• The Business Owner

BBQ: uniting the division

In a little over a year, and during a global pandemic, Suzuki’s Motorcycle, Marine and ATV division have transformed themselves, significantly turning around their engagement scores, changing their culture and adopting a brand-new name. How did they do it? Let us tell you…

First, go back to summer 2019. Suzuki’s Motorcycle, Marine and ATV division had undergone a re-organisation, there had been a change of senior leaders and they were facing several challenges. There was a lack of clarity around vision and values, managers weren’t all working as a team and employee engagement was at an all-time low. An employee engagement survey confirmed this – with only 17% of employees actively engaged and 22% actively disengaged.

So now let’s fast forward to October 2020. A subsequent employee survey showed that in just over a year, the ‘actively engaged’ score had increased nearly four-fold to 61%, and ‘actively disengaged’ had dropped to zero.Paul de Lusignan, Division Director, picks up the story.

“When the June 2019 results came out, we were shocked. Everyone in the team was passionate and hard-working, but it was clear that we weren’t working as a team. We had plenty of technical expertise and experience, but we’d lost sight of the importance of how our people felt. We knew we needed to find a solution – and we needed it fast.”

Paul contacted Freddie Guilmard Managing Director at The Red Thread Partnership. “We already knew Freddie, who had worked previously with Suzuki on developing our company values. He suggested we start on The Red Thread’s High-Performing Teams programme, and after some thought, I decided that was the way forward.”

Over the next few months, Freddie worked with the team’s six senior leaders. In early sessions, the team reviewed their current state of play, created a visual map of their division and ways of working, started to build deeper trust among themselves by understanding their strengths and blind spots, and crafted a powerful new vision statement – ‘We are a united team, working in partnership with our customers to deliver commercial success, with fun, passion, courage and pride.’

Along with the new vision, the leaders decided they also needed a new identity for the team. As Paul explains: “Within the division we have three distinct product ranges, which tended previously to act as separate businesses. To help unite us, and give us an identity that was both memorable and fun, we came up with the name BBQ (Bikes, Boats and Quads).”

So, BBQ now had an identity and a clear vision – but then suddenly the whole country went into lockdown!

Not being able to be physically together was a setback for the team but, as Paul says, “In that enforced break from business-as-usual, we had weekly, rather than just monthly, coaching sessions with Freddie, and we created a lot of new materials.”

In some ways, remote working actually helped what BBQ were doing. Regular team-wide meetings and socials online were established and became the norm. Above all, the leaders continued to work towards the BBQ vision.

Freddie comments: “That first lockdown was the point where many managers would have cut the budget and held back. But that’s not what Paul did. Instead, he asked, ‘how can we go on with the journey?’.”

The division’s leaders held an online launch event for Team BBQ, to engage the whole division in the journey so far, and this was followed up with a launch to the whole company. Paul comments: “Our immediate team had already seen and felt change happening, and they were very positive about our new identity and approach, but some in the wider company questioned why we were doing this during a pandemic.”

The team also decided to refresh their working environment and put up a set of framed posters in the streamlined office, proudly displaying the new team name, vision and products, and creating a clear ‘home’ for the team. The new identity and vision were well received and got the attention of people in the rest of the organisation.

Equally important was to monitor how the whole division was feeling and engaging with the change. So, the management team introduced Officevibe, an online engagement tool that asks team members a random assortment of five questions every week to gauge how they are feeling. Initially, the team’s ‘Wellness’ scores were low, prompting BBQ’s leaders to look at practical ways of increasing wellbeing – such as getting away from home-desks for a walk at lunchtime.

Head of Motorcycles, Jonathan Martin, reflects on the change journey so far: “It’s been challenging – especially finding the time to look at new ways forward and making this an integral part of the day job. But it’s been worthwhile. We’ve all adapted, and we’re proud of that.” Jonathan says the team is now viewed far more positively from outside. “In the past, people saw my part of the business – motorcycles – as scary and hard to understand. Now they see BBQ as a united team, and they’ve started to see and feel the changes we’ve made.” Jonathan adds, however, that the whole team is aware that the journey has to go on. “We’ve achieved a lot, but we can’t take our foot off the pedal. To sustain the changes, we need to really live by them.”

BBQ team member Scott Farmer describes the transformation journey from the point of view of the wider team: “It’s been a massive turnaround. We feel we now have a clear structure and direction, and every team member feels valued, which means there’s an increased feel-good factor around the team.”

In his role as Business Support Specialist, Scott is well placed to understand the positive effects of team engagement on business performance. Just as importantly, as an employee forum representative, he has seen at first hand the increase in team members’ personal engagement levels.

He comments: “All the challenges of the past couple of years – including the restructure and working through the pandemic – have brought us closer. We’ve all learned together how to use remote-working technology, to have virtual team meetings and hold regular socials online. All this has helped make us more of a united force. And, considering the very difficult market, our business results have been phenomenal.”

Scott also speaks highly of BBQ’s senior managers for continuing to drive forward the change they want to see. “It’s very refreshing and encouraging that we have come this far, and it’s fantastic to feel that team BBQ as a whole are really committed to moving forward.”

Denis Houston, Suzuki’s Director of Aftersales, gives an external view of the team’s transformation. He is impressed with Paul for driving forward his vision and culture change, and with how the wider team has engaged with the process. “People who saw the division as it was 18 months ago wouldn’t have believed they could do it. I give them 10 out of 10.”

Freddie describes the next step for the team as ‘Equip’ – equipping managers to achieve a lasting transformation. In some ways, he says, this will be the hard part. “It’s not enough just to have a great culture – you need to embed and sustain it. Don’t be afraid to keep challenging yourselves – that’s what leads to continuous improvement. Being a high-performing team is a job.”

Paul adds: “The recent company survey shows how we’ve dramatically changed our team dynamic and improved the working lives of every one of our team. But we didn’t need a survey to tell us that; you can feel it every day. There were initially doubters across the company, but we’ve shown that establishing a great culture and driving for a high-performance team can be achieved even in the midst of a global pandemic. In fact, it’s a credit to the whole team that we’ve emerged stronger after so many months of uncertainty and remote working. I couldn’t be prouder of what’s been achieved.