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How Reconnecting with Customers Can Create Engagement

November 29, 2018 Joe Mechlinski


Harley Davidson struggled mightily back in the early 1980s when Japan’s manufacturing took the upper hand. After several management buyouts, the company was down to a 15 percent share of the marketplace. 

When Vaughn L. Beals, Jr. took over as CEO, the first thing he did was leave his office for an extended period. He traveled the country, visiting dealerships and hosting Harley-sponsored road rallies, which brought thousands of bikers together for the purpose of celebrating Harley Davidson. This new strategy was about reconnecting customers and dealers to this product. 

The CEO's idea was that Harley riders thought of the motorcycle as more than a bike. They thought of the company as a community, one that is based on principles of patriotism and the independent spirit. Harley Davidson persevered with its turnaround program, and it worked. Can we name another company whose name is tattooed on more people’s bodies? In fewer than fifteen years, market share has climbed to 85 percent. It's a result of long-term thinking, fostering asense of connection and empowering engagement. 

Perseverance and a Greater Purpose

Angela Lee Duckworth is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and the author of the bestselling Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Duckworth's experience as a teacher led her to explore what makes some people succeed. When she was teaching math to seventh graders in a New York public school, she noticed, several months into the school year, that some of her strongest performers had low IQ scores, while some of her smartest students weren’t doing well. After graduating with a master of science in neuroscience, she pursued a PhD in psychology, focusing on why some children and adults succeed and others don’t.

She and her research team went to West Point Military Academy to predict which cadets would stay in military training, and which ones would drop out. They went to the National Spelling Bee and tried to forecast the students who would advance furthest. They partnered with private companies and tried to see which salespeople would earn the most money for the company. 

In the end, one trait surfaced as a predictor of success in all these cases: grit.

Duckworth defines grit as, "passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day-in, day-out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint."

When we are failing and feeling our weakest, the only way out is to reconnect with our larger purpose, or our gut brain.

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