The Fearless Thinkers Podcast | Season 3, Episode 7

Global insights:

The blueprint for aligning strategy and culture at Constellium

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About the show

The Fearless Thinkers podcast, hosted by Rick Cheatham, personalizes BTS’s perspective on the people side of strategy.

Fearless Thinkers is produced by Nicole Hernandez, Taylor Hale and Aron Towner.

Special thanks to Joe Holeman, Chris Goodnow, Meghan McGrath, and Roanne Neuwirth for their invaluable help.

Global insights: The blueprint for aligning strategy and culture at Constellium

In this episode of Fearless Thinkers, Rick welcomes Martin Rahn, Director of Talent Development at Constellium, a global leader in the development, manufacturing, and recycling of aluminum products and solutions. Martin, highly experienced in HR and Talent Management, has closely partnered with BTS to implement a comprehensive leadership development program aimed at aligning leadership, strategy, and culture. Drawing from his extensive experience with global companies, Martin discusses how Constellium’s tailored programs and internal collaboration have successfully fostered company culture and empowered leaders to navigate transformation and change. Tune in to hear more about Constellium’s strategic approach and significant improvements in employee engagement.

Rick Cheatham: Welcome to Fearless Thinkers, the BTS podcast. As always, I’m your host, Rick Cheatham. Today I’m joined by Elie Ruderman, one of our Directors here at BTS, because we’re having a conversation with one of his great clients. So Elie, tell us a little bit about our guest and Constellium.

Elie Ruderman: Thanks, Rick. I’m happy to introduce you to Martin, who is the Director of Talent Development at Constellium. They’re a global leader in the development, manufacturing, and recycling of aluminum products and solutions. And Martin has been working with us since 2019 to create and deploy a comprehensive leadership development program.

The goal of the program is to align leadership strategy and culture and to create a Multiplier leader culture. Martin has years of experience in HR and talent management. He’s worked for many global companies in both local and global talent development strategy roles. And in this conversation, he brings his unique perspective on how organizations can foster company culture and empower leaders to successfully navigate transformation and change.

Rick: Thanks so much for the introduction, Elie. It was a truly great conversation – it was fun to understand more about the work that they’ve done at Constellium and where they want to go.

Elie: At this point, we’ve worked with over 500 leaders at Constellium and a recent impact measurement survey has shown that these participants feel significantly more engaged, more empowered, and more recognized. Constellium really saw this program as a key enabler for their company strategy.

Rick: That’s fantastic. Thanks so much, Elie.

Elie: Thanks Rick. Happy to help.

Rick: Hey, Martin, welcome to the show.

Martin: Hey, good morning, Rick.

Rick: What’s been going on in your world?

Martin: Well, it has been a busy weekend. There was a German summer party at my kid’s school with all the typical cliches like pretzel and beer and singing and songs. It was nice and then also there was a water polo quarter final I played this weekend here in Paris. So, it was busy, but nice.

Rick: It sounds like time very, very well spent. All my kids are older now. In fact, one of them is getting married this weekend and I kind of miss things like summer parties.

Martin: Well, congratulations on your kid. Yeah, it was nice seeing all the kids and all the parents.

Rick: Well, hey, I want to thank you again for agreeing to come on and share your story with our audience. I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about your organization.

Martin: Yes, of course. Constellium is a company working in the aluminum industry. I pronounced it the British way. We are transforming aluminum for customers like Airbus, Boeing, Porsche, BMW, Ford, GM and many big companies in the automotive aerospace and packaging industry. It’s 12,000 people company, 8 billion dollars, with plants and production facilities around the world.

Rick: It’s funny cause I spent the majority of the first part of my career in a company called Avery Dennison and when you work for somebody that’s a lot higher up the value chain, I think people don’t realize how large these companies are in the role that they play, really making the world function.

Martin: That’s for sure and I actually know Avery Dennison and B2B is especially different. That’s for sure.

Rick: Yeah, I used to refer to us as the largest company nobody had ever heard of, I’m honored that you have. So, what was going on for you guys that made you realize that you needed to do something different from a leadership perspective?

Martin: I think it’s important to understand some of the history of Constellium because it’s actually quite a young and old company at the same time. So, it was a merger of different companies, at different times changing ownership, but it was only created in 2011 under its current form. One of our key challenges was to create a common company culture where people feel that they’re part of one company and we got the feedback that our leadership learning and development offer was not homogeneous and depending on the location, depending on the region, quite different. So, we defined back in 2018, a new learning and development strategy until 2025, where we tried implement the Constellium way of leading and our own company culture. there were also external factors that played a role like the war of talent and talent attraction retention was very critical.

So, we are thinking and rethinking what can we do differently to help drive, and attract talent into our business and shape our company culture?

Rick: There are two interesting things that I’m just curious about how they really affected you all and one actually relates to that thing that we’ve already been talking about where when you speak of the war on talent, how have you all been able to maintain that “employer of choice” position?

Martin: We are a company, as you said earlier, which is not known to anybody in the public. So, it’s even more complicated for us to attract new talent. So on the one hand we’ve developed an increased collaboration with local schools and universities.

And then also once people join Constellium, they actually realize that we have a story to tell. That there are lots of career opportunities and that’s the type of company people enjoy working for. So, our turnover rate is rather low and once they understand that, okay, it’s an interesting product, there’s lots of technological aspects. If you’re an engineer and there’s lots of metallurgy aspects that you have to master at the same time as you’re playing for big companies, you have interesting customers, so it’s a nice company to work for once you discover it from inside.

Rick: With regional differences and historical differences, how were you able to thread that needle of honoring the past while building a future that was common for all?

Martin: That was actually one of the challenges if you have people with the company for 20, 30 years, they know the previous companies and company cultures and what we tried implement at this stage was a company vision, driven by our CEO and our executive committee focusing on empowerment. How can we empower our teams? How can we empower different people in the organization? And how can we create a common culture without neglecting the history?

If you are working in France for one company, and then you’ve worked in the US for another company, the history and the background are quite different, but we found that learning and development are key elements where people are really engaged and motivated to join training programs, for example, to exchange and create kind of an internal network.

So, we’ve used our different L&D elements with a big focus on networking and best practice sharing where people can see that, even if I’m working in West Virginia or if I’m working the middle of Germany, our challenges might be quite similar. We have similar customers. We have similar ways of operating our machines. So, there was a big effort that we’ve done to put into our L&D strategy to also create a common company culture.

Rick: When you started to build that common leadership culture and language, tell me a little bit about what drove your thinking and decisions there and what you ultimately decided to do.

Martin: Constellium is a very lean company and quite a small headquarter team. So, we said we had to start somewhere and that’s when we designed our pyramid of leadership for different levels on the organization, we have one global offer that we can propose to our employees and we decided to start from the middle, our mid-level leaders, those typically are people who are managing other people and are not yet at director level. So, it’s really the big layer in the middle of an organization and we’d said, we need to create a program for those people they have a big influence. They have an average of six to seven directory parts who then manage different operators. The other layer between top management and the folks implementing.

So, we said, what can we do to help them? That’s when we started creating a project team and one of the key learnings was to have a cross regional, cross functional and cross BU project team. And we had quite a classical approach. We reached out to different vendors, explaining to them what we are trying to achieve and then selected one vendor which we wanted to do this work.

Rick: I think that’s actually brilliant to start with those middle managers. I actually had a client in the past that we’d refer to them as the mud layer because you have the executives at the top that are kind of owning the change and you have those frontline managers many times who want to believe what their senior leadership is saying and are ready to run. But then that layer in between sometimes can be very difficult because they became successful under the old way of working. And so, I would think by starting with them, you probably got more traction.

Martin: Indeed, in our organization, sometimes they manage up to 200, 300 people in the department. It can be even 400 or 500 in the larger plans and so they have a big responsibility, but sometimes they were not well enough equipped whether it’s on financial topics, on HR topics, on leadership topics. So what we did is, before creating any program, we did a big customization effort, trying to understand the current and future needs.

So together with BTS, we’ve done over 50 interviews from our CEO to shift supervisors and all the regions trying to understand, what’s working today and what do we need to improve in the future and only once we’ve done those interviews and understood the actual business need that’s in designing and developing actual learning journey.

Rick: What did the ultimate solution end up looking like for you?

Martin: What we are offering today is a learning journey that takes nine months and during those nine months, people go through different activities. There’s a kickoff meeting at the beginning of the journey. There are different virtual touch points where the participants meet and discuss amongst themselves without external support.

There are two in person sessions, and there’s also coaching involved and digital learning. So, it’s a very comprehensive learning journey that allows people to learn on different levels in different ways on their own speed on different topics. And we decided to focus on two main topics: on the multiplier leadership aspect and on what we call business acumen or business understanding.

Rick: What were some of the surprises that you all experienced as you rolled this out?

Martin: The good surprises were that there were a big appetite and a big need and people motivated to work on the project. They wanted to get updates on what the actual journey looked like and what we were trying to implement.

So, there was a big pull from the business and also a big push from the executive committee for this program. The challenge was, and I think we mentioned a little bit earlier in the podcast, if you work in different regions, whether it’s in Europe, North America or whatever with plants coming from a very different background, we had kind of a heterogeneous, level of leadership. So, we had some supervisors which are very strong on technical points, others are very strong on HR points, others are very strong on engineering points or whatever and so to find a program that can satisfy many of the needs that people have was the biggest challenge. Then we had some external surprises we wanted to implement the program just prior to COVID, but then obviously there was a bigger external event that put the program at risk.

Rick: I would think that not only for the work that you were trying to do, but for your entire business.

Martin: Yes, indeed.

Rick: I’m wondering how you all have either expanded or contracted this program as you’ve learned more.

Martin: We see it more as a journey than a one-shot event. Whether it’s the leadership development program itself, whether it’s creating our company culture making people understand, for example, the value of the multiplier concept.

It’s the journey where we need different activities and different things we can do. I told you earlier that we’ve started with mid-level leaders, but we’ve also created an executive development program for our top management where we use similar concepts and the multiplier concept and the business simulation.

We created specific line manager sessions for line managers of participants. So, we get a shorter version of the program trying to understand and help them as a line manager, supporting the participants in the journey.

Last year, we organized a webinar together with Airbus where we internally had some speakers and over 300 people joined the webinar talking about the multiplier effect and what people can do, whether it’s at Constellium, or at other companies. And we’re really trying to implement also in the future, different ways of story sharing and recognition programs, really trying to create this shared company culture and the shared language that in all levels of the organization, you can understand and lead the Constellium way.

Rick: It’s meeting your leaders where they are with what is most important to them. I’ve been in too many of those situations, especially with sales leaders where they don’t get to see things through the lens of how they have to manage their business all day and they end up checking out too many times.

Martin: That’s why we felt it was important to make sure that this notion of leading and empowering people and using the Multiplier concept is understood at different levels of the organization. So not only for the target group, but also for the line management and for the top management and making sure it’s a common concept at Constellium.

Rick: So, I’m wondering if you could share a little bit about the outcomes you guys have had.

Martin: So far so we run in sessions in French, German, English, Czech, etcetera. And as of today, we have almost 500 people worldwide who went through this program. We’ve launched 20 cohorts over a period of three years, and the feedback we got was outstanding. Participants really enjoyed the training we had, and that’s just the beginning. Some people that are quite skeptical, especially some of the more seasoned managers said, “well, I’ve seen so many leadership trainings, why should I go through another” and then at the end of the day, for many of them, they said it was one of the best programs they’ve ever seen. They were surprised by the level of professionalism, by the level of interactivity, and the learnings that they could take from this program due to peer coaching and the different activities.

So, it was very positive and encouraging feedback. We also launched every two years at Constellium a global engagement survey and we just got the feedback from our 2024 edition when we compare people who went through the program. To people who didn’t go through the program, people who went through the program almost had 15 percent higher scores than the average. So, for some of the questions, whether you’re proud to work at Constellium or whether they believe and understand the business objectives, now that we have put them through the program.

The answers are much higher with some reflection on the program. Not only did participants enjoy it, but also helped them to become better leaders and make better business decisions.

Rick: When people feel like they’re being invested in a lot of times better leadership shows up both in their work and survey results like this. It’s good to see that those programs actually matter and have an impact. What is your advice for someone who was just beginning this journey and they’re starting to hear of the same kinds of needs that you described?

Martin: The first thing is to understand the business need. So, what are you trying to achieve or what you’re trying to solve with the initiative, then you need sponsor support from your top management. Third point I would say is establishing a cross functional project team.

So, in the project team I created initially, I had people from all three different business units and people from manufacturing background, people from a commercial background, people more from an HR background. So really a cross functional project team. Then, what worked well for us was to have a customized solution. For example, we created a customized business simulation where people have to run three years (virtually put into three days), but had to run a business which is similar to Constellium to understand, okay, if I take such a decision, what’s the impact on our cashflow, what’s the impact on our profitability and so for this, you need the right partner, especially if you’re a small team internally to make sure that we work with the right company together.

Rick: I can’t thank you enough for agreeing to come on and share your story with us and I’ll look forward to hearing even more as the program continues to roll out and you get even better results.

Martin: It was a pleasure to be here, Rick.

Rick: Pleasure.

Rick: Thanks for joining me today. It’s always a pleasure to bring to you our fearless thinkers. If you’d like to stay up to date, please subscribe. Bios for our guests and links to relevant content are always listed in the show notes. If you’d like to get in touch, please visit us at bts.com. Thanks so much for listening.

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Learn more about Multipliers culture here.

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