Detroit area who have stories of former colleagues who have been summarily dismissed despite the fact that they were working hard and getting it done. And those people telling me the stories do so in tones that make it clear that (1) they’re busting their humps because downsized staffs don’t result in any diminution of required work and (2) they can sense the whisper of the axe. Sell the furniture on eBay or something. Keep the people.

No, I am not saying that there aren’t bloated organizations. But I would further submit that much of the bloat is at the top, sitting on cushy furniture. If you’ve got to start cutting, start there. And, yes, I know that there are people at all levels of organizations, from top to bottom, who have a sense of entitlement: They’ve got their job and so that’s that. And so they simply pretend that they don’t have to do any more than they did last year or the year before because they’ve “made it.” This doesn’t take into account, of course, that there are a whole lot more competitors today than there were yesterday, and there will be more tomorrow. And these competitors are aggressive. They are going to do whatever it takes to get the order, get the business, get the customer to buy their products. Those people who have the entitlement mindset are pretty much like end tables. Nice. Not essential.

The focus must be on improvement. On innovation. On creativity. On designing, engineering, and manufacturing products that are so good, so superior, so appealing that people will sell their furniture to get them.