How HR helped Fiat Chrysler triple sales results

A strong focus on improving employee engagement has boosted Fiat Chrysler’s commercial success and played a key role in significantly improving sales results, according to the business’ head of HR.

“There is definitely a strong link between employee engagement and the business and sales growth we’ve experienced,” said Mietta Gibson, head of human resources at Fiat Chrysler Australia.

“We used to sell 10,000 cars per year; that’s the Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge brands for a decade,” she said.

“That was in 2010, when our employee engagement score was 43 per cent. In 2012 we sold almost 23,000 cars with a score of 81 per cent.

Last year we sold 34,000 with a score of 86 per cent, so we’ve got strong growth plans to keep going on that track with our best result in the Aon Hewitt Best Employers study [steady at 86 per cent].”

Australia is one of the most competitive marketplaces for car manufacturers in the world, with some 65 brands competing for the consumer dollar.

“Gen Y is often seen as the most challenging group to engage and motivate, but we challenge them and we give them challenging work from day one”

In a bid to boost sales and improve its commercial fortunes, a global decision was made at the top of Chrysler to restructure and shift how the business was run in order to carve out a stronger growth path, and Gibson said this decision encompassed Australia – easier said than done in a developed market that grew at only 2.2 per cent in 2013.

The local business and its CEO, Veronica Johns, who has been with the company for 15 years, actively embraced this new approach through a number of strategies, including a repositioning of brand identity, aggressively marketing products, importing popular models and actively improving employee engagement among its workforce.

The journey so far has been very positive for Fiat Chrysler Australia, which comprises five very different brands in Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Fiat and Alfa Romeo.

“We actually scored 100 per cent engagement for the 25- to 34-year-old group in our most recent employee engagement survey,” said Gibson.

“Gen Y is often seen as the most challenging group to engage and motivate. First thing is we certainly keep them very busy – not too busy in terms of repetitive tasks, but we challenge them and we give them challenging work from day one.

“We get them involved in the business with really engaging work, and combined with the staff updates, they see that they’re part of a dynamic fast-paced workforce. That’s been a big key to the employee engagement success.”

A team approach to managing talent
Gibson also sits on the management team and works closely with the business’ directors in attracting, developing and retaining talent.

“I see my role as having really strong relationships with the CEO and with all the directors, in order to provide that guidance in how to get the best out of their staff,” she said.

“I always talk about ‘the better your team are, the better it’s going to make you look, and in order to make you look good your team needs to reach their maximum potential’.

“HR doesn’t have capacity to hand-hold and to manage every single person in the business, so we need to focus on the people managers and to ensure they are equipped to keep their staff at the top of their game. That’s very much the direction we’ve taken.”

Gibson said HR plays a key role in the business and the management team, with discussions around team structures, resourcing, capability gaps and workforce planning.

“It’s about talking the directors through the options, so sometimes it’s understanding what they need to achieve and broadening their perspective about what’s available to them.

So we work together to look at their commercial operational needs and how we can meet those.

“A lot of that comes down to structure, which is always a good starting point for a strategic discussion.”

For the full interview with Gibson see the next issue of Inside HR magazine.