Case Study: Alcoa Power and Propulsion, Best Employee Engagement Initiative Winners 


If you’re looking for evidence of engagement best practise, talk to a CIPD People Management ‘best employee engagement initiative’ Award winner. Alcoa Power and Propulsion were the 2013 winners, and they’ve not only maintained great results, they’ve improved their engagement survey scores and business performance.

As award sponsor and judge, we were keen to find out more about this business and how they’d delivered the creative, cost effective and impactful approach that saw them beat off stiff competition, and also takeaway the overall People Management award.

A site tour of the Exeter based division of this global business, with 500+ employees, was an opportunity for Leading Edge to meet with managers, team members and the manager of the HR team who led the submission, Cindy Penney.


When we entered this manufacturing site, we were immediately struck by the lack of visible ‘Engagement’ paraphernalia. No award photos in reception, or trophy cabinets on display. Even more so, the managers and leaders don’t talk ‘engagement with a capital e’. Managers instead tell stories about communication initiatives, continuous improvement initiatives led by the teams, and making conscious shifts in leadership styles and relationship development.

When we commented on this lack of ‘engagement rhetoric’, Cindy replied “engagement to us is all about doing the right things for the people that work for us. Engagement is only an indicator of ‘what it’s like to work here’ supported by a range of HR goals rather than a stand alone Engagement goal”.

This belief, along with the creative and cost-effective approaches to internal and external engagement initiatives is certainly what struck the eye of Michaela Weller, Leading Edge’s Director of Learning and judge for the PMA category.


“We meet a large number of businesses who’ve got so tied up in the ‘survey and scoring mechanism’, that they’ve lost sight of the fundamentals around great leadership and management. We often quote ‘you don’t win a match by staring at the scoreboard’, and Alcoa Power & Propulsion certainly managed to maintain that focus ‘on the pitch’.”

99% participation and a Global Voices score of 78% is by no means a fluke, and especially impressive when you consider the recent history of this manufacturing plant.

Cindy explains, “the site historically had a good reputation as a great local employer with a community profile. But a period of business downturn led to a rather introspective approach, less community initiatives, rounds of redundancies, and a number of leadership changes. This led to changed perceptions, both from our employees and externally”.


Engagement survey returns dropped significantly, so Cindy decided to harness an under-utilised PR budget to rebuild the ’employer of choice’ status from the ground up, with the managers and supervisors leading the change.

Managers undertook personal development to stretch and challenge their embedded leadership, something which Mark Skinner as Facilities Manager for example found personally really powerful. “I learnt a lot about flexing my own style, and really spending time getting to know my teams. It’s not necessarily my natural style, but I can really see the dividends of consciously doing something differently.”

Community initiatives targeting postcodes where employees lived were reintroduced along with creatively sourced wellbeing initiatives like a SunSafe campaign, smoking cessation programme and cycling proficiency training for employee’s children.

Communication and transparency are key aspects of the focus. Simple decisions like the reintroduction of notice boards which house business updates, to regular shift briefings which are repeated weekly to ensure they’re heard by every employee over a 4 week period. Hitting it with the simple stick springs to mind!


The introduction of a Eureka suggestion scheme has seen around 30 ideas a month being generated, but Cindy has encouraged managers ‘don’t try and fix everything at once’. “We’re looking for the biggest return and the best value … and to ensure we recognise and respond to every single suggestion.” The approach is certainly having great impact with teams relishing the ‘voice’ that Eureka gives them.

The sense of ownership and autonomy is palpable on the site. Team members and managers were keen to welcome Leading Edge as visitors, and share the changes that have been made based on their suggestions and recommendations.

Whilst we visit, it’s ‘wellbeing Wednesday’ … which in the unusual summer heat means free ice lollies for all. (A welcome treat that sees members of the line popping to the office to say ‘thanks’.)

But it’s not all treats and initiatives. The business results are impressive. Staff turnover has reduced from 22% in 2010, to less than 1% in 2013, on-time delivery has increased from 46.7% in 2009 to 96%, and labour productivity is increasing by 10% year on year, testament to the employee engagement profit chain in action.

The key factors to the success of the engagement in this business:

  • Focus on doing the right things, not chasing the engagement survey result
  • Connecting the people with the strategic goals and objectives
  • Don’t overlook the basics – noticeboards, team briefings, business results
  • Ask for and responding to ideas—all of them!
  • Creatively sourcing support from local charities and well being organisations
  • Encouraging and managing survey participation from the whole team
  • Empowering and developing the leaders to ‘do something differently’

Winning the PMA raised the profile of the site in this global business, with Cindy being invited to present the results at the global Alcoa Impact awards and sharing her experiences at local CIPD branches and at the Employee Engagement conference


Cindy says “This year’s focus is on giving the management the real autonomy for the results. We’ve ensured full survey data is accessible to the managers to enable them to drill down and explore without feeling that HR ‘own the survey”.

Her final thoughts “Engagement is a journey, not a destination. Our human nature is to always aspire for more, we climb Everest don’t we! It means we’re never going to be able to sit back and say job done”.

Leading Edge are proud to sponsor the CIPD People Management Best Employee Engagement Initiative Award again this year.

Leading Edge: the people partners who deliver business results by unlocking leadership, engagement and teams

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up to get the latest news, events, podcasts and more!