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15 min watch with captions and full transcript

Tasked with revamping a reeling list of company values, Aggreko’s Nicola Martin knew the key to reaching employees was simplicity and personalization. Debra Corey spoke with Nicola to learn how she went from a lengthy list to launch–and created a playbook for embedding values in the culture, to boot.

In this interview, Nicola shares her tips for:

  • How to roll out new values that align to your people
  • How to embed values into your employee programs
  • Why personalizing values creates greater employee buy-in


Be a rebel like Nicola:
  • Keep your values succinct
  • Sing off the same playbook to keep global programs consistent
  • Link employee recognition with your values–and reinforce them whenever possible
  • Integrate values into employee behaviors
  • Make your values about your ethos
Our favorite quotes:

We're lucky in our business, we have a Managing Director that really identifies with the people, really knows that the people are what makes our company great. He is really behind these always orange values. It's got to come from the top, and it does come from the top with him.

We really wanted [our values] to be easy for our employees to remember, and we also wanted it to be more than just a poster on the wall, something that someone from HR talks to you about when you first come into the business, and then you never hear about it again.

Nicola's interview

DEBRA COREY: Hi, there. I'm Debra Corey, and I am the co-author of Build It: A Rebel Playbook for world class employee engagement. Today I am joined by Nicola Martin. Is that how I say it in New Zealand. I'm American. I say Martin. You say-


DEBRA COREY: Martin, yeah. Yeah. Can I just call you Nicola because we say that the same in both of our countries?

NICOLA MARTIN: Yeah, that's fine. That's fine. Yeah. Okay.

DEBRA COREY: And Nicola's HR advisor for a great company called Aggreko here in Australia.

NICOLA MARTIN: That's right.

DEBRA COREY: Yes. And you have responsibility for which countries?

NICOLA MARTIN: So, Auspac region, so Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji, with a few people in Papua New Guinea and you can live down here in a few more Pacific countries, but the main countries: Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji.

DEBRA COREY: Great. And what we're here today to talk about is in the book, we talk about values and the importance of creating values that are really meaningful. That's exactly what Nicola and the global team have done at Aggreko. What they've done, and I'd really like to spend a couple minutes talking to you about is how did you roll it out, how did you integrate it, how did you build it into everything that you did to get people to do it? So, that's what we're going to chat about. Does that sound good?

NICOLA MARTIN: Yeah. Sounds good.

DEBRA COREY: Maybe if we start out ... maybe just tell us a little bit about your business.

NICOLA MARTIN: Yep. So, we have these big boxes, and out of those big boxes comes power, cooling, or heating. We make a massive difference all across the world.

DEBRA COREY: You told me that you actually power an entire country.

NICOLA MARTIN: Yeah, yeah. We can do that. We have community initiatives. We have events. We have mining and utilities and emergency response.

DEBRA COREY: Great. I think it's important to understand the industry because if you think about the industry, very often things like values and creating really meaningful values aren't top of the list, and embedding them it's something that other types of companies might do. So, from your perspective, why is it so important to bring this to the forefront?

NICOLA MARTIN: So, for one, we had a long list of values before that, I don't know that anyone could reel off what they were, so it was a long list, and a lot of words. So, we recognized that we needed to be more succinct with what was important to us, and we did that by breaking them into four main values. So, our values are under the umbrella of what we call always orange.

We've gone away from a cultural shift of say orange blood. Whilst there was some really good things about orange blood, it had the connotations of at all costs. We're not a business about at all costs. We're not about a business that come and work for us, and basically ignore your family and ignore your responsibilities outside of work. We wanted to be a business that complements what you have going on outside of work, so we really moved to our always orange behaviors. They are be expert, be innovative, be dynamic, and be together.

DEBRA COREY: They're really easy to understand, aren't they?

NICOLA MARTIN: Really easy to understand.

DEBRA COREY: Very succinct.

NICOLA MARTIN: Yeah, yeah. Really easy. Two words for both, so really easy to remember. We really wanted that to be easy for our employees to remember, and we also wanted it to be more than just a poster on the wall, something that someone from HR talks to you about when you first come into the business, and then you never hear about it again. Or, something that you login to your end-of-year review, and realize, "Oh, that's what the company behaviors and values are."

DEBRA COREY: Ooh. I was supposed to be doing that all year long. I forgot about that.

NICOLA MARTIN: Yeah, yeah. So, we really wanted it to be the real ethos of what our employee, what the Aggreko employee is. So, we had a plan to launch that in our company globally. We had an idea that we would launch it at the same day, at the same time, across the world. So, we have a global reach across the world. 8:00am on a specific day, I think it was the fourteenth of April, we decided that we were going to launch that across our business. So, we were committed to having someone from our leadership group in every location that we have people in across the world. So, at 8:00am on that day, we went through our launch process to launch it. In the Auspack region, that meant that we had people all over the place. I, myself, was in New Zealand. We had a breakfast with all orange food.

DEBRA COREY: So, what is orange food? Yeah, let's see.

NICOLA MARTIN: So, really crazy, oranges, baked beans. I think there was nectarines. So, a very healthy breakfast. So, we had a breakfast, a bit of a celebration about always orange and what that means, and then we actually made a video about what always orange means, not only globally but what does it mean in the Auspack region, and we shared that with all our people.

Then, we really talked to them about what does this mean about introducing these new values. Again, it's not going to be something that I come to you, I tell you all about it, and then you never hear about it again. We had to make sure that this was a launch and a plan that we had in place to really embed those values, and that people really thought about those when undertaking any kind of action within Aggreko.

So, we launched it. We talked about it. We had some merchandise that we gave to everyone, and always orange coffee cups and diaries. We actually had a test, which allowed everyone, which everyone set, which allowed them to determine what always orange behavior are they most like, and what always orange behavior could they work on. We gave them some tips on how do you ... what do you need to work on to get you to bring that value up.

DEBRA COREY: So, a couple of things that you did that I really love, and I just want to talk a little bit about. The first is having it done globally, first of all, it's a lot of organization to do it. But, it sends a really strong message. The fact that you are putting all this effort. You're having leadership team. Why did you do that? Why did you decide it was important to do it this way?

NICOLA MARTIN: Well, we all wanted to be singing off the same playbook basically. So, we all want the experience for every one of our employees to be the same in every part of our business, no matter where you are. But, we also thought it was really important for the Auspack side of the business to really Auspackize so it meant something. It's not just an initiative that's coming from global that we have to do. It's something that really means something to our business. I think we have really achieved that. We've worked hard to not leave it at the launch. All of our communications to anyone in the business, always uses the always orange language. If someone does something, we ... great show of being together, great expert.

DEBRA COREY: You even integrate the words. We talk about integrating and embedding the values into your HR programs, but you integrated into how you speak.

NICOLA MARTIN: Yeah. And not just HR. It's important that it comes from the leaders. So, we're lucky in our business, we have a managing director that really identifies with the people, really knows that the people are what makes our company great. He is really behind these always orange values, and I mean it's gotta come from the top, and it does come from the top with him. So, it's about ... I mean we're looking at having an orange day of kindness, or orange day of giving, where people are able to go out and give back, and that's all based around our values, as well.

We do things like recognizing, in our meetings, for example, every meeting that we have in Aggreko we start off every meeting with a safety tips because we're very safety conscious. We have to be in the industry that we're in. So, we start off with a safety tip, and then we start off with what we call a recognition. So, every meeting that is held has a recognition of someone that's shown being expert, someone that's shown being innovative, being dynamic, and it might be a team, or one person that's being together.

DEBRA COREY: So, linking it to your values, but also putting the spotlight in every single meeting. I think it's a great idea.

NICOLA MARTIN: Again, that helps with the engagement piece, the employee engagement piece, that they're getting recognized. There's nothing to it. It's just the fact that someone is recognized that you are doing your best to show that that's the kind of person that you are. We do an induction with all our new people that goes through being always orange. We talk about being always orange in our business all the time. It's, as I said, in every communication. We have plans around it. We recognize people for it. It literally is what we are.

DEBRA COREY: You even have a hashtag for it, so do you use it on social-

NICOLA MARTIN: #alwaysorange

DEBRA COREY: I love it #alwaysorange.

NICOLA MARTIN: Yeah. Yeah. So, it basically we have made it into ... it's more than just our values. It's the person in our business. That's really what we ... we couldn't have asked for any better. That's really what we wanted it to be.

We have really reaped the benefits from that because I've indicated earlier that we have seen, in the Auspac region alone, our turnover is cut in half. That is because the always orange ethos aligns with the work-life balance integration. So, it's not at all costs. It's acting like an owner. It's all of those things that we expect and we give back to our employees, as well. So, it's not about doing everything for the business. It's about what fits in well with your life. We know that if we've got a happy and engaged and satisfied employee, the productivity will be ten-fold.

DEBRA COREY: I think especially in your type of industry where the people aren't all sitting in one office, it's even more important to communicate it over and over again, build it into your common language because you want those people who are off in Papua New Guinea powering the entire country to be engaged. You want them to be understanding it as much as you ...

NICOLA MARTIN: Yeah, yeah.

DEBRA COREY: Which I wanted to ask. The other thing that you did that I really liked, was that you didn't just launch it. You did an extra step with personalizing it. So, you talked about how people had to take some type of test or they had to do something. You want to talk a little bit about that because that sounds really interesting.

NICOLA MARTIN: Yeah. Yeah. So, it's really to get what is always orange out there. So, it's all well and good for me to say it's about being expert or being dynamic, but what does that mean to that person.

DEBRA COREY: Personally.

NICOLA MARTIN: Yeah. It was a series of questions that asked them multiple choice questions that asked them rate themselves, how they act in a certain situation. It really wasn't talking about being dynamic or being innovative. It was just everyday situations, how would you act or react in those situations. From that, there was a calculation as the so many As and so many Bs, then you show that you're very high with being dynamic, but your lower on is maybe being together. So, some of the things that you could do to help you being together is reach out to your broader team, and share information and those types of things. So, we do that.

We also embed that in our performance reviews, as well. So, we talk to our people in our midyear and end-of-year reviews about how have they shown that they're doing these behaviors. Give me examples of when you've shown someone that you've been dynamic or innovative. The same for the manager to say, "Well, I notice, you know, you really do really well with being together. You great at recognizing your people, and yeah bringing chance, any chance to bring people together."

DEBRA COREY: So, your role model for the engagement bridge. So, with the engagement bridge, we saw the different sections. We talk about embedding it, and I'm like, "Tick, did it there. Tick, did it there." So, I think it sounds like you've really... again, it's extra steps to do this. It's more work, but it's the only way you're ever going to get your employees to really live and breathe those values.

NICOLA MARTIN: Yeah. It would be a waste of time to go through all that, to go through that change and spend all that money and investment into changing your values and then not embed it into the business. Too many times, as I said, a poster on the wall that someone talks about or you walk past in your tearoom, and that's what, oh, that's what the values are, or some kind of communication. But, we really had to work hard so everyone in our business was singing off the same page, and that it just became a natural way of acting in our business.

DEBRA COREY: That's perfect. Do you have any final tips or hints? So, if an organization hears you and thinks, "Wow. I'm either going to be getting ready to do new values, or do you know what? It might be time that I do something. I like what Nicola did." Any way that they could learn from what you've done?

NICOLA MARTIN: Yeah. I think communication is the key. Communication, not only to the leaders of the business, but small bits of communication to the workforce to get their engagement in it. Yeah. Basically, we're, as you know, a dispersed workforce, so it's important that someone or two people sitting in a depot in Wellington feel as connected as the head office team in Melbourne, so I think communication is the key and being open and honest. This is what we're doing, and this is exciting. Get some excitement around it. We had some great teasers come out before we launched it and create a bit of excitement about it. It's not just a ... Commit to not just launching it, but embedding it into the business. That was the key.

DEBRA COREY: Have a bit of fun with it.

NICOLA MARTIN: Yeah. Have some fun.

DEBRA COREY: How can you go wrong with baked beans and oranges? I mean ...

NICOLA MARTIN: All right. Who wouldn't want to be involved.

DEBRA COREY: Great. Well, I think you've given us some really interesting things to think about. It's definitely rebellious. We're looking for rebels I told you, and I think it's really rebellious because you did push and challenge and do that much more, which is really what being rebellious is. So, I really appreciate your time. And in ending, just go out there and be a rebel yourself. Figure out how it's going to work in your organization, but just go out and do it.

NICOLA MARTIN: Yeah. Do it. Be a rebel.