Accelerating best in class HR with Toyota

Toyota GB’s HR leaders share how 'adult conversations' create great rewards schemes

Words by Liam Soutar

Rachel Shepherd

General Manager of People and Workplace Experience

Jessica Portman

HR Business Partner

Not too long ago, the extent of a business’s rewards scheme might have extended to an employee-of-the-month photo and maybe a voucher at Christmas.

But with workplace issues such as burnout, wellbeing and talent retention at crisis levels, properly recognising and rewarding employees for their contribution to the workplace is becoming increasingly vital.

But some firms are still lagging behind, despite the obvious importance of appropriately rewarding staff. In fact, according to a 2022 Gallup & Workhuman whitepaper, only 36% of employees said their workplace had a recognition system in place. But it’s more than worth HR’s time to change this–the same study found that those working for firms with a strong rewards and recognition scheme are four times more likely to be actively engaged in their work, and five times more likely to feel connected to their firm’s cultural values.

One company making great strides in this area is Toyota GB, whose General Manager of People and Workplace Experience, Rachel Shepherd, and HR Business Partner Jessica Portman, sat down with myGrapevine magazine to provide an insight on how the UK arm of the automotive firm approaches employee rewards and recognition. Rachel and Jess discuss how important communication is, and how great dialogue between managers and their teams helps Toyota figure out the best way to recognise each employee individually.

Jessica Portman

HR Business Partner

About Toyota GB

  • Headquarters: Burgh Heath, Surrey
  • Employees: c. 400
  • Subsidiaries: TGB Vehicle Contracts, Lexus (GB)
  • Company function: Responsible for sales, marketing, after sales and customer relations for Toyota and Lexus in the UK
  • Fun fact: The first ever Toyota sale in the UK was the Corona in 1965


Employee rewards and recognition is no longer just about giving staff a pay rise. There is much more to consider in this area these days. What makes Toyota stand out from the crowd?


We have a real emphasis on coaching within the organisation. So, we've done a lot of work over the years, both in training our managers in coaching skills, but also in developing a group of people (currently about 25 of them) who have undertaken a coaching qualification, and then act as a coaching cohort in the business, supporting people when they come into the business. It’s about making a difference really quickly. We'll help you be the best as soon as you can be. So, there's really this emphasis around coaching and feedback, and on individual progression.

We then follow through with feedback. We have a quarterly review process, and it may sound strange, but we train people in how to have great conversations. We run a programme called Toyota Talks, which is based on the skill of conversation. The purpose of this is to make sure that both the manager and employee have the most productive, effective conversations, both in terms of what is important for them and how they are going to progress at work, and their wellbeing. All of that enables them to be at their best, and they're more likely to succeed. A core part of our culture is about coaching, and how to have great conversations.

We're getting the best from (employees) because we're communicating with them in an adult way

We also heavily look to where we can move people internally, so what people can see that there is that opportunity for progression.

We have a very rigorous succession planning process as well, where we look to see what the most effective next role for someone could be based on either their skillset, and how we want to develop them, or where we think that their skillset will best fit in the organisation. So, what people see is lots of movement, and they see lots of opportunity, and they see that people are looking to shape their development and to help their progression.


How are company benefits considered as part of this progression?


We have a flexible benefits offer that's very much about avoiding a one–size–fits–all approach, and actually tailors the benefits to the most important things to you in your life. So, for example, holiday trading, where somebody can choose to trade or sell up to five days of holiday.

Know your people – it will make so much more difference, and you'll get so much more engagement

What’s also really important in terms of recognition, is that people also understand the way that they're being rewarded, as opposed purely in terms of their salary, and they know that we have a very comprehensive and marketable benefits offer.



Talking about salary and bonuses can often be a taboo subject for employees. How does Toyota approach this?


We have a conversation in the review process about each person’s performance, which could result in an element of merit–based pay. We also very clearly articulate how the process works, and what people could be eligible for, based on their performance, and where they’re sitting in range for salary.

We've also done some work creating a guide for managers about how to have conversations about pay. Let’s demystify this and let's make this an honest, upfront, adult conversation. Let's help each party in making sure that they feel equipped to have that conversation.


Aside from compensation and benefits schemes, how else does Toyota reward its employees and make them feel recognised?


We know that it's so important for people to get a thank you, and to know why they did something really well. The thank you can be easy, but the bit that really matters is why it made a difference.

So, we also have a thank you scheme where you can nominate anyone if they've done something to innovate or done something for a customer, or gone out of their way to help. When we first introduced this, we didn't just say “here's a scheme”. We ran a session with our senior management to talk about why this recognition mattered. How do we move beyond just a ‘thank you’? And how do we individualise that recognition? How do you think about what might be the right reward for the person? Because one person will really value you saying, “Take a day off” but another person will really value you giving them a £50 voucher.

The point we're making to managers is – make that reward personal. Know your people – it will make so much more difference, and you'll get so much more engagement, because of the fact you took the time to think about it. So, we have options in terms of recognition, but the key part is feedback all the time, and that's what we're instilling in our managers.

Awarding Women

Rachel Shepherd, Toyota (GB) General Manager, People and Workplace Experience, was named a winner in the 2022 Automotive 30% Club’s Inspiring Automotive Women Awards.

The awards celebrate women who help women to join, progress and remain in the sector. They recognise the critical role women can play in helping companies to build inclusive cultures, increase female representation and reap the benefits of a gender-balanced business.


The cost–of–living crisis is at the forefront of every HR team’s mind at the moment. How is Toyota factoring this situation into its reward and recognition plans?


This year we've introduced a cost–of–living payment, separately to someone's salary. Something that is quite unique for Toyota is that it depends on your grade within the organisation. So, the lower grade you are, the higher percentage you get. We’re recognising that for those, the people, who are maybe on the lower end of the salary scale, this is going to be more significant, and therefore we adjust the payment.

We also have a hybrid working model, which we introduced following consultations with our employees about how to remain connected while they're working remotely.

We’re about respecting individual flexibility and the circumstances in which someone is working

We talked about what the value was of people coming together, and what the value was for the individuals working remotely, and we did it as a conversation. I think that's also been important, and that was the way that we did everything through Covid. It was about respecting individual flexibility and the circumstances in which someone was working.

You can see there's a bit of a theme to how we do things – making sure that our people are fully informed, engaged, and buying in to what we're doing. That way we're getting the best from them, because we're communicating with them in an in an adult way.

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