In the mid-1990s the senior management of Harley-Davidson and the presidents of two international unions decided to work together to establish a mutually beneficial partnership.
- They wanted to fundamentally change how they did business to increase product quality through partnership.
- They wanted to make Harley-Davidson a better place to work.
This landmark decision to create union and employer partnerships created a new shared leadership between the business and union leaders and enabled Harley-Davidson to innovate as demand increased for their vehicles.
To increase output within the existing Harley-Davidson U.S. factories and build a new factory to keep up with demand, Harley-Davidson and union leadership of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) and the Paper, Allied-industrial, Chemical, and Energy Workers (PACE) put their new partnership to the test.
Traditionally, union and nonunion workers did not mix, but Harley-Davidson decided to demolish that barrier in order to achieve better product quality and to invigorate the workforce. Teams of never before paired union and nonunion members, many of whom were line workers, came together for the building of a plant in Texas. These teams chose the plant location and were involved for the first time in the hiring process. As a result of partnership actions, efficiency increased and the need for management oversight decreased.
Jeffrey Bleustein, former Harley-Davidson chairman and CEO, said, “Through partnering, we’ve created an environment where all employees are valued and expected to make good decisions to benefit the enterprise.”
That decision defines the spirit of all of Harley-Davidson’s partnerships. For example, strong dealer partnerships make it very challenging for competitors to take market share from them. Harley-Davidson controls more than 49 percent of the annual market share of heavyweight motorcycles in the United States and more than 30 percent worldwide. When asked through surveys, over 80 percent of Harley riders regularly validate that yes, of course, their next motorcycle will be a Harley-Davidson.
- Do you honor genuine partnership and believe in its power?
- Do you involve employees in planning their own destiny?
- How do you embrace your partners?
- Are you nurturing a company of contributors?
What you decide to believe defines the spirit inside your organization. And it sets the tone for your interactions with customers.