Towards a Culture of Excellence
After having established on-going improvement processes in England, Spain, the Netherlands, China and Israel, ICL’s operational excellence journey arrives in Germany for the first time.
ICL’s journey on the way to global operational excellence has been long and fruitful. By now, transformation processes conducted in several countries are already showing results, opening employees’ appetite for more.
How does it work?
The transformation process is composed of three stages: The first is the diagnostic stage, in which the site’s staff, together with leading experts, map the entirety of the site’s activities and detect opportunities for improvements and upgrades. The next is the design stage focuses on the planning — detailed operative plans are prepared to enable implementation of the opportunities chosen by the team during the first stage. The third stage is implementing these plans. The term used by ICL, “journey,” is highly accurate here and not simply a jargon, as sites continue to go on in this path to further achieve more and more goals and improvements together for as long as they like, creating a culture of constant aspiration to get better at what they do and how they feel about it.
Excellence at Ludwigshafen
At the end of June, ICL’s Ludwigshafen fertilizer site in Germany, with its 100 employees, arrived at the third stage of the operational excellence journey. A celebratory signing of the plans for improvement was conducted with the participation of local site teams and representatives of ICL’s department of operational excellence and innovation. This was the happy event that marked the long journey ICL and its employees have been on since taking the first step towards operational excellence back in January 2016. This would not have been possible without the leadership of the site’s general manager, Markus Heene, who understood the benefits of the process from the start and was most enthusiastic to implement it in Ludwigshafen. In May, with the help of the operational excellence and innovation department, the site’s teams went through a Value Stream Mapping (VSM) workshop which helped them to move from each seeing their own priorities and needs, to seeing a more holistic picture of how things are working and should be working on the site.
Omri Zurawel from the department of operational excellence and innovation explains: “There are three dimensions to the operational excellence process — the technical dimension, the executive infrastructure and the people. We need all of them aligned to be able to change things. The main effort is in communicating and involving all of the people, understanding all of the contexts, the priorities, what matters to whom, how to manage things. Each employee usually sees only their immediate environment, but through the process of VSM they get to see the whole picture.”
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Zurawel describes how this leads to the setting of priorities, to learning where to invest the most effort and to bringing value to ICL’s customers. “Above all,” he adds, “we maintain the principle of putting the employee at the center, respecting their point of view and input. We conduct focus groups to better understand what people want, how they feel about things and what they’d like to change. There has to be local motivation and interest to implement changes, otherwise things won’t work, as we know from past experience of ICL and other companies.”
How do the locals feel about it all?
Local operational excellence manager in the Ludwigshafen site, Daniel Takoeta, says: “The process is an important step for any company that wishes to move forward. It gives new perspectives on operations and an opportunity to get deeper insights. It’s quite a challenge, but we experienced a very positive kickoff here. Some employees were open-minded about the process while others were a little skeptical — maybe because of past disappointments. We intend to show people that this is a positive process. The only way is to take actions, not just talk, and employees will see that this is beneficial for them.”
Takoeta feels he has great support from the department of operational excellence and innovation, which he can contact for feedback or assistance on any issue at hand. When we asked Takoeta about the future of the process, he said that the journey must go on, since as soon as you stop it things tend to fall back to old and less effective ways. Both Takoeta and Zurawel see the journey as a constantly-repeating process that builds a culture of striving for excellence in the company. There are already plans to continue the journey in the US and Brazil next year, as well as additional sites in Germany, Spain and Israel.