Bridging the engagement gap – From CI strategy to realisation



From eBay to Volvo, Shell to Google, all the big brands were out in force for the 2016 PEX conference in Amsterdam last week. With more than 200 Operational Excellence (OpEx) professionals and companies including eBay, Volvo, Shell and Google in attendance, all the big brands were out in force for the 2016 PEX conference in Amsterdam last month. With more than 200 Operational Excellence professionals and vendors under one roof, you could be forgiven for expecting to leave with the secret formula for success in your notepad. On the contrary, the unofficial theme of the week seemed to be about sharing the shortfalls and lessons learned from less than perfect OpEx strategies ̶  most notably, in relation to employee training and support.

While the strategic priorities and executional plans shared throughout the week varied considerably from one company to another, there seemed to be a general acknowledgment of an ‘engagement gap’ between those working in senior Continuous Improvement (CI) and OpEx positions and the operational teams responsible for implementing performance and process improvements on the ground. Several inferences were made throughout the week that the lack of board-level buy-in of CI strategies was causing projects to struggle.

eBay – a company that has matured from a modest start-up to a global retail giant which transformed the online shopping landscape in under a decade (who now list an epic 1 billion items for sale at one time) –  benefit from a leader who leads from the top on CI. eBay CEO David Wenig takes an empowering and forgiving approach to change, with mantras such as: ‘If everything is right, we are not trying hard enough’ and ‘celebrate failure when it’s done the right way’ setting the tone for an ever-evolving business.

Of course, eBay have a whole stream of activity in place to improve services to buyers and sellers alike. eBay’s Head of Business Excellence – Sascha Fuhren – shared insights into their plans to improve services for sellers from reducing hold times for inbound enquiries to improving first- contact resolution rates. They also highlighted their seller community services enabling knowledge to be passed between eBay vendors themselves, independently of eBay seller support teams; but what about the people tasked with actually delivering improved service to eBay customers and sellers?

A missing piece in the CI puzzle for eBay, they admitted, was upskilling their customer/seller service teams to a point where they could reduce issue resolution times themselves – not by waiting for the recommendations of the sophisticated ‘eye tracking’ project they’ve undertaken to improve user experience, but by simply listening to the customer.  Candidly, they shared a painfully awkward recording of an especially fast-talking customer service representative so absolutely determined to deliver his service script that he failed to listen to the customer explain his problem. Perhaps there is a subtle hint in there for CI leaders too? If you don’t listen to the people you are there to help, you won’t deliver a great solution.

In a panel discussion featuring change and improvement leaders from prominent European brands including E.ON, A1 Telecoms and Johnson & Johnson, again the issue of engagement and an increasing need to close the gap between CI teams and the leaders and operational teams they serve led much of the debate.  They noted the problem of managing ‘change fatigue’ among staff who feel they have made change upon change only to hear about – yes – more change. A shift in communication strategy is needed, they all agreed, and more efforts invested in educating staff that improvement is part of BAU, not a finite project managed ‘over there’ by the Transformation/CI team.

Erik Gillet, Executive Director for PEX, and Paul White, Head of Lean Academy, both of UBS have worked hard to gain leadership buy-in for the change programme within the bank and therefore have established a clear purpose for the business’s change. UBS aims to be as mature as automotive within 5 years through a structured approach that all leaders buy into and all staff contribute towards.

Beyond this shared vision and company-wide impetus for change, organisations that thrive in a CI environment are those who don’t rely on new systems or software to improve performance.  Extending on this point, E.On’s Head of Operational Excellence –  Lisa Norcross – warned that the road to change does not always lie with the IT and Systems experts in your business. Sometimes, real-world improvements might mean working within or around the constraints of your systems – for the time being at least. Where there is a mature continuous improvement strategy in place, you’ll find that the middle-managers who are ultimately responsible for cascading business improvement strategy into measurable objectives for their teams feel genuinely informed and empowered. In order to get there, however, they need coaching and support to enable them to make the right small but impactful changes whilst some of the longer term projects are worked through at senior levels.

Yr Gunnarsdottir – Global Continuous Improvement Leader for Shell, was one of several speakers to admit that to achieve any real traction with their operational teams, they as CI leaders had to be prepared to take a step back from their change roadmaps and simply listen. How can process mapping begin until you’ve truly listened to the problem? Not only was this a practical need for Shell’s CI team to gather the information they needed, it was a question of engagement ̶ asking, listening and pausing before collaborating (not dictating) on the improvements required.  E.On’s Lisa Norcross had alluded to the same by emphasising the importance of GEMBA walks to their business, ensuring that continuous improvement strategy addressed real day-to-day issues encountered by service and delivery staff.

Shell use face-to-face workshops to delve deeper into the process issues compounding non-productive time (NPT). In the case of their IT team, this uncovered some very easy-to-solve problems (such as printers always running out of paper) that could be fixed swiftly and deliver immediate benefit. These low-key changes are the transformative improvements that can be easily overlooked with a top-down approach to Operational Excellence.

So, if there was one action that could be taken from the observations of all these experts in the field, what would it be? Perhaps it would echo the recommendation outlines in ‘The Future of Jobs’* report at the beginning of the year: that a key area of focus for CI leaders should be on improving problem solving skills at every level of the workforce, so that the need for change and process improvement becomes something employees expect and accept so that see your continuous improvement strategy truly evolve into a cultural norm. As Rui Mota, Head of the Centre of Expertise in Continuous Improvement for SONAE concluded: “Change does not come naturally to most of us. Routine is natural. We must work at change’”

*Reference: ‘The Future of Jobs’, World Economic Forum



If you’re looking to upskill and motivate your teams – be they in improvement, finance, IT, operations, HR or other shared services roles, email us for a free trial at  


Get in touch to discuss how we can help you transform your service operations.

Chris Dando - Reinvigoration

Chris Dando

Ryan King - Reinvigoration

Ryan King

+44 (0)2921 602 182

Graham Turnbull - Reinvigoration

Graham Turnbull


Throughout the years, we have developed a set of consulting, capability building and e-management solutions that enable us to tailor our approaches to our clients’ needs and help them transform their service operations.

<div id="icon-svg"><img src="" /></div>


We support organisations around the world in their pursuit of Operational Excellence, process change and business transformation, using innovation and cutting-edge technologies to transform
service operations.

<div id="icon-svg"><img src="" /></div>


Our approach is heavily based on knowledge transfer via coaching, so that your people are left with the skills to be self-sufficient at the end of our engagement.

<div id="icon-svg"><img src="" /></div>

Capability Building

We have years of experience developing world class Operational Excellence and improvement skills across public and private organisations via our face-to-face and e-learning training courses.

<div id="icon-svg"><img src="" /></div>

E-Management Solutions

We use cutting-edge technologies to help organisations transform their service operations, become
more efficient and
increase performance.

  • NEW! Live Virtual Course - Lean Project Practitioner Course (LCS 1B/C) - 13th to 15th July 2021
  • World's 1st Online BSc in Operational Excellence — In partnership with the University of Buckingham
  • PUBLIC SECTOR NEWS! Procure our services without the need for a full tender
  • Target Operating Model Design - The all-embracing approach


Price incl. VAT: £1,620

By using this form you agree with the storage and handling of your data by Reinvigoration Ltd as well as to receiving our newsletters and some direct emails from our team. For more information on our privacy policy please click here


Price incl. VAT: £840

By using this form you agree with the storage and handling of your data by Reinvigoration Ltd as well as to receiving our newsletters and some direct emails from our team. For more information on our privacy policy please click here


Price incl. VAT: £1,140

By using this form you agree with the storage and handling of your data by Reinvigoration Ltd as well as to receiving our newsletters and some direct emails from our team. For more information on our privacy policy please click here


Enter your details below to access the free demo