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22 min watch with captions and full transcript

GM Holden’s Jamie Getgood took a rebel risk when he broke the news of closing the company’s manufacturing plant four years ahead of time. Debra Corey spoke with Jamie to hear how he successfully transitioned 85% of his staff–and kept them engaged in the meantime.

In this Interview, Jamie shares his tips for:

  • How to make the last car, the best car
  • Why you should always default to transparency with your employees
  • How to get the leadership right to drive engagement and culture


Learn from Jamie’s rebel insights:
  • Have a heart for your people
  • Tell employees the bad news as soon as you can
  • Show off your employees so they can transition
  • Engagement lives on beyond the brand
  • Ask: why not?
Our favourite quotes:

“I think the first question should be, why can't you tell people early? I think often it's a fear that's not even founded.


“I've walked into people at the shopping center since we've closed, and they come and hug me. How often does an HR person get hugged? It just doesn't happen. It's a testament that our people really responded to what we've done for them and appreciate it.”

Jamie's interview

DEBRA COREY: Hi there, I'm Debra Corey. I am the coauthor of Build it: The Rebel Playbook for World Class Employee Engagement, and I'm really pleased to be here today with Jamie Getgood from GM Holden Australia. Welcome.


DEBRA COREY: Yes, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule getting awards, speaking at conferences, just found out being on this month's 60 Minutes. Appreciate you coming here today. Now, Jamie and his story is in the book, but we thought today since we're both in Australia that we would just maybe talk through it a little bit more. The objectives of this video is for Jamie to answer three questions.

So, why, why did you decide that you had to, needed to be, rebellious? What, what did you do, which is winning you lots of awards? And, then also how, so how did it impact the company; how did it impact the workforce? And, maybe some final words of wisdom.

JAMIE GETGOOD: Okay. Not a problem.

DEBRA COREY:I think this is an absolutely cracker story, play, as we call them in the book. It really shows that engagement isn't just in good times. It's something that you need to think about when things start getting rough, and it definitely was rough. I think it is such a great story that I actually think it's going to be a movie. It is going to be turned into a movie and your surname is so fantastic. You have got to be the star of the movie. Jamie Getgood. I mean it's just perfect for a story.

JAMIE GETGOOD: Yeah. It's a Hollywood name.

DEBRA COREY: Exactly. So, nothing like setting you up. Maybe you could set up a little bit about what was going on in the organization and why did you embark on this journey?

JAMIE GETGOOD: I think from an Australian context point of view when it comes to building cars, we were in a very difficult environment. The economic environment had changed to a point where it was really difficult to make cars in this country. Leading up to that, we also knew that as an organization we need to improve our organization. We knew that we were so focused on metrics, we were so focused on how we built cars, but we weren't really focused on people.

Leading up to the closure, we had taken a number of initiatives to try and improve the engagement and culture of our workforce. I'm glad we did that because when we got to the inevitable position where we had to announce that we were closing manufacturing in this country, it was really the culture that helped build the process and I guess the trust and recognition in our organization, so people could respond to what we were about to do.

DEBRA COREY: So, if you hadn't had the trust, all of a sudden you come at them and you say basically your world is being turned upside down, the plant is closing, it could have had a very different ending, couldn't it have?

JAMIE GETGOOD: I think it would have. Unfortunately, I've been in organizations where I have closed plants before, and smaller plants. I'm not the grim reaper. I want to clarify that. In those organizations, if the culture is not right, I have seen quality drop and I've seen cost performance drop, and I've seen safety issues rise.

That's not what we experienced at Holden. I think having the trust and the leadership and the culture right before we had announced closure was actually critical. I don't think we realized it at the time, but we've seen how the business has completely transformed and we've seen how our people have responded.

DEBRA COREY: You found out, when, that you were going to close?

JAMIE GETGOOD: We announced closure on the 11th of December 2013. I found out late on the 10th of December 2013, the day before. Again, in the past, we could have held that to our chest and not told anyone and waited until three months prior to the official closure date.

DEBRA COREY: It's a long period of time.

JAMIE GETGOOD: Yeah, but because of the culture we had, because our leadership was all focused around people, we thought, we don't want to do this. Let's tell people as soon as we can and give them a chance to transition, but also give them a chance to help the organization be the best it could be as we close.

DEBRA COREY: Did people looking in from the outside say, you're mad, you're telling people too soon, everyone is going to leave, as you said, quality is going to drop, you're going to have real challenges? 

JAMIE GETGOOD: There were critics. Some of those critics were still internal because we thought that people were going to leave us. In fact, as we went through the journey, I was nervous. We had put up a jobs board in our transition center, and I didn't want to do that initially because I'm going, but what if everyone leaves. You had your natural reaction to go, oh, oh, what if. But, at the end of the day we had a heart for our people and we had a heart to continue the culture and the engagement. By having that heart, we thought let's give them as much notice as we can.

DEBRA COREY: It's a lovely way of putting it. You have the heart for your people. You talked about trust. Those are really the why of what drove you to do what you did. You started with something rebellious, which is telling people how many years early?

JAMIE GETGOOD: Four years earlier.

DEBRA COREY: Four years early, okay, so that's rebellious. What other types of things did you do to lead with the heart in this situation?

JAMIE GETGOOD: Initially we had to change our leadership. This was prior to the closure announcement, but it's a critical piece of this. We weren't going to accept us leading in a control and command style, which is what we were. We wanted to make sure that everything we did had to be centered around our people.

We stopped measuring ... It was still important how many cars we built, but that wasn't the primary focus. It's how do we engage our workforce. How do we put a whole heap of issues in to do that. So, get the leadership right and then train many leaders that didn't want to come on board on that and that was a tough process too because there were some leaders that didn't want to come on the people journey. Eventually, we got the leadership fixed in the right areas

Now, how did we do that? Lots of things. We started telling people as it was. We used to hide things and keep things close to our chest. We used to not ... We didn't even know our people, to be honest. I remember when I started at Holden six and one-half years ago, you could walk into a plant and the leaders didn't know the names of their people.

DEBRA COREY:Not even their direct team?

JAMIE GETGOOD: In some cases, no. We put in initiatives like mandatory half-hour appointments in people's calendars to walk the floor and just get to know people's names and dog names, and things like that.

DEBRA COREY:To show the human side.

JAMIE GETGOOD: Yeah. We also learned how to build cars. We physically got on line and learned how to build cars and put parts on this and parts on ... I'm terribly, I do plastic bumper bars.

DEBRA COREY:They wouldn't let you past that?

JAMIE GETGOOD: No, no. The team leaders were really good. They were gracious and they fixed my errors. We learned how to build cars, not just so we could say, we can build cars, but so we could get to know the people, learn their problems, and as we found them, we'd go out and fix them.

DEBRA COREY: Yeah, it's so much easier firsthand being able to do that and also going back to the trust and the respect. I'm sure it meant it a lot to your employees.

JAMIE GETGOOD: Absolutely. I think when they've been screaming about issues and no one is fixing them, and all of a sudden, we've got this new found desire to help them. We're out there. You're going to end up building a trust. For a while there, they were going, yeah, you say you're going to fix this, but are you really.

We put actions into place and we'd fix the issues, and they go, oh, they did it. We then organized committees where we were focused on our engagement metrics and trust metrics and recognition metrics. We asked them really tough questions like, what's new, what are we bad at. We did random groups, we had committees in place just to focus on our workforce of choice metrics. From them, we came up with all these initiatives to improve our business, and that was from our people.

DEBRA COREY: Which is amazing also because you know the plant is going to be closing and yet you're pouring money in to make it a better experience for your employees. Did you get much pushback from leadership to invest?

JAMIE GETGOOD: No. I think because we had the leadership on the journey prior to closure, they had the hearts already. I think the best way I can explain it is they have a heart for people now. Because of that, we spent more money on our people in the last four years than probably the previous 10 to 15. We upgraded bathrooms and kitchen areas and we repainted areas and floors and walls, and we kept the gardens manicured. We probably didn't have to do that because we're closing, but we wanted to do our best to take care of our people.

What we saw was incredible. The results that came from that absolutely outweighed any cent we spent. In fact, cost wise, we won multiple cost awards within our organization as one of the greater plants in this region because we focused on our people first.

DEBRA COREY: I'm sure all the other plants around the world now want to know your secret recipe of what are the types of things that you've done. Are you out there helping everyone else both within Australia and outside of Australia?

JAMIE GETGOOD: We are sharing some of our success, I guess. We've got multiple companies, not even within our area, that have approached us and said, hey, we want to learn from you. There's some great stories where companies have already started closing their operation and they spent time with us to go, well, how did you do this.

I know those companies are getting similar results in their organization. I think even within General Motors, we have shared bits and pieces. We have a really good system of sharing within the organization. I know they will take some of these lessons learned going forward.

DEBRA COREY: I remember you told me when we first did the interview about how you, I don't want to use your words exactly, about making your last car your best car. Would you mind telling me the exact words and your strategy?

JAMIE GETGOOD: We knew as a leadership team that if all we did was shrink the organization, we would have failed. Not just our brand, not just our business, but our people. We wanted to do everything we could to make sure that there was this desire, this motivation with our people to make their last car, the best car. That's why we focus on culture and engagement and leadership. We knew that by doing that we're only going to see better results at the end.

DEBRA COREY: I think it's a strong message to your employees. You know, we're going to have the best car, but also we're going to make your last four years with the organization the best that it can possibly be. Sounds like you had some good parties and things like that also, so you didn't forget the fun element.

JAMIE GETGOOD: No, absolutely. We did a number of initiatives leading up to closure. Things like, we had family tours. We hired golf buggies and brought the kids in on school holiday so they could see Mom and Dad working in the plant. We started doing engagement events and we'd have barbecues and we'd recognize people for special things that they did. We did a whole heap of things in that area. But, when we got to closure, we also didn't want to have the closure of manufacturing as a wake or a funeral.


JAMIE GETGOOD: We thought we really need to celebrate this. This is, I believe, the best workforce in this country. How do we celebrate who they are? So, leading up, we had lots of avenues to try and show them not only that we care about them and they are supported, but also to show them how good they are. We started bringing organizations into Holden and did employer tours. We told our people we're doing this to sell you to them.

DEBRA COREY: You did a lot to support them in getting their next job, didn't you?


DEBRA COREY: Do you have any statistics or anything on how many people found jobs by the time you closed?

JAMIE GETGOOD: Yeah. Leading up to closure, we had about 850 people that had left us up until that point. The success rate there is 85% success rate. I don't know if there's too many metrics around the world that can beat that.

DEBRA COREY: That's pretty good, yes.

JAMIE GETGOOD: I think, again, our people are great. We've put a lot of effort into transitioning them. I think the four-year window was the right thing to do.

DEBRA COREY: What kind of tips do you have? You said you're helping other organizations. If somebody is going through this type of change, what would you recommend?

JAMIE GETGOOD: I think first of all, be transparent, I think. And, give notice. I think traditionally the HR community has also been, and there's reasons for that, the way we handle unions and the way we handle people, but we often keep things to our chest and don't share early. I think share as early as you can. Yes, there may be some concerns about media and so forth, but if you put in the right structure with leadership up front, it's not a concern.

It gives people a chance to accept the message and they come around really quickly. So, be transparent. Help them, show them the support you're going to offer them. Put people first. I think it's very easy for us as organizations to go, we have to look at how many widgets we make. Our focus becomes a metric driven business rather than a people driven business. Focus on people.

DEBRA COREY: Definitely, and I think the communication is just so important about being transparent. I've worked in organizations that have done it both ways, and being in HR, it's just not comfortable when you know information other people ... I'm mean, it's impacting their lives. Also, I love what you say about it, it gives them time to go through the change curve because it does take time. I'm sure that because of the trust, your people very quickly went from anger to acceptance and moved along with the organization.

JAMIE GETGOOD: The four years absolutely helped with that. I think if we had a one-year program, some people still wouldn't have been out of that curve.


JAMIE GETGOOD: Four years allowed people to go up and down the curve.

DEBRA COREY: You probably do change a lot, you're right. A little bit of a roller coaster.

JAMIE GETGOOD: We did notice that. All of a sudden, the media would run a story about the industry, and then you'd see people drop back into the bottom of the curve again. I think giving people that time really helped.

DEBRA COREY: For a company that's actually not going through change like this, would you still recommend the same things?

JAMIE GETGOOD: Absolutely. Our business results are the best they've ever been. We are one of the most cost effective plants at the moment from an economy point of view. We have got the best quality metrics that we've ever had. In fact, we are one of the best plants in the world for quality right now in our build right, in our first time quality. Our safety metrics are probably the best they've ever been. Absenteeism was almost the best that's it ever been. Every metric had improved.

I think if we hadn't announced the closure, we had a really exciting future because we were heading down this journey.

DEBRA COREY: Yes, so it just sort of accelerated it.

JAMIE GETGOOD: It did, but I think any future organization I'm in, I will make sure that we put the same focus because I've seen the business turn. It was turning before we announced closure.

DEBRA COREY: I think that's great.

JAMIE GETGOOD: It makes a difference.

DEBRA COREY: People first. Open, honest, transparent communication.


DEBRA COREY: Okay. Things that we definitely talk about in the book ... As a matter of fact, you're in the open and honest communications chapter. Whenever I do conferences, your face ... you don't even realize this, your face has been around the world when I speak at conferences.


DEBRA COREY: Yeah, you're just there with me. I do think it's just such a good story. I think it's rebellious in that a lot of companies aren't brave enough to do it, but I think that it's something that organizations really have to do and need to do.

JAMIE GETGOOD: It's a must.

DEBRA COREY: So, Jamie, one of things that you did absolutely brilliantly was open, honest, transparent communication, which sounds easy. It's not easy. Can you maybe give us some examples of what you've done so that people can be inspired by this?

JAMIE GETGOOD: The first thing we did was we set up a transition center. When we announced closure, we didn't want to just do what we had always done, which was make people redundant, shake their hand, and let them leave.

So, we set up this transition center, which was based on a whole heap of best practice work from all around the world. It was how we communicated to our workforce, this is all about you. This is about allowing us to sell you. It's about allowing us to prepare you for your future chapter. It allowed us to go out and talk to the rest of the world about how great our workforce was. That transition center has absolutely kicked amazing goals. It does everything from supporting people from a financial point of view. It helps them from a career coaching. It helps them from a volunteering, if they want to go on and retire. Every possible thing you can think in transition, it does that.

DEBRA COREY: It sounds like when you talked before about people first, it's looking at each individual person and giving them different ways to deal with the situation.

JAMIE GETGOOD: Yeah, we had a plan for every person. We didn't have just a tar brush approach where everyone got the same bit. We literally had a room pretty much set up where we managed every individual's transition. We wanted to make sure it worked individually. Our original workshop may not work for everyone, but let's tailor something for you specifically. A lot of work went into it, but the results speak for itself.

DEBRA COREY: Well, you said 85% percent of the people got jobs. That's absolutely brilliant. The relationship between the company must have gotten stronger when they saw how supportive you were with their future.

JAMIE GETGOOD: Yeah. Look, it did, and I think that continues for our brand past closure. I've walked into people at the shopping center since we've closed, and they come and hug me. How often does an HR person get hugged? It just doesn't happen. It's just testament that our people really responded to what we've done for them and appreciate it.

DEBRA COREY: Which is not always common when you're, as you said, earlier, the grim reaper. 


DEBRA COREY: Yes, so you must have done it well.

JAMIE GETGOOD: Yeah. I think people have really responded. I think that also was where we respected our people when we close. I think I mentioned earlier, we didn't want it to be like a wake. We celebrated them. We even organized Jimmy Barnes to come and sing for our people as part of the celebration. People said, I'm going to remember this day for the rest of my life. That was the closure day.

DEBRA COREY: Someone told me it was a surprise, too. Nobody knew who was going to be there.

JAMIE GETGOOD: Yeah. There were about three of us that knew. It was really good. To be honest, we had a chat with Jimmy before he went up. His heart was to do the right thing for our people, too, because he's an Elizabeth boy. He grew up in the area. So, he basically gave everything when he sang, which was fantastic.

DEBRA COREY: It wasn't just at the end though that you did these celebrations and you did these recognitions. Over the four years, what were the types of things that you did for your employees?

JAMIE GETGOOD: We had lots of things. I've talked about family tours that we had people coming through on school holidays and seeing Mom and Dad work. We had car events, so local car clubs, and most of them are Holdens, we invited them into the plant and they parked their cars in the plant and around the business. We gave them tours of our factory and showed off our people. But, it was a bit of both. Our people really loved to see what they had built over the years on the grass and the passion that people had for their brand.

DEBRA COREY: So, pride in the organization.

JAMIE GETGOOD: Absolutely.

DEBRA COREY: I did see a picture from the last day. The smiles on people's faces was just amazing.

JAMIE GETGOOD: There wasn't a sad face on our last day. It was all smiles. All cheers. As I said, people said that they would never forget that day.

DEBRA COREY: See, it is going to be a move. This is going to be a movie. I don't know when, so get ready for your starring role. Part of being a rebel is starting with why not. So, why cannot I do something? Do you want to talk a little bit about ... You know, you talked to lots of different organizations, why do they always start with, we can't do it?

JAMIE GETGOOD: I think in the past, people have a belief that they're going to cause damage to the organization or themselves or their people by telling people too early. I've heard lots of organizations say to me when we've been talking about closures and transitions and redundancies, they say, we can't tell them to early because of this, this, and this. I say, why not?

I think the first question should be why can't you tell people early? I think often it's a fear that's not even founded. Our issue in the past was we were worried it would get to the media. We were worried that maybe the unions would use that to their advantage. This journey wasn't just our people, we took the union on the same journey, and we have a great relationship with the union. My question to organization would be, "Why can't you do it earlier?" I guarantee most of it is based on fear and poor experiences that they've had in the past.

DEBRA COREY: It is, and we talk a lot in the book about defaulting to transparency and starting with being as open and honest as possible, treating your employees like adults, and putting yourself in their shoes. If you know this is going to happen to you, to your point, what is the worst that's going to happen if you find out? I think you guys are a good example of four years, and it was only good, not bad.

JAMIE GETGOOD: We've actually ... In fact, we've seen a ... really interesting story. When we celebrate our closure, our sales points went up the following week.


JAMIE GETGOOD: I think if you do it well, you can actually have a better impact on your brand because people in the community will hear you going, they've done the right thing.

DEBRA COREY: You want to engage with that particular product. You think, I want to buy from them because they treat my employees well.

JAMIE GETGOOD: Absolutely.

DEBRA COREY: Good, great answer. Be brave. Default to transparency. Love it. Thank you very much.

JAMIE GETGOOD: Not a problem.

DEBRA COREY: It's been really nice to talk through and share this story with other people. My last thing to say to everybody is, just go out and find that rebel in you and do it however you can, be more transparent, and put your people first, and go from there.

JAMIE GETGOOD: Fantastic. Thank you.

DEBRA COREY: Thank you very much.

JAMIE GETGOOD: No worries.