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Marshall Motor Group

Employee engagement at a 100-year-old retail motor group

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19th Jul 2016
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Helen Burrows is HR Director at Marshall Motor Holdings, which comprises two businesses, Marshall Motor Group and Marshall Leasing. Marshall Motor Group is a top-ten UK motor dealer group which was established in 1909. It currently operates more than 100 franchised dealerships, representing 24 different manufacturing brands in 25 counties across England. It has a turnover of £2.1bn per annum and 4,000 colleagues.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: Why do you think you appeared on the Best Workplaces list? What makes you stand out?

Helen Burrows, HR Director, Marshall Motor Group: Something that has made us stand out over the past few years is our story of ‘from good to great.’ Since starting with the Best Workplaces programme in 2008 our participation rates and trust index scores have improved hugely year-on-year with trend lines that match our improving business results.

This programme is embedded in to our overall aims and strategy to ensure a totally joined-up approach rather than this being a bolt on programme that has no synergy with anything else we are doing. We want every single colleague to fully understand our overall aims and where they fit in.

To be ranked as a Best Workplace is a combination of exceeding the trust index benchmark and an extensive audit of policies and practices which relate to our people. In terms of how we have gone from good to great, we believe it is based on our very simple bottom up, inclusive approach and following our mantra of ‘We Listen, We Take Action, We Care’.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What is your approach to employee engagement? What is the underlying belief?

Helen Burrows, HR Director, Marshall Motor Group: Our approach is simple – we take the time to understand what is important to our colleagues. It’s all very well for our board to strategize about engagement initiatives and how they fit with the overall business aims but if they aren’t actually important to our people it just becomes a 'style over substance' approach.

The Great Place to Work survey was the starting point for us to use an intelligent mechanism to measure not only how engaged our people were but to understand what contributed to that high engagement and more importantly what we could do to be even better.

We want every single colleague to fully understand our overall aims and where they fit in.

We wholeheartedly believe that if you listen to and understand what is important to your people you can, together, create a working environment of high trust and engagement where customer satisfaction and business success become a natural by-product.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What have you learnt about engagement that has helped you be more successful?

Helen Burrows, HR Director, Marshall Motor Group: The trend lines we referred to earlier are perhaps the obvious thing to mention – engaged people equals business success. That said, as a business that has grown extensively over the past eight years our biggest learn is around how engagement has protected our culture in times of change.

Our approach is simple – we take the time to understand what is important to our colleagues.

Rapid business growth can have a massive impact on culture and something we were absolutely clear on is that our values and family heritage weren’t diluted as a result of this growth. Our high levels of engagement and trust have enabled us to maintain our culture which engenders so much pride.

Having highly engaged people means you have company ambassadors throughout the business, which for new colleagues gives them a sense of belonging to a family from the outset.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: Most common mistakes that other organisations make when it comes to engagement?

Helen Burrows, HR Director, Marshall Motor Group: That’s a difficult one to answer but I think it’s easy to take a top-down approach and make assumptions about what engages your people.

When you are passionate about your business you can lose sight of how your people view working for you which is why using a third party to take the business’s temperature is valuable.

The key to getting colleague feedback is confidentiality and trust. People need to see that the programme or mechanism is credible and that they can give honest feedback without fear of repercussions. I would say another common mistake is not doing anything with the feedback. Whether this comes from a formal survey or just through day to day interactions listening is not enough – people need to see actions that lead to positive change.

Having highly engaged people means you have company ambassadors throughout the business

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: How do you get employees on board for engagement initiatives?

Helen Burrows, HR Director, Marshall Motor Group: This is simple: get them to come up with the ideas in the first place! Again, it’s very easy to make assumptions about what is going to engage people and, even when you have good intentions, if you try to introduce an initiative that doesn’t connect with what your people want it is very difficult to get them on-board to bring it to life.

Two-way communication, solid relationships and full buy-in from our senior team have been the critical success factors for us.

The key to getting colleague feedback is confidentiality and trust.

It is very easy to jump on the bandwagon and introduce the latest ‘in thing’ that is reported in the press, however if it’s not relevant to your people it just becomes a tick box exercise.

In our world, that’s a little bit like trying to sell the features of a car to a customer before having an understanding of what they want to know whether these features are going to be of benefit to them!

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What's next for employee engagement at Marshall?

Helen Burrows, HR Director, Marshall Motor Group: Our focus remains on being the employment destination of choice in our sector.

To deliver the best customer experience requires the best people and to attract the best people requires a strong brand and a culture which offers stability, support, career prospects and an environment where people feel they belong and can make a difference regardless of the size and diversity of our business.

We will continue to listen, take action and care to ensure our drive for positive change stays at the top of our agenda, and we will continue to strive for the top of the Best Workplaces rankings as an output of that!

Marshall Motor Group ranked 19th on the Great Place to Work 2016 UK Best Workplaces list for large organisations. If you're interested in improving employee engagement in your organisation, take a look at this report on making sure flexible working is really working to improve engagement and productivity, produced and compiled based on Great Place to Work data and visit the Great Place to Work Hub - Employee engagement - Getting from good to great. 

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