ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

November 1997


Quality Is No 'Easy Rider'
Accountability, Confrontation two keys to success at Harley-Davidson

Rebel With A Cause
Who is accountable for productive meetings.

Measure for Measure
Merrill Lynch relies on measurements for success and customer satisfaction


When Change Is No Change At All
by Peter Block

The Balance Sheet: Hidden Costs of Open Book Management
by Cathy Kramer


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review

Letters to the Editor


Quality Is No 'Easy Rider'

NFC: Have you found that if you're working in a consensus decision-making mode that the decisions can take longer to make?
I think that's very true in the beginning of the process in trying to understand what consensus decision-making is all about. I think the reality is through practice, practice, practice, it starts to become a way in which you operate your business. Don't misunderstand, we don't do everything by consensus. I surely hope we don't do that in our fire drills. I think the critical piece is involvement, involvement that starts in the very beginning with a clean sheet of paper. Many times involvement becomes an action after 75 percent of the necessary activity is near completion. That's not true involvement. The key there to me is everybody starts with basically the same data and then consensus becomes a natural mode of operation.

NFC: Have you had to deal with instances where consensus wasn't involved and the people who weren't involved said, "Oh, well you're not walking the talk"?
I think the highest illustration of that is our relationship with our union institutions. I don't profess by any stretch of the imagination that we have the most ideal relationship in the world. I mean it's just like a marriage. You get out of it what you put into it. Again I think it comes back to sharing the same basic principles and objectives - in getting the upfront involvement in understanding your differences. Your enemy or competitor, generally speaking, is not within the confines of the walls of your business. In most cases, it's in the exterior. We talk about telling the truth, being fair, keeping promises, trying to respect all individuals and in many cases too, trying to encourage intellectual curiosity. You have to walk that talk and it's a tough thing to do.

NFC: I recognize how hard it is to tell the truth. Is there any magic key to making that any easier?
I guess I have related to it through a tool that I find very beneficial called mirror. In actuality each and every person truly has that person they see in the mirror to be accountable for. The other thing is holding people accountable when you don't feel that takes place. The dialogue around an issue where people don't think things are totally open or there's a suppression of information. That's what we see more than a person not telling the truth or lying. It's the suppression of information by the other individual. The confrontation associated with that I think is one of the key leadership skills for highly successful organizations.
Confrontations are a very tough issue. It's tough in business; it's tough in our family and personal life. But if we don't confront eventually whatever's being suppressed will evolve into a very unpleasant situation. If you don't confront how do you give people the opportunity to improve? We talk about business meetings that are conducted in the washrooms. If you can get them out in the open so people have the opportunity to respond to what they believe is going on what they believe they're hearing from their peers, then they find out the reality. It's not easy.

NFC: Has confronting these undiscussables been tied to greater business success for Harley-Davidson?
Oh, most definitely. The other thing I attribute success to is our feeling of freedom to confront one another when that isn't happening. I'm not professing everybody walks this message every minute of the day, but people feel comfortable in saying 'that's really not the way I've seen it', 'that's not the way you seem to be behaving lately.' It's almost like helping a person understand as opposed to making accusations that they did something wrong.

NFC: You mentioned the issue of accountability. Holding someone accountable can imply penalty and punishment.
We struggled with accountability for a long, long time and I really believe that accountability isn't the problem. The problem is confronting the required accountability that should be there. We've come to learn and understand the key to success in that arena is the involvement of everybody in understanding what the objective is. All employees write their objectives to achieve the common purpose for that year or for the next three-year period or for whatever it is. So if that's done between, I'll use the word superior and subordinate, there shouldn't be any confusion about whether I'm performing or not and in our PEP process, (Performance Effectiveness Process), we have an operating principle that says these must be reviewed on a quarterly basis. In my opinion this ought to be something where there's constant dialogue that takes place whenever there are problems, barriers or conditions that prevent people from achieving those objectives. But to assure it happens we've instituted an operational procedure where we say it's a requirement to do that on a quarterly basis.
Another thing we have in the PEP process is a contractual agreement between the two parties that if conditions change for various reasons than those objectives may change.

NFC: How do these individual goals mesh with a teamwork approach, in a sense these goals reinforce an individualistic approach?
A good example is our PPG (Produce Product Group) circle. There are about eight members that each have a functional responsibility. One might be the vice president and general manager of vehicle operation; another is the vice president of engineering, vice president of purchasing, etc, etc. Each in their own area of responsibility has goals and objectives but the key is they are tied to the goals and objectives that are established by that circle in its entirety. Those eight circle members need to define what their goals and objectives are so that the individual goals and objectives support that common purpose which naturally would relate to the vision and mission of your business. If you could envision a pyramid and on top of it lie your vision and mission statements of the organization generally. We define everything that is needed to support that down to the individual employee of the organization. If we're all here and employed, in some way we need to contribute toward that objective.

NFC: Your role as V.P. of Quality is a position that many organizations are phasing out. Do you see your job going away at some point?
Most definitely. Up until about two years ago I was vice president and general manager of our power train operations. We then discussed ISO 9000 certification and said we probably needed further enhancement of our quality plan. Quality is everyone's job and we're looking for quality improvement in everything we do. We don't believe by any stretch of the imagination that there should be a separate entity or a separate function in the business that somebody leads a charge on. But establishing a quality plan for the company and a quality policy was the only reason we put in a vice president of quality. In other words, I had a job to do and we had to call it something so that's what we called it. Traditionally we do not have a vice president of quality in the organization and it's not our intention to have one in the future. So once I get this project launched, I'll move on to something else.

NFC: How do you view/use the Baldrige criteria?
We don't. I think there are some good disciplines and some good procedures defined in the Baldrige criteria. People know what good processes and good procedures are. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to identify what they are and most good leaders know what's required. The key is in the execution, in the discipline and the behavior - that is the way you run your business everyday. Not that it's a policy or procedure that hangs on the wall or it's in a book that's put on a shelf. It's the way you operate your business. Our chairman of the board talks about having our vision, mission, values and issues hanging on the wall. He said his goal is to some day see them all torn down. That people know what they are as well as their name.

NFC: Your four unions now have five-year contracts and some have three-year contracts. What was the biggest challenge in achieving that?
I think it goes back to mutual trust and understanding, establishing the common objectives. There are some learnings that need to go on. The financial success and viability of the organization naturally is a common successful outcome for both parties. I think it's been common throughout history that business leaders place the highest priority on the financial liability of the business. I think union institutions put a little higher degree of concern onto the security of employment and employee satisfaction. So there needs to be a balance because one without the other, won't succeed.

NFC: What frustrates you the most?
I guess understanding we can't do everything. There's somewhat of a behavior in the organization that we love to say we're number one. We love to say that we can succeed in everything, but I think the reality is we can succeed in anything we focus on. That requires prioritization and excellent planning and execution of those plans. The key is understanding the synergy and the collaboration that's required in achieving an objective. Let's take engineering for instance. Engineering can establish goals and objectives, but they need to understand the systems that are required to be put in place to support achieving those objectives. Many times we don't assess that extremely well and we go off with the John Wayne syndrome.

NFC: Do you go for any training yourself?
We have quite a bit of involvement with MIT and Peter Senge. We try to go to various symposiums of the top leaders in business. We listen to the Peter Blocks of the world, the Stephen Coveys, and many of the others.

NFC: If you could ask Peter Senge a question what would it be?
How do you achieve the things you talk about achieving in a millisecond. Once you get a vision of how this contribution could be extremely successful or help the success of your business, you have such a burst and an appetite to get to that. Sometimes that becomes dangerous because you don't do the required planning to achieve that objective. You don't involve the necessary people and you want to make that success in one giant leap. I guess leaders are not the most patient people in the world.
It's like making a major stock investment. You know the organization that you're investing in says "Just trust me the profits will come." And you say, "When?" You don't want to hear tomorrow. You want to see it. That's where the good planning and the involvement need to take place to understand what it takes to bridge that gap. Mutually agreeing as to what we're all going to do to get across that gap. If that's shared then there should be no anxieties.

NFC: If you could have dinner with anyone in history who would it be?
I don't know that I could identify an individual. I'm afraid to say a president's name because you'll quote me. No, I guess the most important person I'd like to have dinner with is my father. Unfortunately he's not on this green earth to do that with, but I know that's not the answer you want.

NFC: That's a great answer.

Nov. '97 News for a Change | Email Editor
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