Life on Mars: Inside their award-winning HR programs

by Chloe Taylor30 Sep 2015
Mars Australia was recently ranked among Australia's top 20 workplaces at the BRW Great Place to Work Awards. This year's ranking was the company’s fourth consecutive year of being named in the list.

HC spoke to Sylvia Burbery, general manager of Mars Petcare Australia, about the company’s success as an employer.

Burbery said that Mars was incredibly proud to have been recognised again.

“Creating an environment that people want to work in is an important focus for Mars,” she explained.

So what is Mars doing right?

“Mars is a private family-owned business,” Burbery told HC.

“This really drives how we operate. For a lot of companies, their ‘vision’ is simply words on the wall – ours are lived and breathed by our associates.”

She explained that at Mars, the term ‘associates’ is used instead of ‘employees’ in an effort to overhaul the traditional notion of the hierarchical workplace.

“We are all associates, rather than being employees and employers,” she said.

The core principles

The company has five core principles, which are striven towards by individual associates as well as the corporation itself. These are:

1. Quality

“The consumer is our boss, quality is our work and value for money is our goal,” Mars’ careers website states.

2. Responsibility

“As individuals, we demand total responsibility from ourselves – as Associates, we support the responsibilities of others,” the company says.

“We choose to be different from those corporations where many levels of management dilute personal responsibility.

“All Associates are asked to take direct responsibility for results, to exercise initiative and judgment and to make decisions as required. By recruiting ethical people well suited to their jobs and trusting them, we ask Associates to be accountable for their own high standards.”

3. Mutuality

“A mutual benefit is a shared benefit,” says Mars. “A shared benefit will endure.

“We believe the standard by which our business relationships should be measured is the degree to which mutual benefits are created.

“These benefits can take many different forms, and need not be strictly financial in nature. Likewise, while we must try to achieve the most competitive terms, the actions of Mars should never be at the expense, economic or otherwise, of others with whom we work.”

4. Efficiency

“We use resources to the full, waste nothing and do only what we can do best,” the website claims.

“How is it possible to maintain our principles, offering superior value for money and sharing our success? Our strength lies in our efficiency, the ability to organize all our assets – physical, financial and human – for maximum productivity.

“In this way, our products and services are made and delivered with the highest quality, at the least possible cost, with the lowest consumption of resources. Similarly, we seek to manage all our business operations with the most efficient processes for decision making.”

5. Freedom

“We need freedom to shape our future; we need profit to remain free,” the company says on the final core principle.

“Mars is one of the world’s largest family-owned corporations. This family ownership is a deliberate choice.

“Many companies began as Mars did, but as they grew larger and required new sources of funds, they sold stocks or incurred restrictive debt to fuel their business. To extend their growth, they exchanged a portion of their freedom.

“We believe growth and prosperity can be achieved another way.”

“It gives people a strong sense of purpose to use these principles to make a difference both for themselves and the company,” Burbery said.

“Individually, associates are offered ongoing opportunities to learn and grow, but they also know that what they do in their roles is making a difference to the community and planet. This gives our Associates a higher purpose.”

Wellness in the workplace

Mars was also credited by BRW for its employee wellbeing program.

The company has designed a holistic wellbeing program that has seen increased engagement – proven by statistics gathered from internal surveys.

Burbery told HC that wellbeing programs are vital in today’s workplaces for creating a better lifestyle for employees and ultimately driving productivity.

“Some of things we provide include health and wellbeing assessments, access to gyms and training, healthy meal options and smoking cessation programs, among others,” she said.

“There is a range of activities available at our different sites, but they are all designed around improving wellbeing.”

Mars’ wellbeing program does not stop at physical health, however. The company also has initiatives in place to support mental wellbeing.

“We run mental health awareness workshops – we don’t just limit our programs to physical wellbeing,” Burbery said.

“Because we offer wellbeing assessments, we are able to target peoples’ individual needs,” she added.

“Using general indicators, people get targeted support to improve their lifestyles.”

Vision alignment

Burbery explained that a “cascading vision” is the key to Mars’ success in aligning employees’ goals with the company’s vision.

“In terms of alignment, we have a clear company vision,” Burbery told HC.  

“Through performance development plans, we try to get people to understand how their role lines up to bigger picture.

“We’re helping associates to see a bigger purpose for the organisation as well as for themselves.”

She explained that communication is a vital component of the strategy around this.

“It’s through open communication, and making sure that we are giving people clarity on the bigger picture that this is achieved,” Burbery said.

“It all comes down to the relationships people have with their line managers, and cascading communications.”


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