St. Louis, MO
Posted - 02/03/2011 : 8:33 AM
What a company says about itself can either be wittingly or unwittingly honest or have little to do with how the company actually operates. Take for example Enron which touted their values as "respect, integrity, communications and excellence" and, above all, their dealings were supposed to be "open and fair." Few people, though, realize that in the late 1990s, Enron's Vision and Values Task Force suggested changing the mission statement to "smart, bold and aggressive". The company didn't end up changing the wording, but would've been more honest if they had.
When what a company says about itself doesn't match up to what they do, however, it doesn't necessarily mean the executives meant to deceiveit's just as possible they had or have deceived themselves about their methods of doing business. But that the task force even considered changing the words shows an unwittingly honesty one that other corporations also do through their own statements about themselves. Or, conversely, that self deception or witting deception can be found by looking at the corporate culture and policies.
And that's what Industry watchers and thinkers have come to see: it's the behind the scenes policies and what corporations do as much or more as the more traditional means of judging a business that can be a better barometer of potential storms and potential corruption ahead. Corporate governance policies, independence of board members, executive compensation policies and whether they live up to the values they profess are now part of the criteria socially responsible fund managers use to evaluate the future economic health of a corporation.
So how does what HDI say about itself measure up to what they do?
H-D's mission statement is posted on the Student Center portion of its website: "We fulfill dreams through the experience of motorcycling, by providing to motorcyclists and to the general public an expanding line of motorcycles and branded products and services in selected market segments."
Let's deconstruct H-D's mission, vision and then values statements also found on their H-D Student Center website:
The motorcycles, products and services are the means to fulfill those dreams but, in themselves, aren't particularly distinctive. For example, non-riders use the term Harley to mean any street/cruisers motorcycle. Because they do speaks to H-D's marketing in the past but also says that outsiders think of motorcycles in the same way as all facial tissues are Kleenex, all motorcycles are Harleys.
What is distinctive about HDI is just what the Company has said repeatedly: their main stock in trade is the image, the lifestyle. And what is the H-D image? According to a paper "Will A New CEO Continue H-D's Success?" by James W. Bronson and Graham Beaver, "Harley ranks near the 100th percentile on the Brand Asset Valuator scale for such qualities as authentic, rugged, daring, dynamic, distinctive and high performance" (p. 14).
This, then, is the dream that H-D fulfills for those who buy the motorcycles, products and services the Company fulfill dreams by providing a ready made image for the owner and one that may or may not truly reflect who that person really is. The bike or t-shirt or salt and pepper shakers doesn't make the owner authentic, rugged, daring, dynamic, distinctive or high performance. But it can make them feel an experience that way momentarily.
Of course, it also fulfills the stockholder's dreams of wealth. The stock market, though, also has a basic unreality to it its reality is electronic more than paper, paper more than hard currency. The dream is with any stock is to buy low and sell high, but that, too, is transient as a dream: the stock price today may be considerably different from what it was worth yesterday or even an hour from now or what it may be worth tomorrow.
Iow, H-D is true to what it says its mission is: To sell a transient fantasy in various ways; Illusions 'R Us.
If you stop and think about it, then, it's a scary sort of mission statement.
And does the corporate culture align with the mission? There is strong evidence that, yes, it is. For example, we can look at the lies they told about Rider's Edge and the practices of warehousing and winter financing that made demand appear greater than it was in a given year.
And so, when it comes to services especially rider training what they say they do should be a red flag for all: To create the illusion, the image, of safe training is, after all, perfectly consonant with how the Company sees itself.
And that's what the "Rider's Edge New Rider Course Instructor Candidate Packet" tells candidates they will be doing as employees: "The program provides an entry point into the freedom, adventure, independence, and exhilaration of motorcycling by enabling these current and new riders to experience basic motorcycling skills and knowledge in a way that's fun and involving."
It is, in Harley speak, the dream fulfilled, the experience provided. H-D has smartly, boldly and aggressively claims it's all about illusions what makes anyone think that a Company that takes pride in cynically selling image rather than reality is going to be any more responsible when it comes to training?
And one has to wonder: the time spent inside the dealership, trying on clothes, sitting on the bike, chatting with the staff, finding out about financing those all go to the dream of riding rather than the reality just as riding on a range is a dream compared to the street.
But when it comes to rider training, as all riders know, while motorcycling may be dreamy, it can swiftly, violently and lethally turn into a nightmare faster than the stock price can fall.
It seems to me that a company that smartly, boldly and aggressively takes so much pride in selling an illusion that it proclaims it to all needs to be held to a far higher standard.
Wittingly or unwittingly, HDI has revealed what it really is about. To give HDRE the ability to train and to hand out driver's license waiver is to allow those who take the course to dream on without providing the wake up call, the reality check that a state has the obligation to provide for all who go out into traffic.
It's time, past time, to wake up, folks.