Taking the pulse of 65,000 employees

Each year, Alcan conducts an internal survey of all its employees, i.e. 65,000 people. With operations in 61 countries and 440 plants, the aluminum giant has had to set up a solid organization to guarantee the effectiveness of such a massive undertaking. Geneviève Latour, global survey leader, talks to us about the usefulness of survey and how it is carried out.

The question may appear strange, but why does Alcan survey its employees?

The survey was first conducted in 1996 with 36,000 employees, then again in 1998. Starting in 2000, the company experienced profound changes, including the acquisition of Algroup in 2000 and the arrival of a new president and chief executive officer in 2001. In 2002, it was decided to relaunch the survey on an annual basis to 48,000 employees (2002 and 2003) and, since the acquisition of Pechiney in 2004, to 65,000 employees.

The survey aims to determine the perception that employees have of the company in general, and their work in particular. We benchmark the results against past years and those of other Canadian, North American and European countries. It also pinpoints the source of some behaviours and helps management determine its action priorities.

Were the results of the 2006 survey encouraging for Alcan?

Absolutely. Alcan is perceived very positively by its employees, especially as regards its values and principles, job satisfaction, commitment, as well as customer service and the quality of its products. We fall short on performance management, the reward system and feedback given to employees.

What does surveying 65,000 employees in 61 countries and 17 languages entail?

It’s a huge project. As global survey leader, I spend about half my time on it for nine months of the year, with critical peak periods where I work on it almost full time. I report to a steering committee comprised of upper management, communication team members from each operations group (known as “champions) and human resources co-workers.

Champions are in charge of cascading and collecting relevant information for the project to run smoothly. They play a strategic roll in improving the survey from one year to the next. Locally, each site appoints a survey administrator.

Our Human Resources VP officially launches the survey, and afterwards, I organize regular conference calls with all the champions. A secure Web site, along with numerous tools and databases are reserved exclusively for this project. We also get the support of an outside consulting firm.

The communication of survey results involves three types of reports with varying degrees of detail. Our president and CEO, Dick Evans, issues a message once the results have been analyzed and interpreted.

Does the survey lead to specific actions?

Yes. In fact, if we didn’t implement action plans stemming from the survey, our employees would soon have a reason not to fill it out any more. Our response rate is about 55%, which is very good.

What are the success factors for employee participation in the survey?

The implementation of action plans after the survey is indeed a very important factor. Management support and the formulation of clear questions (regardless of which cultural context they belong to) are also strategic aspects.

What is the budget for a global employee survey?

Many factors come into play—the number of employees surveyed, the number and type of questions (open or closed), the geographic distribution of employees and their language, the type of report wanted and the support provided to site administrators. It ranges from a few thousand dollars to several hundred thousands.

How does one become in charge of a global survey in a company like Alcan?

First, you have to be on the corporate Communications team, which is in charge of steering the project. You also have to show a lot of discipline, be detail-oriented and a good teamworker.

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