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KIA: Flexibility, Productivity Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Marianela Calderón - Kia Motors México
HR Director


Alejandro Enríquez By Alejandro Enríquez | Journalist and Industry Analyst - Thu, 02/25/2021 - 06:00

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Q: What is the role of an HR manager in the new normal?

A: The key question is how do we, as an organization, remain productive without risking our employees’ well-being. Kia has designed strategies to support our employees while respecting Maslow’s pyramid of needs. Avant-garde HR practices usually seen in tech companies did not permeate the automotive sector until recently. Now, it is more common to see companies providing mental health and legal services, apart from the usual physical well-being programs. At Kia, our focus is to provide tools for our employees to find emotional, working, and physical well-being without sacrificing their productivity.

Q: What are the keys to balancing productivity and flexibility?

A: It depends on specific areas. We have created flexibility programs depending on the impact each department has on the overall productivity of the organization. Home office is the clearest example. We had not implemented these schemes until now. Flexibility at the plant floor means having differentiated working hours to maximize health safety. Today, our goal is to manage our plant population by having between 30 and 40 percent of our workforce on-site at any given time. s

Q: What other measures has Kia implemented to prevent contagion?

A: Kia implemented a preventive quarantine program. If someone suspects they are infected with COVID-19, we assess if there is an actual risk of contagion and all team members go into preventive quarantine. Preventive quarantine does not imply a risk for an employee’s income or position. This guarantees total calm.

As a South Korean company, we implemented preventive measures from early 2020. Thanks to our experience in South Korea, one of the countries where the virus hit first, we even provided advice to the Nuevo Leon government on implementing health protocols. We are investing more than MX$15 million (US$733,000) in PCR tests and rapid tests per month.

Q: What strategies can bolster motivation?

A: First and foremost, clear guidelines are needed when it comes to home office. Employees might find themselves lost, so they require training on how to best approach their responsibilities efficiently. Our internal systems allow our teams to remain in close communication. Moreover, we have a “Keeping Up With KNM” dialogue, in which we address the needs of our people. Surveys have proven to be useful for listening and paying close attention to what is useful to employees. We have even addressed topics and questions employees would not normally ask.

Our HR analytics systems also help us to keep track of our teams, while exploring the emotions of our staff. This allows us to identify the areas we need to focus on. We are a young team in Mexico as the average age of people working in the plant is around 28 years. Their enthusiasm needs to be guided toward specific goals. We are learning from best practices from other companies and countries and adapting these to the Mexican context. Again, focusing on our employees’ learning curve when it comes to home office has remained key.

Q: What role is NOM-035 playing during these times?

A: When we started implementing these measures, people were surprised because they were not used to hearing about these topics. At our plants, we have areas where we provide additional services to our employees. They are a type of lounge area where they can find a nutritionist, a psychologist, and support with government procedures. The mindset toward these services has also changed. Before, people used to equate them with a problem, rather than with self-care. We encourage everyone to use these services and even production supervisors allocate time for everyone to attend their appointments with the psychologist or nutritionist.

Q: What challenges do organizations face from new generations of employees?

A: From the beginning, Kia Motors Mexico has bet on young people. Our trainee program has shown that young people are strongly attached to their first job if the company treats them well. Their commitment and enthusiasm are amazing. At Kia, our challenge is for these trainees to become part of the organization. To do this, we are creating structures and the necessary support to accompany our employees on their journey with the organization.

Kia’s budget when it comes to training and career development is among the highest in the sector. This includes international experience, specialized programs in different areas, and other initiatives to assure proper development.

When we combine youthful enthusiasm with experienced workers and guidance, employees can make remarkable changes to the organization. At Kia, we hold internal competitions for different areas to uncover improvements in processes and products. Some of these improvements have meant substantial savings. Our innovation department’s philosophy is to allow people to innovate and receive a financial bonus proportional to the amount of savings achieved. During the pandemic, ideas have flourished and savings range from thousands to millions of pesos. As part of our adaptation process, we are also exploring 3D and augmented reality training to foster youth training and career growth.

At Kia, we have a really special heritage. As a South Korean company, we can see people embracing change quickly. Combined with Mexican creativity, this creates a unique environment to thrive. This has been key to embracing the energy youth brings to organizations.


Kia Motors is a South Korean OEM founded in 1944. The brand entered the Mexican market in 2015 and 2016 began local production in the municipality of Pesqueria, Nuevo Leon

Photo by:   KIA

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