Tangible, genuine action is needed to engage and motivate staff so the best results are achieved for all parties.
IF anything good can come out of the global financial crisis, it's that these times will really set good companies and good leaders apart. Leaders will emerge, who might not have been noticed otherwise. You'll start to make decisions about who cuts it, versus others who were great leaders during the up times but who are not so good during the hard times.
Life will be tough for the next period, but this is an opportunity for us to analyse our business, and look at what we can do to change for the better and improve so we can successfully emerge as a stronger business when the economic climate improves.
So, how is Alcoa doing that? We're doing it with and through our talented people.
- Sustainability framework
'Sustainability' is the word on everyone's lips. It's not new for Alcoa and of course it goes way beyond environmental sustainability. Running a sustainable business is about a whole swag of things - efficiency, innovation and, primarily, people.
Our established sustainability framework at Alcoa is focused around social, environmental and economic excellence - triple bottom line impact. Our sustainability framework is used to map out the business challenges and goals for the year ahead. Of course, none of the goals is achievable without dedicated employees. Our people have to be at the heart of the framework and engaged in the process, or the whole thing simply falls apart.
The challenge is this: people want to be motivated not manipulated, inspired not ordered, committed not obedient.
- Alcoa and diversity
Alcoa's workplace values are paramount in everything we do, every day. Alcoa in Australia employs more than 7,000 people in WA, Victoria and NSW. Our vision is to be the best company in the world, in the eyes of our customers, shareholders, communities and our people. We work in an inclusive environment that embraces change, new ideas, respect for the individual, and equal opportunity to succeed. We live that value every day.
I think it's thanks to all these factors that Alcoa has, seven times, been named an Employer of Choice for Women by the federal government's Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency.
I'm a father of four children under 13 years of age and I've made it clear to our employees that, if their child has a special school assembly and they're at their desk, then there is something wrong with that picture.
I've certainly found that leading by example has helped foster loyalty and commitment from employees and it's enhanced our platform of mutual respect.
Current research by leading human capital management practitioners shows, repeatedly, that employee engagement and attracting and retaining top talent is more crucial than ever in this time of economic uncertainty. An engaged workforce is more productive and businesses with an engaged workforce are more profitable; it's not rocket science.
Leaving staff in the dark as uncertainty mounts will undermine morale and motivation.
- Leadership from the top
In our business, our leadership cascades from our parent company in the US, Alcoa Inc.
It is critical that leaders articulate a simple business strategy to align and engage our people with our business objectives. Our people must understand where they fit in the puzzle, so their personal goals are clear and understood.
Our global leader, Alcoa Inc CEO Klaus Kleinfeld, has implemented many tools with which to open dialogue, encourage innovation and flexibility, and most importantly, capture creativity. That's not easy in an organisation the size of ours - we operate in 34 countries with 84,000 employees globally. His tools are providing employees with direct avenues to share ideas and receive vital information and feedback.
Years of experience, and expert research, tells us that face-to-face communication remains the preferred method of people receiving information - important business information that is.
When I returned to Australia to take on my current role, after seven years with Alcoa in the US, I took my first four months to travel to Alcoa's different operational sites to get to know the players and connect with as many employees as possible. The time I spent at our sites was absolutely critical for building up trust and respect within my management group, and positioning myself as accessible.
I did a similar thing in my previous roles as location manager; it seems all I did for the first few weeks was shake hands. I would turn up at site in the middle of the night to speak with the people on night shift. The emotional credits and goodwill that you build up by doing this can't be underestimated.
- Employee suggestion scheme
Among our 7,000 or so employees, we have an incredible talent bank with bright ideas. A few years ago, Alcoa implemented an 'employee suggestion scheme', which captures all the great ideas from our people around the country. Through the scheme, we reward employees who come up with smart ideas for the business - in some cases employees are reward financially. To give you an idea of the success we've had through this initiative, last year we received more than 14,000 suggestions, with more than 10,000 accepted by the business.
We used to focus on the number of suggestions we received, however that's not where the real results are. We quickly realised that it's the number of suggestions accepted and implemented that counts.
It's what you do, rather than what you say.
- Safety culture change
Alcoa in Australia has one of the lowest lost workday injury rates in the country. In fact, our performance is better than the mining, construction, agriculture, forestry and fishing, and even retail trade industries. But, just because our record is good does not mean we take it for granted and become complacent. Let me illustrate further why our people are so fundamental to our business being a success.
Two years ago we implemented a safety culture change initiative at our Wagerup Refinery in WA's South West. We knew our safety record would not improve further if people were allowed to continue going about things the way they always had.
There was a series of steps the business undertook to get people to think and act differently in the workplace - needless to say open communication was the key and the result has been a 10-fold improvement in our safety record.
- Corporate social responsibility
Our engagement with employees includes them being a part of the communities in which we operate. We believe that if our people are engaged in their communities, then they are also engaged with us. We've certainly found that employee volunteering, while it is the right thing to do, also assists with building cohesive teams.
At Alcoa, we have long been accountable to and engaged with our communities. You can't run operations like ours without corporate social responsibility being embedded in the DNA of your organisation. Let me give you a couple of small examples of our corporate social responsibility at work.
In partnership with Greening Australia, we devised 'Make an Impact', which encourages our people to identify simple, practical steps to lower their home energy and water consumption. Make an Impact has been up and running for a couple of years and this year we launched Breathe Easy with our partner Greening Australia. Breathe Easy works alongside Make an Impact and allows our people to measure, reduce and offset their carbon emissions.
Without going into great detail about these initiatives - the point is that our people are being taken on a journey of change. Our leadership around climate change extends from operational innovation to change at an individual level. This is work I am immensely proud of.
- 4Es and a P
Something new we are currently implementing at Alcoa is our 4Es and a P model. The name comes from five primary competencies that all Alcoa employees should exhibit: edge, energy, energise, execute and passion. It is all about our leaders offering direction on how each individual's efforts support the business goals. The results of 4Es and a P remain to be seen, but I'm confident this tool will assist us to successfully navigate our way through the next challenging period.
I'm of the view that our record in retention speaks volumes about our employee engagement - 60 per cent of our people have been with us for more than 10 years.
I strongly believe that we simply would not have a business at all without engaged dedicated people and so engaging employees is not a nice to do, it's a must do.
Ultimately, whether you have engaged employees all comes down to you. What impression do you leave? Do you give feedback? Do you do what you say you are going to do? Do people come out of meetings with you and feel energised and motivated? Is your personal presence credible?
You can have all the systems and communication tools in the world, but if you are not genuine in your dealings with people - all the systems are worthless.
n This is an edited version of a speech delivered by Alcoa of Australia managing director Alan Cransberg to an Australian Institute of Management Business Leaders Breakfast in Perth earlier this month.