From the CBI’s Business Voice publication Oct/Nov 2014
At the strategic level, there are only three enduring sources of competitive advantage for a business: operational excellence, customer engagement and innovation,” says John Neill, founder and CEO of Unipart Group. “And all of those depend on growing and developing people.”
That is why, Neill explains, Unipart – which was created through a management buy-out from auto manufacturer British Leyland in 1987 – set up what it describes as the UK’s first “corporate university” in 1993, to develop the best-practice management systems that have become what it calls the “Unipart Way”. This is a set of tools and techniques designed to boost productivity, innovation and customer service levels through better employee engagement.
And it’s been implemented not just across the company’s global automotive manufacturing, supply chain and logistics businesses. It has also been adopted by blue-chip clients including National Grid and HM Revenue & Customs.
“We knew we couldn’t compete on low pay: we had to compete on the talent, drive and motivation of our people,” says Neill. The ability to replicate the philosophy – and university “faculties” – across the company’s industries, and in every territory it’s in, have been the secret of the group’s success, he says. He has recently returned from a trip to China where he opened the company’s newest factory floor faculty.
“They’re all exactly the same: they teach the same body of knowledge in the same way, because we’ve worked out what works.” Another important way the company disseminates its approach among staff is through the regular “Mark in Action” awards. “The awards have generated hundreds of stories and examples of things that our staff have done using the Unipart Way, to deliver outstanding customer service either internally or externally,” says Neill. Recent winners include a team that successfully moved a complex data centre, which Unipart had been running for several decades, to a new location.
“They put in a huge amount of planning, professionalism, deep technical expertise, fantastic teamwork, and incredible hours. We don’t want people to work 18 hours a day but sometimes you have to,” he says.
“We celebrate those successes because they build a culture of employee engagement, and a desire among our people to learn and grow and develop new skills and capabilities.”
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