Constellium designs and manufactures value-added aluminium products and components for a broad range of applications, primarily in the aerospace, automotive and packaging markets.

The lean journey for Constellium began in 2012, one year after its creation as a standalone company. Constellium has some 8,500 employees and 22 sites across the world, including manufacturing sites in North America, Europe and Asia.

For a young company, we have a long history. In one sense, Constellium has been in business for over a century. It was therefore important to embed lean into the business and drive change and transformation throughout the company as a way of improving performance and efficiency. The aim of this massive transformation through lean is to make Constellium the best and most profitable company in our industry.

On the basis of a deep analysis of the company and its processes, we organised our change around three pillars: lean tools, organisational changes in our Autonomous Product Unit manufacturing sites (or APUs) and lean leadership. Our CEO Pierre Vareille and our VP lean Yves Merel were the driving force of this lean transformation at Constellium.

Since the beginning of the process we have recognised our people were the key success factor in developing a continuous learning and improving culture. We consider every Constellium employee – independent of their role – accountable for the environment and the health and safety of our employees and everyone else on our sites. But we needed to reshape the mindset of our leaders – many of whom are excellent engineers and technical experts but uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the softer management skills. This meant changing the way our second-level managers and frontline leaders behaved. Because of the nature of our industry, many of these were used to process-orientated and technical work rather than human interaction and supportive management behaviours, but it was crucial they focused on this side of their role as well.

At the most straightforward level, this is about reducing waste and inefficiency in workplace interactions. Any conversation between colleagues or a manager and his team is important to the business, regardless of whether these are formal meetings or informal conversations about a project. When these do not go well, they impact the productivity of the business, and ultimately reduce the likelihood of achieving lean objectives; continuous improvement and improved performance. With effective training, sharing of values and practices, people can make the difference.


Process and programme

After a six-month analysis of the business and analysing the people needs coming out of this, one of the biggest gaps we identified was frontline managers did not feel in control enough of the day to day situation they and their teams were facing (and saw themselves as firefighters). What’s more half of the frontline managers had difficulty positioning themselves as leaders. It was therefore crucial to change leadership behaviour of the critical 350 frontline mangers in our business to drive the lean transformation process. These leaders are very important to us as they add direct value to our customers, so were prioritised accordingly.

We partnered with talent management consultancy DDI to design and deliver a lean leadership curriculum to tackle the challenge. We wanted a developmental journey that would create a climate to better embed lean into the business, and create a common leadership language to give our managers the skills for coaching and communicating they needed. We also needed a delivery partner with a global capability, who could equip and certify our own people top lead training programmes but also customise their standard tools and training modules to fit our needs. Lastly we needed development to be adapted for different cultures and countries across our business.

The programme was based on giving leaders better communication and “soft” management skills, such as structuring effective conversations, and engaging and challenging staff in a positive way. The development journey included structured tools within four modules to help our leaders increase their impact in areas such as:

  • Effectiveness in delivering feedback
  • Confidence when faced with having difficult conversations
  • Better relationships at multiple levels, geographic areas and business units.

This resulted in significantly changed relationship between these managers and their direct reports.

“The implementation of the four training modules was critical to start the lean transformation and to support change. With these common communication tools, the daily work of supervisors as been greatly aided. The fact those managers for APUs trained their teams allowed better collaboration in the factories.” Sylvain Künzi, director of human resources.

To achieve the biggest impact possible we adopted a “train the trainer” approach, where senior frontline managers and leaders in each APU were themselves trained as teachers in line with lean principles. They were then tasked with taking their new communication and management skills back to their teams. This helped ensure people felt ownership and responsibility for the change, rather than it being perceived as an HR initiative.

In total, around 50 leaders were certified as trainers by DDI through eight sessions around the world, and they took the training back to a further 350 key managers in the business between October and December. Combined with another training programme that has been cascaded to around 5,000 of our team, we have seen training hours in the business rise from 3,000 hours in 2012 to 10,000 in 2013-14.

Becoming a trainer for the first time to his or her direct reports is an engaging, challenging but also sometimes concerning change for an APU manager. But the certification process and the easily applicable content from the courses helped increase their confidence. We knew our APU managers were not all starting from the same base level of experience, so gave additional focused support to those that needed it through a DDI certified trainer and paired them up when starting the process with their direct reports.

Initially, we were cautious about how enthusiastically frontline leaders would embrace their role as teachers, and how much they would enjoy coaching others. A positive surprise has been APU managers coming back to us and telling us how proud they are of this responsibility. They are more satisfied with their work than they were in the past.

To ensure sustainability, we completely integrated the leadership modules in the context of the lean transformation, using application examples from the day-to-day routines of our frontline managers. This customisation of the content is key to ensuring its relevance.

The backing of our CEO was also a critical success factor. He joined each of the eight train the trainer sessions for a live conversation and recorded a four minute film in four languages explaining directly to frontline managers what he expected of them.



For us, the biggest impact has been giving APU managers training and development on non-technical concepts and processes. They have embraced these soft skills and are much more effective at problem-solving and leading their teams. This is a far more efficient methodology and is driving the lean transformation of our business. We now see our managers being far more proactive with suggestions to help improve the business and problems that should be and can be solved at a lower level are now no longer being elevated further up the business. Our frontline APU managers are directly adding more value to our customers. This change of leadership behaviour is an essential part of our lean transformation process, as without it the rest will not happen.

The result of this work has been a four-point increase in our employee engagement and satisfaction scores, between 2012 and 2014. Training and development has become the second biggest lever for driving employee engagement in the business.

All this means we have become much more of a learning organisation. Learning and training are now seen as core parts of our management responsibilities, which was not necessarily always so before. We have to keep investing in the leadership skills of our employees, but the return on investment in an engaged workforce who are far more able to contribute actively to solving the day-to-day issues and problems in the business.

Creating a standardised set of tools and leadership principles has supported our work with lean. These are backed up by our leadership principles and values. At a corporate level, we have been able to set the ground rules of a lean leadership culture we wanted to implement by standardising the way to deliver feedback, increase confidence with challenging conversations and give managers a framework for communications.

This work hopefully illustrates successful lean goes beyond the parts of the manufacturing process that are purely technical or about workflow and system processes, and into the people side. The role of leaders is a vital part of ensuring efficiency and driving lean into the business; they set the culture and without them embedding lean principles into the organisation would be impossible.