Birchwood Automotive Group Thrives On Employee Engagement

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Birchwood knows how to keep its team members. Maryann Kempe, Birchwood’s chief human resources officer said that most Birchwood team members have been on the job for five to six years.

“The average age of our team members is 36 years of age. We are a young company. We thrive on millennials!” Kempe said.

By industry standards, turnover in new hires is low – under 27 per cent in the first 90 days. If the number goes up, Kempe added that tells them they have a problem with their recruiting or their onboarding. They also conduct exit interviews to see what or why the team member has decided to move on and what needs fixing.

Reverse mentoring

To show young team members their ideas are valued, Birchwood has adopted reverse mentoring – older team members are paired with younger ones. But it’s the younger ones who do the mentoring.

Kempe explained: “It’s not a traditional mentor relationship. We are piloting the project with Birchwood University – the Group’s leadership development program – they spot people who have certain skillsets needed and those are the mentors.”

It’s a way to bring older team members up to speed in areas that are often second nature to 20-something employees, whose lives have been spent with computers, mobile devices and on the Web. And it’s a good way for millennial values to percolate throughout the Group.

A strong brand presence on campus

As part of the Group’s hiring strategy, the Group works with the provinces’ Colleges, and the two Winnipeg Universities – University of Winnipeg and the University Of Manitoba Asper School Of Business – to provide students with co-op placements and summer positions. These paid internships range between four to five months, and provide students with valuable, real-work environment experience.

In 2018, the company hosted approximately 17 paid internships. The effort also helps combat the notion that the last place a college grad would look for work is at a car dealership.

Hiring from within

The Group has a program to help team members with their career planning. Human Resources works with each leader and team member to encourage them to work with their team members to craft a personal development plan to help them achieve their career goals. There are training programs galore such as Covey 7 Habits, Managing for High Performance and Core Strengths Accountability Training at Birchwood University, the Group’s training academy.

The Group also encourages its female team members to participate in its Women In Automotive Leadership (WIAL) program. WIAL offers networking and training to attract female recruits and show them there are career paths for them at Birchwood.

The Birchwood Group

Founded in 1964 by Robert Chipman, the Birchwood Automotive Group operates 23 dealerships in Manitoba and Saskatchewan as well as two collision repair centres and a finance centre. Customers can browse showrooms displaying the Birchwood brands, BMW, Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Ford, Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, FIAT, Ram and Infiniti, Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo, MINI and Lexus.

The Group has over 1,300 team members on its roster.

With that many team members in dealerships in two provinces, electronic communication is a must. There is an internal system, Apex, the Group’s own LinkedIn system and Compass, its internal Internet.

Compass is a centralized place where team members can view their performance results, quarterly updates, team member deals/offers, team member updates, transfers and changes within the company, new job opportunities and much more. Of course, there are the managers’ daily and weekly meetings with their team members to ensure information is being communicated effectively.

Steve Chipman, president and CEO, sends out a quarterly update which includes corporate goals through a video that is shared with all on the company Internet system.

Measuring engagement

Team members who enjoy working show it by going out of their way to help customers and each other. That’s engagement. Kempe said both team members and customers are quick to point out staffers who have gone that extra mile. There’s no magic to this. The Group believes in communication through surveys, staff meetings and an open-door policy. And it recognizes team members for good performance at events such as the Birchwood Bucks event where staffers can bid on prizes with the bucks they’ve earned for good work performance.

“Our formula for success is engaged team members equal satisfied customers equal increased market share,” Kempe said.

Birchwood University

Group founder Robert Chipman developed the Twelve Precepts. Aimed at motivating team member success, the Twelve Precepts include staying the course, giving the benefit of the doubt, winners are those who give, being decisive and focusing on tomorrow. Twenty years ago, the Group added business philosopher Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Those include guidelines on the importance of giving back to your community, on learning about yourself, how to work with others and how to put your co-workers and the customer first. And then there’s the knowledge that there’s someone to turn to if there’s a need.

These values are at the heart of the courses taught at Birchwood. In fact, they are taught to new hires from day one.