Sweet success for Mars

By Val Leveson

Long-term view one reason why firm has done so well, says general manager.

Mars New Zealand has dog days when bringing a dog to work is encouraged. Photo / Ted Baghurst
Mars New Zealand has dog days when bringing a dog to work is encouraged. Photo / Ted Baghurst

Mars New Zealand has continued its success of past years by being named winner in the Kenexa Best Workplace Awards medium/large category.

Gerry Lynch, Mars New Zealand general manager, attributes his company's continued success in the awards to its sticking by its principles, which are based on being a family business, and always looking for ways to improve.

Mars NZ is part of the Mars group, which covers pet-care, with such brands as Whiskas, Pedigree, and Banfield Pet Hospital as well as chocolate and food segments, with brands such as Mars, Snickers, M&M's and Twix, Uncle Ben's, Masterfoods and CocoaVia.

Lynch says the company's success in the awards can be attributed to the company culture, which is egalitarian. "We have an open plan office - there is no special carpark for managers. We don't see ourselves as having employees, but rather everyone is an associate."

He says the five principles of Mars NZ are: quality, efficiency, mutuality, responsibility and freedom.

"These are quite unusual principles - and as a family-owned business, we can take a long-term view as we are not beholden to the stock market. With 75,000 associates globally, we really have to have clear principles and stick by them."

Mars has had a New Zealand presence for 25 years. Lynch says: "It took a very long time before our New Zealand office made a profit - but the company takes a long-term view of things, so we've stayed and taking this view is part of the reason for our success."

Lynch says the engagement of associates is of central importance to the company - "surveys such as the one in the Kenexa Best Workplace Awards help us to know how we're doing". He said eight years ago, the results of the survey were a shock. "We realised we really had to get behind engagement. We got a poor score, but this was a good benchmark - we needed to make changes in the business and create a much better culture.

"Now every day we have the conversations we need to have - how are we doing, how can we improve? We ask our associates how we can improve. We sometimes learn from other companies about how certain things have worked for them and take them on - it's always helpful to learn from others. Our main focus is to progress and create and focus on an action plan."

The key, Lynch says, is that it's a never-ending journey. "We never want to stay static - it's about always moving forward in working out how we can equip our associates better. We work at helping our associates be open to crucial conversations. This helps people name their fears and concerns, it creates a good framework and risk is reduced when people are prepared to put concerns on the table."

Lynch says being egalitarian means everyone pitches in to solve issues, teams take responsibility and don't leave it to the manager. "All associates have ownership - and we facilitate that."

He said there were rewards, incentives and bonus schemes for high achievement. "But what we recognise is that what's important for engagement is that people get little bits of recognition day to day. We have various gatherings in four-week periods where we talk about what we're chuffed about. We also care about people's work and home life - we care about our associates and want them to have some fun too.

"Because our company is based on family culture - we see our associates as all part of a big family and we have various ways of looking after them.

"We have fun days at work, we offer health checks and encourage well-being through things such as the global corporate challenge. We are also interested in the community.

"The Pedigree Adoption Drive was a huge success, which achieved many dog adoptions as well as being recognised globally inside and outside of Mars. We have dog days where associates bring their dogs to work every Friday. Senior managers get out in the field on a regular basis with associates no matter how remote to engage and understand their challenges and recognise their successes."

Lynch says part of Mars' global culture of caring is shown in the fact that the company is making strong progress towards being completely sustainable in a generation.

"In short, Mars NZ is and will continue to be a company that's inspiring to work for. What we want is for ourselves and our associates to love coming in every day - and the way of achieving that is doing the right thing by them and the community.

"Our associates don't feel they are only working - they're also doing good in the world. They're encouraged to help support the Pedigree adoption project, we have sponsored teaching gardens in Manukau and many of our associates make a positive contribution in their communities." He says Mars NZ's focus on engagement is doing the company proud.

"Many of our associates say 'I would never work for anyone else' and that's how we want it to be."

TEN BEST MEDIUM-LARGE WORKPLACES (150-399 staff)

Organisation ranking:

1 - Mars New Zealand
2 = South Taranaki District Council
2 = Trade Me
4 - DraftFCB New Zealand
5 = FMG
5 = MYOB NZ
7 - Arrow International (NZ)
8 - Just Water New Zealand
9 - Nelson City Council
10 - Smith&Smith

MOST IMPROVED WINNERS

Organisation size category:

* ACCO New Zealand - Small
* AgITO - Small-medium
* Christchurch International Airport - Medium-large
* The Trusts - Large

- NZ Herald

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