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