Putting a culture of performance in place really means achieving a change in mindsets

Putting a culture of performance in place really means achieving a change in mindsets

Man of the people

Jean-Marc Chamberland is Global Director of Manufacturing Excellence at Solvay. As the pioneer of Manufacturing Excellence, he has supported countless businesses and sites towards achieving benefits of more than €300 million for the Group over the last couple of years. T.A. Cook caught up with him to find out how.

Mr. Chamberland, your team is responsible for Manufacturing Excellence worldwide. Can you explain what that means?

There are three pillars of Excellence – robust best practices and content, performance management and a culture of improvement, and having the right mindset and behavior. We make sure that whenever we speak about Excellence at Solvay, we’re speaking the same language about these three pillars, because if you work on them consistently, they will deliver. There are lots of Excellences at Solvay, for example in how we manage our investments, how we manage purchasing and supply chain, and also from the marketing and commercial sides. Manufacturing Excellence is just applying those pillars to the businesses and sites relevant to manufacturing.

What does that mean for Solvay as a group?

Solvay is moving from being more focused on commodities to being more involved in specialty chemicals. This is a transformation that is being driven by our CEO – he is inspiring our businesses and business leaders to embark on a journey of Excellence to achieve that. As a team, we behave as a kind of catalyst to that transformation: our purpose is to make sure that we can travel faster on this journey and be more agile, more competitive. I started alone in 2011 and we have built the team to about 40 people, with 11 nationalities and a presence in the four main regions.

To maintain that global presence, do you actually go there and talk to all of those businesses yourself?

Often, yes but I am supported by a team of 40. It helps as we have 150 industrial sites, which is a lot. All of us are expected to be present so we travel roughly 70% of the time.

How do you identify which sites need your attention?

We have solid processes in place because when we speak about these three pillars of Excellence – content, performance management and mindsets and behaviors – we are conducting diagnostics the same way external consultants do. But before we do the diagnosis, we make sure the right team is in place, that there is a story for change. We have to address the diagnostics from all perspectives and dimensions – not just from a technical side but also related to the way we manage, the mindsets we have, the way we think, how that affects the way we function.

Like a doctor.

More like a psychologist! 60% of the performance improvement you see at Solvay is related to non-technical things – it comes from management and mindset changes. Putting a culture of performance in place really means achieving a change in mindsets, so we focus on teaching people new ways of working – it is these new ways of working that really make the difference. T.A. Cook has really helped us with that and the projects we’ve done together have worked so well because of that focus on mindset.

The person

Jean-Marc Chamberland speaks four languages. As Global Director of Manufacturing Excellence he travels the world for Solvay. Previously he has worked in Argentina and Thailand for his company.

What do you mean by new ways of working? What exactly are you trying to achieve?

We’re trying to get the full potential out of our workforce and to keep on developing their skills and competences. And to do that we have to make sure that we really listen actively to what our people on the shop floor have to tell us – about what can be done differently, what can be improved. From there we can make the changes that are necessary and which really contribute towards adding value for our company. And I don’t mean value just in terms of profitability but in terms of really building and growing talent. That is what makes the difference and brings results.

On that note, can you put a figure on the financial benefit your team has achieved?

The financial benefit you can pull out of the communications we make to the capital markets – all of the Excellence programs together delivered approximately €450 million and Manufacturing Excellence accounts for between 60% and 70% of that.

Are you proud of that?

We really want to be humble because it’s the effort of everybody, the businesses and the support functions. Our team is, of course, important in inspiring others, but there are so many experts and leaders in other functions that are doing amazing jobs, too. It’s part of the game to help, to bring change. At the beginning we wanted to tell the others “go on this journey with us and you will see it will work,” and of course we talked a lot about impact, but now we are stepping back a bit more, keeping the pace, collaborating more so that we get many more people embracing change with us.

More engagement?

Absolutely. Continuous engagement is a very nice parallel.

"You have to be a role model. If you promise things, keep your promises."

Do you encounter resistance when you go to sites where improvements need to be made?

Yes, we do. But you have to understand that it’s not always easy to explain to someone who’s doing a repetitive task – unchallenged, for 25 years, always delivering and doing well – that they need to change their way of working, learn new ways to operate or be more effective. Of course you feel resistance. They wonder “What’s in it for me? Why should I change? I’ve been happy for 25 years and now you’re asking me to do something different.” I would say this is one of the key challenges for us – to always engage the people from the beginning, tell them why, explaining why you are asking that of them and what you want to achieve. But when you have a nice story, where the people understand that the business needs to change because it faces tough competition, because the market is changing fast and more achievement is needed, then people do change. It takes time, but if you walk the talk, if you take the time to explain that you’ll help them bridge the gaps by coaching, having capability sessions, using external reources if necessary to help them to achieve this step, you build confidence. But, of course, you need to do what you have said you’re going to do – you have to follow through.

Be a role model?

You have to be: if you promise things, keep your promises.

You refer to Manufacturing Excellence as a journey. Where is it going? Is there an end?

There isn’t an end – it’s a continuous journey. That’s the nice thing, we’re not doing projects, we’re driving Excellence. It’s not about buzzwords and it’s never really going to end. We’re amazed at some of the GBUs who started 4 or 5 years ago and are still using the recipes, changing the ingredients slightly, sometimes also changing the taste of the recipe, but they keep surprising us with the impact and effect on their businesses.

With that in mind, have you ever been really surprised by a very positive reaction from people that you didn’t expect?

For me the surprise is always the smile, the handshake, the pleasure to be back on-site. I love being able to have a conversation with a site management team for 2 or 3 hours to understand what went well and what went badly, talking through new ideas, new areas of development, new tools and solutions for the challenges we all face.

"60% of the performance improvement you see at Solvay is related to non-technical things"

What are the key challenges you think the world faces?

For us it’s very clear – sustainability, sustainable development. We are committed to improving our safety, reducing our carbon footprint and having a portfolio of products that are more sustainable. We are engaging with more societal actions and working more closely with local communities. This is important – profit is important but sustainable development is too, so every time we do our diagnostics we look at improving energy efficiency, how we can source renewable materials, reduce waste, reduce water usage and recycle more. Sometimes improvement is possible without spending money.

What brought you personally to the point of thinking “this is a journey we need to go on”?

I was a fresh new site manager when we went through the economic crisis in 2008–2009 and we had some tough decisions to make. We started trying to engage our people more, getting people to understand that they were capable of doing so much more than they were used to and we started to see the power of that. So when the Group asked me to start this journey in 2011, I felt comfortable and I am still grateful for that opportunity. People often think that if you have to reduce your costs by 10% in a couple of years then you have to reduce your workforce, but that’s not the case. There’s hidden improvement potential in people and if you bring a culture of performance, help people to achieve more, they are really happy about that.

Is that what you like the most?

Yes, because for me the best, most valuable recognition we can achieve is seeing the smiles of our colleagues at the sites and businesses. We see that we have been able to put a dynamic in place – a whole new way of working that increases the engagement and satisfaction of the people in the group. This is really important when you consider that there have been difficulties in the markets, so sometimes the improvement needed is quite substantial, but if you collaborate with all the actors, you can unleash incredible amounts of value.

That’s a lot of responsibility.

Yes – we get tired from time to time. All of us – we travel a lot, we give a lot because when you coach and train you need to explain a lot. It takes a lot of preparation and energy that you share and transmit to the others, and of course you have to take a rest. But that is something we’ve experienced: that you need to allow people to have a rest. We were told recently that we need to stop a bit – stop to reaccelerate. The work is highly demanding, you do everything you can to please your customer to make him satisfied, so this work-life balance or need for rest, this time to think, stop, think and prepare again is important and must be part of the job. Many people don’t do that. Think about it!

I might steal that from you.

Sure! Take it as something that allows you to refresh, restart, reaccelerate because you feel things need to be changed in the ways of working and you need to think about that. Everything you’re saying to me seems to come from a real passion for engaging people. Have you always been so passionate about that? Something from my youth that was very important for my personal journey was playing in a football team. And at the end I became the captain. But being leader of the team meant that I was also at the service of my team – I tried hard not to be the captain who gets all the credit – I wanted to stay humble and still have fun. And having fun and enthusiasm in the team is key – my team at Solvay accepts traveling 70% of their time because they are positive thinkers and they have fun connecting with others or having a barbecue and a beer and winding down.

How do you wind down in your own time?

I go biking – mountain and racing biking. And I am completely crazy about Italian food. My children would say my pasta carbonara is the best ever. They are at university now and they come home on Friday night and know there will be a big bowl of pasta on the table and they love it. I also love music festivals – I have very eclectic music taste.

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