victoria marsGetting the right people in the right job has always been the main goal of corporate HR and recruiting.  But as anyone in talent acquisition or management knows, retaining those associates – and keeping them engaged, satisfied, and productive – often presents an even greater challenge.

One company that’s getting retention right is Mars, the iconic chocolate conglomerate whose brand portfolio includes household names like Snickers, M&Ms, Milky Ways, and, of course, the eponymous Mars bar (my personal favorite).  But Mars’ recipe for success lies not just in its globally recognized and universally loved products, but also, in the people behind those products.  And like most businesses, this commitment to building an employee-centered culture starts at the top.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with current company chairwoman Victoria B. Mars, whose great grandfather, Frank C. Mars, founded the company in 1911, and whose firm commitment to values has helped Mars, which is still closely held, remain true to its roots as a family business with a familiar, familial feel, despite its current position as one of the 5 largest privately owned companies on the planet.

Mars has thrived for the past century by sticking to what it calls the Five Principles.  These Principles – Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency and Freedom – are the unflinching ethos (or the sweet, gooey nougat) that has guided Mars business – and its associates – for decades.

Making sure these core values are consistently messaged and maintained to every member of its multinational workforce means Mars must create a culture where those Five Principles are consistently reinforced and aligned with every interaction in every job, every day.  As I learned from meeting several Mars associates across levels and functions, at Mars, the Five Principles are more than a corporate mission statement, but instead, a personal passion, and deep conviction, in the value of, well, values.

Their enthusiasm was unmistakable, and their excitement about being a part of the Mars family was unmistakable – and contagious.  But when it comes to finding and attracting the next generation of workers, Mars seems acutely aware that building an employer brand around its unique culture is key to continuing to attract candidates whose values and vision align with the Five Principles that have proven so crucial to Mars’ success.  Hiring for such a comprehensive culture fit can be a challenge for Mars – but making sure that those employees stick around and grow their careers at Mars might very well be their human capital sweet spot.

When I asked for the inside story from Ms. Mars herself, she revealed her belief that, belying workforce trends and popular belief, that the next generation of Mars worker isn’t that different, in personal beliefs or professional expectations, from earlier generations.  Gen Y workers, Mars suggests, aren’t against working their entire careers at a single employer  – it’s just that too few companies today provide the kind of career destination and opportunities worth staying around for.  As Mars told me,

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“I’m not a believer that today’s generation doesn’t want to work for the same corporation for all of their career.  If you treat them right and you provide them the opportunities – and get them to see that even in your company, there are truly a world of opportunities out there – then they will stay.  They are not leaving businesses because they don’t want to stay with the same business.  They’re leaving because they don’t see those opportunities, aren’t feeling valued, or simply aren’t getting the training or development they’re looking for.  I have a total belief that we can overcome these challenges and continue to get the people we need.”

Additionally, Mars pointed out that the company, as a decentralized organization, has the agility and flexibility to recognize and reward its associates with increasing responsibilities and opportunities from their very first day on the job, empowering line managers to make decisions and employees to proactively pursue paths for personal development and professional growth.  Like the generations preceding her at the helm of the family business, Mars has been a champion – and conservator – of the Five Principles and the culture they’ve created.

Mars suggests that even though she leads one of the world’s most profitable and recognized employers, the Mars career formula for recruiting & retention is simple and scalable enough for any size business – and that formula all starts with making employees feel valued, no matter where their job is located or what their professional responsibilities or functional expertise might be.  From the frontline factory workers tasked with making chocolate to departmental leadership to the C-Suite itself, Mars reiterated that every job in the organization is just as important as hers – or any other.

“When you treat everyone in the company like they’re the President, and everyone feels that their job is just as important as the President’s, then the possibilities for personal growth, not to mention career mobility, are truly endless,” Mars said.

That’s one employer value proposition that you don’t have to be from Mars to think is pretty sweet – and pretty powerful.

For more from Victoria Mars from the 2014 Great Place to Work Conference, click here.