"You can't manage from a tower" – GM Holden's head of HR

by Chloe Taylor02 Jun 2015
At the end of December 2013, Holden announced that it would be transitioning from a production and manufacturing company to a national sales company and full-line importer in Australia and New Zealand. This transition is set to be completed by the end of 2017, when vehicle and engine manufacturing will be discontinued and engineering operations will be significantly reduced.

This is easier said than done – Holden estimates that it will cut 2900 jobs by 2017. One study, commissioned by researchers at the University of Adelaide, estimated that the number of job cuts could actually reach 65,400. 

“We look at change management from our employees’ perspectives,” Ashley Winnett, executive director of Human Resources at GM Holden told HC. “We’re currently on a three and half year journey to achieve a big change – our people are at the front and centre of that.”

GM Holden’s leaders keep employees involved in the change through “reaction, interaction, and internal and external communications”.

Primarily, though, this is achieved through the company’s leadership behaviours: transparency, honesty, timeliness and empathy.

According to Winnett, it’s especially critical for the change at GM Holden to succeed as the company is an iconic brand – he told HC that there are three key aspects to managing this particular change.

“You have to be respectful of the past, mindful of the present and aim for the future,” he said.  “There are three different messages ongoing simultaneously.”

“Talk often, and avoid layers,” Winnett advised. “By this, I mean don’t get all of your feedback from direct reports. Real power comes from cutting through all levels of the organisation; you need to establish a deep understanding of what you’re trying to do and why.”

“You can’t manage a business that’s undergoing significant change from a tower,” he added. “Leaders have to be out there pounding the floor.”

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