Maurice Lombard's testimony
Cristal Union is a cooperative agri-industrial group whose main aim is to transform the sugar beet produced by its members into sugar and alcohol. Formed by the merger of several cooperatives in 1999, and by subsequent acquisitions, it now has 9,000 members, 2,000 employees and 14 production sites.
After ten years of investment focused on production tools and processes, and in an increasingly competitive environment, the company's managers decided to launch a large-scale project to enhance its performance. The goal is to unleash the potential of their teams.
For Maurice Lombard, Industrial Director at Cristal Union, this goal reflects the Group's history and market developments. "We transform agricultural products, but we have a highly industrial culture and our managers are mostly engineers. Over the last decade, we have boosted our performance by making changes to our organisation and information systems, tools and processes, which are often technically very advanced. Technology is necessary but it's not the be all and end all! We also have operators whose high potential is underexploited." It's the sort of potential that Cristal Union cannot afford to overlook, especially since, on 1 October 2017, the sugar production quota in force in the European Union will end: "The competition will be fierce. We need to be able to count on the strengths of each employee to improve our performance."
Under the authority of senior managers, the Group has launched an approach called EvE: Ensemble vers l'Excellence (Together Towards Excellence). The goal is to centre business performance around people and their potential. "To help us achieve this, we were looking for a partner with industrial and agri-food experience and a method-based approach; we wanted the organisation to be on a human scale and capable of developing a tailor-made system in conjunction with us. The final point to make is that, for this project, we expected our partner to be socially very aware. For all of these reasons, we selected the teams from Quaternaire."
To identify the topics to address, plant by plant, roadmaps were developed based on:
- the company's strategic objectives,
- an operational analysis from an "operational excellence reference system" point of view developed with the teams at Cristal Union
- lessons learned from a substantial listening phase on quality of life at work (30% of employees took part in the survey)
- and an examination of the performance indicators of each production plant.
Two hundred tasks were identified and, in the field, 520 employees were involved in the process, representing 24% of staff members.
"All employees need to be actors in the approach". An example of this group work is the Root cutting project. "The goal was to improve the ergonomics and safety of the station. We talked to the maintenance and production operators; their suggestions allowed us to optimise the dismantling and assembly process for cutters, significantly reducing the risk of injury and musculoskeletal disorders."
Percée method: highly effective
The results of the sugar bagging line (CETEC) in the Erstein (Bas-Rhin, France) production plant came below target in the period from March to May 2015. Because of the line's intensive seasonal use in June and July, the jam-making period, immediate action needed to be taken.
A performance improvement task, based on the Percée ("Breakthrough") method identified seven corrective actions in conjunction with operators. Immediately operational, the solutions were implemented within days of the group's findings being made. Staff now work at a steadier pace and the group's actions generated 17 OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) points while drastically reducing waste.
"These tasks bring together employees working in different areas of the business: by sharing their expertise, they devise solutions to concrete, technical or organisational problems. Each task lasts on average three months. With the Percée method, the work is completed even faster: this task took one whole day, from data analysis to action plans. It is intense but highly efficient."
Rewarding for participants, and an example for others to follow, the Percée method allows for rapid expansion and builds on the motivation of the people taking part. It shows how people can work together to improve performance and quality of life at work.
Another aim of the group work approach is to improve middle management skills: "80% of tasks are managed by specially trained supervisors. We want to move from a culture of chief engineers to a culture of operational managers closer to the shop floor. This takes time but the results are worth it: strategic first responders, each has a role to play in the search for performance." Change can be disruptive: "Managers need to adopt a more collegial style because change is never easy to start with."
Launched in May 2013 at two pilot sites, the EvE approach was extended to all sites from June 2014. The Quaternaire team was supported by the Cristal Union teams, including EvE coordinators and advisors on each site, who passed on information, encouraged employees to supply feedback, supported the site director and middle managers to implement projects, and so on. "The role of consultants is not simply to manage the approach; we ask them to help us do without them! Over the midterm, the goal is for our employees to develop their skills to a level where they are able to implement and develop these new operational modes themselves." The review will be implemented in 2017 to see how much progress has been made.
Cristal Union has some 9,000 member beet growers in around ten French regions. Its 2,000 employees are spread over 14 sites.
In 2014, its three activities (industrial sugar, sugar for retail and alcohol) generated a turnover of €1.8 billion (figure as of 30 September).
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