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Optimizing Talent: A Culture of Empowerment has enabled Harley-Davidson to empower all talent to be true partners in its business. Leadership transformed the organization from a traditional, top-down model to an open and participatory model in which employees are provided with the tools and training necessary to make significant business decisions.
A Harley-Davidson business process and a set of core values that all employees are expected to learn and incorporate into their daily lives are the foundations of this transformation, and they are highlighted at each new employee’s formal orientation. Among other things, the values encourage employees to push back on all levels of decisions and take calculated, measured risks in their work—a way of operating termed “freedom with fences.” These efforts are underscored by Harley-Davidson’s commitment to employee development and lifelong learning, which includes numerous training programs and opportunities. Finally, a performance-management and succession-planning process that annually brings together all senior leaders within each functional area to discuss employee performance, bench strength, and potential ensures that employees’ talents are visible not just to their own supervisors, but to all managers within their area and across other functional areas.
Because of these efforts, Harley-Davidson has seen growth in the representation of women in its senior ranks. For example, women now comprise 17 percent of the vice president positions—an increase from 5 percent in 1995—and 29 percent of its corporate officers are women.