When Ole Evinrude invented the first commercial outboard engine 100 years ago, he probably didn’t envision the many twists and turns the brand would take in the years to come. But he would likely approve of the open communication strategy currently being used to keep the brand alive.
In March 2001, Bombardier Recreational Products acquired the Evinrude brand as part of the assets of Outboard Marine Corp. Roch Lambert and a small group of people were assigned the task of building the division from scratch. Given the unknowns, one of the first decisions Lambert made was to meet with all division employees on a regular basis. Everything would be on the table.
“That transparency was phenomenal in keeping people motivated and informed so that they didn’t spend their time worrying,” says Lambert, vice president and general manager of the outboard engine division, BRP. “They knew that management was working on it, and that there would be a plan at some point in time. That gave us credibility.”
As the company moved forward with the brand, that belief in clear communication was extended beyond its employees. In spring 2003, rumors flew that Bombardier Inc.’s intention to sell its recreation products division meant the end of the Evinrude brand. The rampant speculation was such a threat, that Lambert launched a weekly progress report for the industry called “The Real Deal,” in which each new rumor was addressed. It proved to be a powerful tool, quickly calming the concern and strengthening the brand’s trustworthiness. To this day, the focus on open communication continues.
“We keep everyone well informed. I meet with [employees] about once a month, and we present the state of the business, the state of the industry and our performance, and then we take their questions,” explains Lambert.
That approach has served the company well over the last several months, when Lambert had to announce a temporary shut-down and payroll reductions.
“When you talk to people when things are going well, it absolutely smoothes the blow when you have to give them bad news,” Lambert says. “We had people come over and hug us and say, ‘You guys have done everything you could. This is not a surprise.’”