21 Jun 2018
CIEL Group

Interview of Hélène Echevin, CIEL Group's Chief Officer - Operational Excellence: "... it all starts with a simple question: "How could it be better?"

Challenging the status quo is second nature to Hélène Echevin. Appointed CIEL Group’s Chief Officer - Operational Excellence back in March 2017, she has over 18 years of experience in operations and project management. We asked her what operational excellence means, how she puts it into practice at CIEL and what is its impact on the community at large.

Last year, CIEL unveiled its Purpose Statement, Values and call-to-action, which is « go beyond ». How do you embrace these in your day-to-day job?

I am a great believer in that whatever we do, it should be to the best of our abilities. This allows us to look back on our achievements with a sense of satisfaction for having done something positive, be it at work or in personal life. And in doing so, we make things better. Our purpose statement, “For a world we can all feel proud of”, sums up this idea very well and I feel connected to it.

“Go Beyond”, as our call-to-action, also carries a strong meaning. It calls us to challenge the status quo, which tends to be my nature, and to always keep looking for that little extra that makes the difference. In my daily life, this translates into an intrapreneurial spirit at work. This explains, to a great extent, why I am so passionate about the projects I manage. The feeling of accomplishment you get is beyond words!

In concrete terms, could you explain to us what operational excellence means for CIEL?

At CIEL, operational excellence is becoming an integral part of our culture and consequently, of our processes. It all starts with asking yourself a simple question: “how could it be better?” It, therefore, translates into a will to continuously improve in whatever we do, no matter what our job is. With this in mind, we need to aim for ambitious achievements for our companies and ourselves and thereafter, develop the proper tools and methods to reach those goals.

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Leadership and Teams
  • Products & process Innovation
  • Financial results

How does the community and the country benefit when a private company is striving for operational excellence?

Indeed, when a company sets a strong corporate culture of operational excellence, it plays in the top league of its category and performs well. Its sound financial health allows it to do more projects, create more jobs and employ more people as well as work with other partners and subcontractors. On top of it, this ultimately helps the company to pay more taxes. This undoubtedly creates value for the company itself but also for the country as a whole.

Besides, a strong culture of operational excellence allows employees to grow while upgrading their skills and competencies. The company reaps the benefits by enriching its talent pool and triggers, in the same way, a kind of virtuous circle since the positive outcomes also impact its stakeholders.

CIEL recently set up several Group forums, such as the CFO Forum and the HR Forum, bringing professionals from different fields across the group together to share ideas and their modus operandi. What is the philosophy behind this project and what are the first observations?

Being a Group is undoubtedly an opportunity since this opens many avenues for cooperation and sharing among colleagues in several sectors. These forums have been set up to encourage cross-fertilisation, by bringing professionals in a given field, across the group, together to exchange experience and ideas. I strongly believe that in a Group like CIEL, one plus one is much more than two.

Members of a forum do not work together daily, but they have the same kind of challenges and opportunities, and somehow, have something to share or to ask their colleagues. These forums serve as a platform where they share know-how and solutions on specific issues. The forums allow them to do so openly with no hierarchical restrictions. This synergy that’s created serves as a performance and motivational catalyst.

How can the idea of cross-fertilisation be applied to the community at large?

Cross-fertilisation requires a lot of interaction and sharing. It is about merging ideas from different people to find new, innovative and enhanced ways of doing things. We should be receptive to new ideas and promote their circulation. One should be ready to learn from his neighbour since they might have the knowledge or the means to find a solution to a problem we are facing. By ripple effect, the impact on the community at large should be very positive.

In your view, is excellence more a matter of process, or, of attitude and culture?

For me, excellence is a mix of three things. First, it’s the obsession to achieve proper results. When aiming for excellence, you should be absolutely result-driven. It’s also often a matter of courage. Aiming high may call for more effort, and ultimately more work. But excellence can’t be attained without one important ingredient: passion. 

To sum up, I would say that excellence is a blend of both attitude and process, since it’s our attitude that prompts us to set up the proper processes to achieve great results.

CIEL firmly believes in its commitment to the community. How does the Group encourage its employees to be socially engaged?

CIEL is well aware of the importance of communities in its development. That is why they have always been considered as key partners in each and every project we initiate. The ACT for our Community programme, introduced and rolled out every year by CIEL Textile, is the best example of this commitment. Last November, the team members in Mauritius and abroad devoted their spare time to participate in different social projects.

We also encourage such initiatives in the subsidiaries of our five clusters. Activities, such as the CIEL Ferney Trail, have become platforms where we sensitise our colleagues and the public at large on social issues and prompt them to give a helping hand, in a manner that would suit them. Fondation CIEL Nouveau Regard is doing a great sensitisation, particularly through ACTogether.mu. Created 10 years ago, this website is now a reference platform for social workers and volunteers. 

At last, on an individual basis, many of our colleagues are involved in social work of some form or another, which CIEL encourages.