What Can the LDS Church Learn from Harley-Davidson?

I’ve always had a peripheral interest in the evolving dynamics of organizations.  I guess that’s one of the reasons why I was a history major as an undergraduate at Brigham Young University.

In a recent edition of Time magazine (30 Jun 2014), there was an interesting discussion concerning the motorcycle company Harley-Davidson.  The company leadership has decided to move beyond the big, noisy hog:

Harley is in the midst of a complete reimagining as it increasingly tries to appeal to African Americans, Hispanics and women, not to mention riders in China and India, all of whom have become target customers.  Global demographics–more people with less money to spend–are forging big changes at the iconic firm.  Harley still sells the rebellious, hell-raising, American free-spirit ideal that it rode to fame in the 1950s and ’60s.  But that isn’t a strategy for running a company in 2014.

Harley-Davidson's Electro Glide in Blue

Harley-Davidson’s Electro Glide in Blue

One innovation, Harley is introducing an electric motorcycle.  But the question still remains:  Can a battery-powered hog help the famed cyclemaker grow beyond aging boomers?

Harley currently suffers from its past success because its historic success didn’t come with a dynamic vision of the future and game plan on how to get there.  As the world changed, Harley didn’t change with it.  Is it too late for the American icon to catch up?  We will see.

I currently work for an aging Federal agency that refuses to move into the 21st century.  Its principal view of the future is obsessing over its past.  The agency recently cut its planning budget down to practically nothing, and its research and development structure is so over-institutionalized that it is almost useless.  Change is almost impossible because of an ossified bureaucracy, and stakeholders who feel they are entitled.  Is there a need for the organization?  Yes, there is a very definite need, but not in its current structure.  Does it have a battery-powered motorcycle in its future?  Probably not.

Harley-Davidson's LiveWire Prototype Electric Motorcycle

Harley-Davidson’s LiveWire Prototype Electric Motorcycle

That brings me to the LDS Church.  I don’t believe that the leadership knows where it wants to go.  To be perfectly blunt, it is led by aging professionals and business men, and it infrastructure is way too complex.  The institution is too cumbersome to deal with rapidly changing realities.

The Church’s growth is being fueled by conversions (many short-lived) in developing countries.  But, there is an increasing restlessness and ennui with members in developed countries (the tithe payers).  The LDS Church’s mission seems more focused on the dead than on the living.  And with so many new members in developing countries, I don’t think this current model works.  We need to do more for members and their neighbors living south of the equator.  Does the LDS Church have a battery-powered motorcycle in its future?  I hope so, but I fear that it doesn’t.

This entry was posted in mormonism, Organizational Dynamics, Personal Essays, Religion, Social Justice. Bookmark the permalink.

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