Organization Horsepower

Thinking Like a Motorcycle Racing Team

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A Few Thoughts on the EBR Shutdown

The news of the second EBR shutdown has now completed its first round of the internet, and it seems a few people are shocked and a little bit angry. This is understandable human behavior, in many ways the loss of EBR can be felt like the loss of a friend and the cycle of grieving applies.

As much as denial and anger creep into our minds, we need to recognize it and put it into context before we can gain a perspective on the whole situation and begin to heal. I claim no insider knowledge of the situation, but as an experienced business person, a few things are eminently clear:

  1. There is no scam, lies, or intent to mislead on the part of Erik Buell or Erik Buell Racing (EBR) or Liquid Asset Partners (LAP)
  2. Market conditions for motorcycles are difficult at best and have not been conducive to the success of ANY manufacturer.

Any business endeavor needs to be singularly focused to succeed, EBR wore this on their sleeves figuratively and literally with the “Never Quit” slogan. When you live this as truth, you push, push, and push some more until either your goals are realized, or you crash and burn.

Win it or bin it.

You don’t foreshadow failure by sending out messages like “sales have not reached the potential of supply” or “we can’t get dealers to commit”. EBR did not signal failure because there was no intent to fail. New models where developed on a shoestring, and shows were attended because there was no quit until there was no other option.

Liquid Asset Partners (LAP) isn’t a villain here either, in fact, they probably did more than they should have. LAP is a family run company who helps companies and stakeholders recover value from the liquidation of assets. However, their love of motorcycling led them to depart from their normal and core business strategy to actually operate a company from liquidation. While the liquidation of excess inventory was certainly profitable, they also certainly shared in the operational losses that followed. It isn’t for any of us to say if those losses exceeded the profits, this is business, and the way you preserve jobs and livelihoods is by ultimately making money. As we all, grieve for the loss of employment for EBR employees, LAP has employees as well.

The implication that any party had less than honest intent here is frankly insulting to the individuals that poured their heart and soul into making it work and gave the endeavor a chance of success. If we really care about the employees of EBR or LAP, that line of thought is unproductive.

A for the market conditions, Motorcycles manufacturers are on slicks and racing in the rain. A talented rider can keep the bike upright, but acceleration, cornering or any sort of traction is really hard to come by and it’s ultimately noncompetitive. Teams have two options, go to the pits and change to rain tires, or retire from the race. EBR is a scrappy competitor with huge potential, but they didn’t have enough money left for an extra set of wheels or rain tires. By contrast, Polaris changed tires by shutting down Victory and redoubling on Indian, a brand that had deeper roots and more grooves in the tires.

I for one sincerely wish the Best for Erik Buell, Bill Melvin Sr. and Jr., as well as the employees of both EBR and Victory Motorcycles in their future endeavors, I am positive whatever those people do next, they will make motorcycling great again, or at least, better than it is today.

Cause and Engagement

I’m not the first, nor will I be the last, to say the most successful companies in the future will not only be values-driven, but also purpose-driven. It’s not enough to deliver value or demonstrate high-performance. Employees are seeking to do greater good than they could achieve as individuals, and companies that offer the opportunity to achieve that greater purpose will not only be employers of choice, but also will deliver the greatest returns in terms of the triple bottom line.

I explore the concept of Cause and Engagement in Chapter 3 of Organization Horsepower:

The ultimate goal of any competition is to win, to stand on the top step of the podium and receive the adoration of fans, competitors, crews, and sponsors. But winning isn’t the only reason we race. After all, only one competitor gets to stand on the podium, and it takes a small army to get him (her) there. Sometimes winning and coming in first isn’t the same thing.

Personally, racing was a cause I could get behind, so when a good friend decided to return to professional racing, I was able to fully engage with the effort. I’m always available to help a friend, but competing goes beyond just helping.

Not everyone has a friend who’s a professional racer or personal abilities that can be leveraged by a racing team. Not everyone sees competition as a cause. However, every viable company on earth has at least one person with capabilities that benefit the business. But not every company has a cause. And not every company has what it takes to compete at every level.

Two things are at work here: The possibility of winning, and a cause people can join.

If you’re the number 1 widget maker in the world and offer top-notch salaries, people will line up at your door to help you make and sell widgets. However, that doesn’t mean you’ll able to engage with those people at any level beyond economics.

Or you can be a company with a cause. A company that wants everyone to have a widget because it somehow makes life better. You might have a chance at being number 1, but you won’t sacrifice the cause to be number 1. That’s the kind of company people will get behind and engage with on a level that will actually help the company achieve greatness no matter the challenge.

Many things in life inspire us to take up cause. Country, family, love, charity, and faith are among the most common, and they all link back to caring about and for people. We do these things because we are inspired to do so, and we dedicate ourselves to the struggle and to success in whatever form it may come.

At the end of the day, there are different levels of engagement, and in some senses it can be fleeting.

We can capture attention by telling a great story.

We can appeal to common ground by expressing our values.

But sustainable engagement needs to reach beyond good storytelling and common values, it speaks to common benefit, not only for the individual and the organization, but also to a wider population. As companies, if we want that level of engagement, we need to seek out and articulate the good we do in the world. Then together, we can win any race we enter.

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