How the Hells Angels Use Accountability to Drive Success

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I was reading an article about the Hells Angels and it got me thinking about accountability. The Angels are the most successful biker gang in the world with chapters in 59 countries and almost 500 jurisdictions. Like it or not, the Hells Angels remain the top name of the outlaw motorcycle clubs and members are regarded as more sophisticated and loyal than those of other biker groups.

Founded in California in 1948, the Hells Angels has run the gamut of illegal and increasingly legal means to continue to grow the business and it got me wondering whether they have tapped into the secrets of accountability to drive such long-term success despite a fairly questionable business model. Let’s have a look.

Accountability starts at the top and it seems that the Angels have few key characteristics that other organizations would be wise to follow (except for maybe killing your rivals although I am sure the odd CEO has considered it). I have used my 7 C’s of Accountability to name a few;

  1. Culture

Leadership follows the same rules as everyone else. Sure they have “Prospects” who do the grunt work, and they have incredibly strong hierarchy in the organization, including your position on a ride, but the leadership follows their own rules. The rules that society has created don’t concern them. Once you join the club, you have your set of rules to live by.

Another key Culture note is how they have been handling trademark infringements. You may not realize it but much of the club’s revenues come from merchandising their various logos. Yes they have high power lawyers defending and going after violators but what is really interesting is their focus on not destroying those infringers but settling their lawsuits on favorable terms, which has sometimes forced the perpetrator to donate to a local charity.

  • Clarity

The Angels are exceptionally good at Clarity, whether it is their rules, territory demarcation or the consequences if you violate the rules, good leadership understands that breakdowns and mistakes happen when leadership has failed to create proper clarity on purpose, rules and lines of demarcation.

  • Collaboration

The HA’s love a good party as they know the importance of maintaining positive relationships across the vast organization. These parties give the clubs a chance to build stronger collaborative networks and sometimes to settle disputes.

  • Commitment

If you want to be a Hells Angel, one thing you will need is commitment to the group and their beliefs. The “Prospect” process is more rigorous and demanding than almost any other on the planet. You (and your wife/girlfriend) have to want this lifestyle or you simply won’t make it. The club always comes before family.

  • Communication

Much of the world to the Hells Angels is shrouded in mystery and code words with little messaging done in a manner that can be traced (eg: email) but from within, the communication is open and highly effective. This is enabled by long, multi day conversations, often lubricated with drugs and alcohol, that gain alignment and commitment to issues and initiatives. Those include international multi-day rallies, regional parties and regular meetings where Robert’s Rules of Orders are strictly adhered to.

  • Competency

The only true competency requirement to be a Hells Angel, other than the “Prospect” process, is you own a Harley and know how to ride it. But increasingly, the Angels are becoming very sophisticated with new members tending to have a much higher level of education then their older brothers.

  • Controls

Perhaps the most important Control that the Angels use is the onerous “Prospect” process. Despite falling numbers during certain periods over the last 60 years, they have not budged on the rigour they use to select new members and police services will tell you, it is the single biggest challenge to infiltrating their ranks. Other controls include beatings, assaults and murder. They even have badge of honour for those who have committed murder on behalf of the club.

You may not like biker gangs or the Hells Angels but for an organization of criminals, rowdies and misfits, that have been able to continually grow and evolve, despite constant police pressure and incarceration of its members, it is an unbelievable accomplishment of leadership, much in the same class as Attila the Hun, the man who shaped an aimless band of mercenary tribal nomads into the undisputed rulers of the ancient world.

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