Trust begets trust at Alcan

Alcan Inc. needs to be able to trust that all of its 8,000 professional employees around the world are the right people for the positions they hold. The Montreal-based aluminum manufacturer fostered a trusting relationship with a technology vendor to achieve that end.

The company started keeping tabs on employee performance with technology after merging with another firm in 2000, said Guy Delisle, director, executive performance. Alcan had to reduce workforce redundancy, but it also had to know which of its staff members were the best and should stay.

“When you merge with another company, you want to know who’s who,” Delisle explained. “Who are the high performers? Who has potential?”

After a tech-selection process, Alcan bought performance management software from Technomedia Training Inc., an HR-specific app development firm in Montreal. “We created a partnership right from the beginning,” Delisle said, noting that the companies worked together to meet Alcan’s requirements.

He said the relationship was a two-way street from the get-go. Alcan had its must-haves — the company wanted to manage its employees’ performance, devise succession paths for important positions and help identify potential rising stars in its ranks — but the firm kept in mind that Technomedia also had to pay the bills.

According to Leslie Rosenblood, an IT industry analyst at IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, trust between a vendor and its client forms when each party acknowledges the other’s challenges. It’s particularly important for long-term relationships, like IT outsourcing.

“It’s worthwhile to make sure all parties benefit,” he said. “If you browbeat your provider into razor-thin margins, when you want to make a change two years later, there’s going to be a lot of resistance. If someone’s providing an essential service, you want to be on good terms with them.”

Thanks to just such an agreement between Alcan and Technomedia, the firms saw eye to eye, even when the performance management implementation went off the rails, as it occasionally did. “There are always problems,” Delisle said. “It’s never a plug-and-play solution.”

Whenever users complained that it took too long to access the performance management application online, Technomedia helped Alcan figure out where the problem was, even though it may have had nothing to do with the app.

“Sometimes it’s an application problem,” Delisle said. “Sometimes it’s the server. Sometimes you have thunderstorms that impact the satellite data transfers….You want to establish the credibility of the application.”

“To do that you need partners, external and internal,” he said, explaining that Technomedia and Alcan’s IT group worked together for solutions.

According to Jacques Gaumond, Technomedia’s vice-president of sales and marketing, his company maintains a strong connection with Alcan. “We clearly work very closely together. When [Delisle] has a new application, we’ll spend time at our premises” to help develop whatever might fit Alcan’s needs.

Since 2000, the companies have worked even closer together to manage employee performance at Alcan. Now the manufacturer is using Technomedia modules for internal recruitment and learning management. “And we’re revisiting the succession model that we had,” Delisle said. “After four years, we want a significant update.”

To that end, Alcan is eyeing an upgrade to the latest version of Technomedia’s underpinning HR software, Sigal. Delisle said the newest release, Version 4.2, provides robust language translation for employees operating around the world — Alcan has locations in 60 countries — and it offers a new report-generation tool that should help Alcan get an even stronger grasp of its staffers and their abilities.

Delisle said Alcan has a better understanding of its workforce today, thanks in large part to its relationship with Technomedia. The result is this aluminum products maker can answer some tough questions regarding performance, talent and how to keep it.

“Who might be the successors for key jobs?” Delisle said. “What development plan do we have for our professional positions? We need a high quantity of information, accurate information, in order to convince our employees that they are in the right place.”

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