GM Holden sits right in the firing line of the federal government’s agony over the declining manufacturing sector. The Gillard government’s manufacturing taskforce released its report yesterday with 41 recommendations for salvaging the sector. Many manufacturing companies are green with envy over the subsidies given to car makers such as GM. Last year, the Australian arm of General Motors reported a profit of $89.7 million – the same amount it received in government subsidies.
In this highly unionised and highly political industry, being GM’s executive director of human resources is not an easy task. For Mark Polglaze, it’s one of the best jobs in the field.
Unlike many HR directors, Polglaze is right at the heart of the GM Holden’s 13-member senior leadership. He’s at the table for every leadership meeting, commenting as much on the company’s planned production schedules as on its latest workplace of choice initiative. When chairman and managing director, Mike Devereux, is out of town, Polglaze sometimes steps into the general management role.
What drives Polglaze? “What drives my passion for HR it is looking across the business,” he says. “That is one of the advantages of HR that I see and enjoy: you are not in a functional silo of the business. I get to look across every function, and work across the entire business.”
That puts Polglaze is at the forefront of a trend for the HR function to be intimately tied to business results. “What I have always been interested in – and what the field is getting more interested in – is getting closer business links,” he says.
“Everything we do is about looking for a business result, so you are not doing HR for the sake of HR. That doesn’t mean we don’t talk about employee engagement or being a workplace of choice, but we talk about that in the context that these things drive an outcome for the business.
“It is not an altruistic approach. We all have our roles as employee advocates, but at the same time issues like workplace of choice and employee engagement is about getting a better business outcomes … productivity and discretionary effort. It is about being able to link what you do to the business effort.
“And if you can’t do that, you should not be doing it.”
Polglaze insists on this priority for everyone in his 50-member team. “One of the things we talk about internally is that we are businesspeople first and HR people second.”