Alan Cransberg is manager of Alcoa’s Pinjarra Refinery in Western Australia, a position he took up in 1998. He has occupied a variety of managerial positions with Alcoa over 20 years. He began his career as an engineer but found that his passion was working with people. He is an Associate Fellow of AIM
AIM: How did you get started in management?
CRANSBERG: I started by getting an engineering degree through the university of WA. I then worked as an engineer for a year. But I wasn’t getting a lot of job satisfaction from designing and building things. I didn’t get the stimulation that I later got from working with people. I have always wanted to be on the front line and to have a direct effect on the business at hand.
I found that a lot more personal energy goes into managing or leading people. This applies whether you are a project manager or running a refinery, as I am. It’s more demanding than working in a non-people environment.
AIM: What is your fundamental management philosophy?
CRANSBERG: First, a leader has an obligation to be organised. Second, a leader needs to be able to involve people, in creating the plans and ensuring that people get some feedback against those plans. Third, a leader must challenge people to realise their full potential. And, finally, people need to have some fun at work. If they are not enjoying themselves at work, they are probably not delivering results equal to their potential.
AIM: What inspires you to improve?
CRANSBERG: I like hearing success stories, from the sporting or business worlds, about people who have overcome some adversity. I have read all the standard management texts, but I prefer to listen to people telling their own stories. I tend to learn most by watching the people I work with and seeing what works for them, and also by studying my own progress.
AIM: What is most rewarding about your work?
CRANSBERG: Watching people grow. Seeing them go places that they thought they couldn’t go. And providing business outcomes beyond what the organisation expected.
AIM: What is the main lesson that you have learned from your work?
CRANSBERG: That if you don’t have good people, you won’t succeed. Similarly, if you are paying good money to have important work done and an individual is not performing, then you are harming yourself and the individual if you don’t do something about it.
AIM: What weaknesses do you see in current management practices?
CRANSBERG: We tend to systematise too much. We do too much on computers. We are losing the value of face-to-face conversation. Too much time is spent in meetings and not enough time in the field. We underestimate the influence that we can have on people simply by being with them.
AIM: How has technological change affected your management style?
CRANSBERG: It has allowed me to find a better work-and-family balance. I have three children under the age of four. Now I can get home at a reasonable hour to bathe the kids. If I’ve got work to do, I can dial-in from home and work in the evenings, if I need to.
The availability of information is also important. I can get any information I want. But I don’t let this prevent me from talking to people. It’s better to talk to people than to assume you understand what the information means.
One of the issues for us is that we are extremely computer literate and we are clever at building things. But we should not let that overshadow the fact that leadership and management is about people. The ability to achieve superior business results is aided by technology but, at the end of the day, we still need people to apply that technology and to improve.
AIM: What is the future of management?
CRANSBERG: People will still need leaders. They need someone to inspire and coach them. We will probably spend more time helping our people to manage the technical and social issues of the business. The role of manager could become that of a facilitator who helps people to do their work better.
AIM: What about the growing overlap between personal time and work time?
CRANSBERG: Even now at Alcoa we are encouraging our people to involve their families as much as possible in their work. We have things like family safety days and we are planning open days. We are trying to help people to find that balance between work and family. The reward for the organisation is that we have happier employees.