Mars Hong Kong builds on mutuality: Best Companies to Work For in Greater China 2014
FMCG powerhouse pursues a common mission and vision through the efforts of its associates
Being honoured as one of the 2014 Best Companies to Work For in Greater China will help Mars Hong Kong – a supplier of branded chocolate, pet care products and drinks – raise the bar on employee engagement, believes Raymond Lam, the company’s general manager.
This was the first time that Mars Hong Kong and Royal Canin Hong Kong – a division of Mars Incorporated – jointly entered the annual evaluation process. “We took part in the competition because we aimed to have an external benchmark for further improvement,” Lam says. “This international recognition can surely help us attract more suitable talent.”
Mars Hong Kong already consistently achieves scores of more than 80 per cent in its annual Gallup Employee Engagement Survey, which it has held since 2009.
“Mars Hong Kong always embraces the engagement of our associates [the company’s term for its employees],” Lam says. “There are many good practices in the workplace that we have developed and implemented through years of experience. They are embedded in our corporate culture.”
The company is set to explore opportunities for further improvement in its staff development programme, such as by looking at career moves for people among segments and offices.
“We aim to set up standardised measures on job levels among the various segments and subsidiaries of Mars – like newly acquired businesses, as compared with existing companies,” Lam says. “It can also be a subsidiary that exclusively supplies one type of product, as opposed to one that deals with several. Our ultimate goal is to help smooth job movement so as to accelerate and optimise talent development.”
Globally, Mars embraces five principles: quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency and freedom. “We aim to make a difference to people and our planet. The same principles pursued across all regions are conducive to smooth talent movement.”
“Mutuality” distinguishes Mars from other businesses, Lam says, explaining that this principle broadly means creating mutuality – a relationship of mutual dependence – among all stakeholders.
“We strive to be the most ‘mutual’ company in the world,” he says. “Only shared benefits can endure. For us, the definition of benefit goes beyond financial. For instance, it includes the relationship between management and staff and suppliers. As a privately owned company, we have the freedom to pursue this principle without pressure from some shareholders to maximise profits.”
The mutuality principle also applies to clients. For instance, Mars’ symbioscience division focuses on the research and development of beneficial products, such as cocoa flavanols that may support cardiovascular health.
The company is also exploring sustainable fisheries for pet food and alternative protein sources. “All these put the mutuality principle into action and are made possible because, as a private enterprise, Mars has the freedom. They also make Mars a great workplace, because it is not just a job,” says Lam, who has been with the company for seven years.
“The collective efforts and individuals’ actions and decisions all contribute to the pursuit of a common mission and vision. All associates see that their daily work goes towards a bigger purpose. This appeals to me.”
All associates are encouraged to take on responsibility. Decision-making is decentralised and individuals on every level have their own responsibilities.
“Each associate needs a thorough understanding of his or her responsibilities to make the right decisions. That is why ‘responsibility’ and ‘mutuality’ are closely linked together. Given his or her own capabilities, each employee practises the freedom to make decisions. This contributes to the strong sense of ownership among associates at Mars,” Lam says.
To fulfil the mutuality principle, the company offers associates support to achieve their goals, he adds. “At the same time, we expect them to deliver their goals. And each associate expects a rewarding career.”
Empowering the workforce involves a lot of communication. After having an overall direction set by their managers, associates then develop specific strategies to achieve these goals and make proposals to their supervisors.
“We seek to strike a better balance between efficiency and employee ownership by setting better rules and responsibilities for more efficient decision-making,” Lam says. “To help staff get a firm grasp of the principles and how to put them into practice, we rely on conversation.”
For example, when Mars board members visit the Hong Kong office, “high touch” sessions are organised for them to share their experiences and views. “They discuss things such as their careers, strategies and views on business,” Lam says. “We value engaging discussions, not PowerPoint presentations. That’s how we let our culture permeate all levels.”
Lam says Mars Hong Kong seeks individuals who have a cultural fit with the company. “They should have the willingness and initiative to take responsibility and ownership. We empower associates to initiate discussions and we want them to share the team spirit and establish collaboration through open discussion.”
He adds that Mars has diverse career-move possibilities, such as across functions, segments and offices. “We value promotion from within. Our priority is to give opportunities to existing staff first. [For example], I joined Mars Hong Kong as sales director and advanced to general manager in 2012.”
All Mars Hong Kong’s associates, including the general manager, share a partition-free, open-plan office designed for the company to pursue its “efficiency” principle. It enables new recruits to learn by observing how experienced associates deal with clients over the phone.
This arrangement also enables colleagues to help each other out in real time when necessary. “Communication is more efficient in a barrier-free environment. This contributes to efficiency,” Lam says.
“We value the tight control of layers in the corporate structure and minimum hierarchy,” he adds. “Though this may take new hires a while to adapt to, associates definitely see the benefits once they’re accustomed to it.”
According to Lam, Mars Hong Kong attaches great importance to work-life balance. Its initiatives include those designed to help meet associates’ social needs, energise their team spirit and enhance their well-being.
For instance, the company has organised walking competitions among its various business functions, as well as yoga and pastry-making classes. Other events include snack days, on-site massage sessions and family activities.
“We celebrate success, whether the achievements are big or small … all these contribute to a harmonious, united working environment and a positive atmosphere,” Lam says.
The Best Companies honour is a measure of this success, he says. “We cultivate good practices at the office daily. We use staff engagement to initiate dialogues through which line managers lead team members to take follow-up actions.
“We have built a good working environment and together we pursue our mission and vision in a transparent manner. We have adopted a broad approach for associates to achieve progressive career development and that results in good staff retention.”
Offering opportunities to progress
Mars Hong Kong offers a number of comprehensive development opportunities for its associates through a range of well-structured programmes.
A development toolkit contains the basic training components for all new recruits. In addition, each associate is required to identify two key development goals in their performance management annually. “We encourage our associates to spend quality time discussing these goals,” says general manager Raymond Lam.
The tools for associates to pursue these goals are all-encompassing and specific. For example, there is a functional competency framework set with detailed levels for each function. Based on this information, line managers discuss with individual associates about selecting specific tools to achieve the identified goals. This process has been designed to deepen staff engagement.
Mars’ development plan is known as the “70-20-10” concept. “Seventy per cent is learning through accomplishing daily tasks; 20 per cent is learning from others, including through observation and working with mentors and coaches; and 10 per cent is classroom learning,” Lam says.
Tammy Wong, personnel and organisation manager at Mars Hong Kong, says the company adopts an “inside-out” approach.
“We think goal identification needs to be done in collaboration with line managers because 70 per cent of the development process is achieved through daily work,” she says. “The manager helps to design a development plan tailored to individual associate’s needs.”
Meanwhile, leadership development training is among the programmes at “Mars University”, which focuses on management skills, team member engagement and solving complex challenges.
Building on beloved international brands
Mars Hong Kong is a member of US-based Mars Incorporated. Founded in 1911, Mars is a 100 per cent privately owned enterprise and its products include chocolate, pet care products, drinks, food and chewing gum. It owns a host of globally known brands, including M&M’s, Maltesers, Snickers, Whiskas, Pedigree, Greenies and Sheba.
Mars operates in over 70 countries. With global turnover of US$33 billion in 2014, it is one of the world’s leading FMCG producers in the world.
Currently, members of the fourth generation of the Mars family are on the board of the family-owned company, while an external president manages its global operation.
Last year, Great Place to Work placed Mars in the top 100 Best Companies to Work For among Fortune 500 corporations in the US and in the top 25 World’s Best Multinational Workplaces for the fourth year in a row.
Mars Hong Kong GM Raymond Lam says the beloved brands are a key asset. “They help the company attract high-quality talent. We put a lot of resources into brand building.
“Through our brands, we address universal needs. For instance, people like M&M’s because they are thrilled by pleasant surprises and love to have a happy time. This is a universal belief.
“As a brand, M&M’s addresses this need. Mars’ mutuality principle applies here and it gives the bigger meaning behind the brand.”