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It was 2013, and Holden, one of Australia’s largest car manufacturers, was faced with a challenging situation, one putting both the business and employee engagement to the test. After being told the plant would be closing in four years, the leadership had to make some difficult decisions: when and what to tell their employees, and how to manage the business for the remaining years.

The strategy and approach the leadership team developed is a stellar example of employee engagement at its best, which is even more amazing given their situation. Where some companies would focus on winding down the business, Holden made the decision to ramp up and focus on its people. According to Jamie Getgood, HR Director,

If all we do as a leadership team is simply shrink the business, we will have failed our people and our customers. Our people genuinely care for each other, and our last car will be the best we ever built.

The Play

Holden’s new focus on its people was comprehensive and best in class, so much so that other companies facing similar challenges began to solicit the company’s assistance. It involved the following:

  • Transparent communication by removing the veil of secrecy that had existed in the past, creating a transparent and two-way approach. Thus began with sharing the news of the plant closure immediately, and continued throughout the transition period, treating employees with respect and trust. 
  • Improved employee focus by putting money and effort into improving the employee experience. Whether this involved maintaining the gardens, upgrading bathrooms, or having site-wide activities and events (e.g. classic car days, family days, charity events), Holden showed employees that the company cared for them in many ways.
  • New methods of connection by having daily production walks by the leadership team to stay close/connected to employees at this critical time, helping them understand and react to the needs of the business and employees.
  • Increased transition support by using a three-phase approach to “support and give employees confidence, preparing them for their next journey,” says Getgood. Phase One helped employees understand themselves, Phase Two helped them explore further career opportunities and Phase Three provided outplacement services. It’s been a huge success, with 82% of employees participating in the program.

With these new initiatives, Holden spent more on its people over the final four years than in the previous 10. Did it make a difference? Absolutely, yes! The company’s workplace-of-choice metrics, which included engagement, increased a staggering 20 to 30%; attendance improved; processes improved; and the quality of the cars built in the facility attained world-class standards. Holden’s workforce rallied around the business to truly support it and to leave with their heads held high, being proud of what they had accomplished and done during this challenging period.


In Practice

  • Employee engagement can and should happen at all times, both
    good and bad, because it can help support and drive your business whatever the situation. 
  • Look for opportunities to engage with your employees as often and as soon as possible. Their input is valuable and can help improve business operations.
Find more plays like this one in "The Rebel Playbook" 


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