How Ford applied innovation and teamwork to transform their employee experience

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How does a “family company” with over 100 years of innovation, align and mobilize its workforce for the next hundred years?

In our latest webinar, Sonia Fiorenza, VP, Communications & Engagement Strategies at Firstup had the pleasure of sitting down with the “Built Tough” internal communications team at The Ford Motor Company.

Marisa Bradley, Director of Employee Experience Communications, and Jennifer Corney, Manager, Employee and Retiree Communications shared with attendees how their small, but highly effective team—along with communicators and partners across an organization of more than 180,000 employees—are working together to innovate and transform the employee experience. 


First off, Sonia had the chance to congratulate the team on being named Ragan’s Employee Communications Team of the Year! Recognized for their ‘hive’ approach to communications, and facilitating two-way dialogue between employees and executives during what has certainly been a challenging year.

“Such a proud moment for our entire team—we’re a small but mighty team of about a dozen team members that are responsible for everything from our publishing and editorial to the day-to-day employee engagement,” Marisa said. “To be recognized in any year, but when internal communications took on a whole new meaning at every company […] it’s really fantastic.”

It was more than just an award. The team developed strategies that helped elevate trust and built connections with employees when they needed it most. The communications team emphasized listening, which laid the foundation for authentic two-way dialogue — delivering crucial updates and messages from executives to employees, who then could voice their needs and concerns.

Information at their fingertips

The communications team relied on regular communications, daily meetings, cross-functional planning, and calls to ensure alignment around priorities, with small-group “think” sessions to quickly engage cross-functional teams to tackle priority items throughout the year. 

However, Marisa credits the use of their Firstup powered app, Blue Oval Now, for bringing their plans to life.

“We were looking at a multi-channel approach […] to reach these employees because you have a mix located both on the front line and office workers,” Marisa noted, “and of course in this last year (all) primarily remote, so we do leverage not only our intranet and of course email […] but mobile has been critical.” Marisa went on to note that, “being able to have real-time information at the fingertips of our employees this past year […] proved the power of how important that really is.”

Watch the recording of the webinar here

Putting the ‘digital’ in employee experience

The year also allowed them to think about how they wanted to define employee engagement going forward—how would they evolve, how would they interact with employees, and what does engagement mean? They recognized how important the digital platforms themselves were becoming in helping them shape that engagement. 

Their hourly workforce embraced the mobile app, seeing it as a huge perk to be able to have real-time information. With the use of surveys, comments, and feedback loops, it earned the endorsement of manufacturing leadership and even the UAW. From managing shift changes to a worldwide semiconductor chip shortage, plants can send and receive real-time information on important communications that are business-critical.


In the midst of one of the craziest years ever, Ford embarked on a massive transformation, including introducing a new CEO amid a global pandemic. To Marisa and her team, they believe it only expedited the inevitable.

They asked, “how do we start to communicate differently?” Not only because they were in the middle of COVID but the business itself was transforming so quickly, given the pace of technology right now. Marisa noted, “one of the most important pieces was having consistent communication with our employees because there is so much change, and as communicators, and from a Ford culture perspective, there’s never enough communication.”

“The importance of not only leadership communication … but that regular employee-first mindset about how we shape our communications and keeping employees up to date as quickly as possible—and ideally always trying to get the news to them first.”

—Marisa Bradley, Director Internal Communications, Ford Motor Company


Directed by award-winning director Peter Berg the “On the Line” documentary highlights Ford’s Project Apollo, the internal codename for the company’s all-out effort to design and manufacture PPE, including powered air-purifying respirators, face shields, medical gowns for healthcare workers, and first responders, plus ventilators for COVID-19 patients.

Family first

The successful transformation of a 118-year company requires all its people—employees, partners, alums—which requires an omnichannel comms platform and unified dashboard. 

“It really comes down to meeting our employees where they’re at, on the channels they prefer, when they need it,” explained Jennifer. Being able to publish the “need to know information” that’s going to improve that employee’s performance,  improve their experience, help them better deliver on the company plan, and overall just make their lives better. 

“Right now we’re getting about a million weekly visits to our internet hub and we’re getting about 25,000, for our global town halls. We’ve got about 23,000 retirees and alumni signed up for our e-newsletter, and at this point now we have 63,000 subscribers to our mobile app. Our Firstup app numbers have skyrocketed during COVID and you were able to see that progression. In March 2020 we were at around 22,000 users and then by October 2020, we were around 46,000. So you can see the value we had.”

—Marisa Bradley, Director Internal Communications, Ford Motor Company

Through the use of the FirstUp platform, the team can know if they are targeting content appropriately. Their Blue Oval Now app also allows them to connect and target extended communities. Whether employees are part of the hourly community or subscribe to one of the plant-specific channels, they’re going to get information that’s relevant and specific to them. The EU region is even looking at how to add and connect their dealerships.

Equally, the team can see whether or not content they are pushing out is being effective and then be able to show leadership the progress they are making, or the areas that need to have additional focus. 

Despite their vast workforce, Ford employees a family-based approach to communications that always puts the employee first, ensuring they’ll be innovating well into the future.

Watch the full webinar here

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