Ours is to reason why!

Dr Tracey Leghorn
by Dr Tracey Leghorn, Chief Business Services Officer | SUEZ recycling and recovery UK
Blog by Dr Tracey Leghorn, Chief Human Resources Officer for SUEZ recycling and recovery UK

You may know from personal experience how a young child can test the knowledge and patience of an exasperated parent by repeatedly asking the question ‘Why?’. This keen curiosity is a powerful tool of discovery and learning, but unfortunately, it soon dulls and weakens as we grow up and become more familiar with the world around us and ‘how things are’.

Yet, if we are to continuously improve what we do, we need to rediscover that mindset. At our Continuous Improvement Conference last month, I shared a memorable quote attributed to Shigeo Shingo, the Japanese industrial engineer who provided the foundations for much of the post-WWII thinking on lean manufacturing:

“A relentless barrage of whys is the best way to prepare your mind to pierce the clouded veil of thinking caused by the status quo. Use it often.”

Constructively questioning the status quo is the ‘why’ of our business transformation experts, and it is becoming embedded in our corporate culture.


Business transformation

Under the leadership of Richard Gutsell, Business Transformation Director, our business transformation team support our people in every region and at every level of the company in the ongoing improvement of our processes, products and services.

We already have a strong track record of innovation across the business, and know that a steady stream of improvements brings transformational results when they are diligently executed. Our continuous improvement projects eliminate waste from our processes, improve performance and generate significant savings – in areas from procurement to processing.

Building on solid foundations and expertise in these areas, we are ‘transforming’ our business transformation activities and priorities. This involves refining and developing our business transformation strategy to maximise its contribution to our business strategy and the needs of our customers.

As SUEZ Group CEO and Chair, Sabrina Soussan, recently emphasised at our SUEZ Group 2023 Innovation Conference, customers are our co-creators of innovation. More than 200 customers and employees from more than 20 countries from across the SUEZ Group attended our Paris event and learned about the innovation taking place now, and planned for the future, that differentiates us in both the recycling & resources and water markets.


Investing in innovation

Our parent is increasing investment in R&D by 50% by 2027. Within that budget, the strategy increases the emphasis on the recycling and recovery side of the business, doubling the amount allocated to innovation in its products and decarbonisation solutions. To accelerate this progress, the group has set up pathfinding projects to harness technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). They aim, for example, to detect water leaks and identify micro-pollutants, but also to optimise the sorting of waste materials and processes used in recovering energy.

In the UK, the innovation projects we are spearheading reflect the group’s priorities for circular solutions that preserve resources; generate green, local and secure energy; and help customers and society adapt to the climate crisis. Our people are closely involved in nationally significant initiatives to recycle the composite blades of wind turbines; capture and store carbon emissions from energy-from-waste; and collect and recycle flexible plastics.

Innovation is alive and thriving within the business, spurred on by continuous improvement projects and the business transformation team. SUEZ doesn’t just help customers minimise and often eliminate waste materials, we also tackle the ‘8 types of waste’ identified by lean theory that erode the efficiency of any business, including ours. Small groups at our UK conference explored how to identify and eliminate these wastes related to: transportation, inventory, movement, waiting, overproduction, overprocessing, defects and skills – in a specially designed board game created by internal experts from our Business Transformation and Learning and Development Teams with the support of Communications.


Voice of the customer

Another section of the day was devoted to the ‘voice of the customer’ which last year we used to redefine the company’s strategic goals for our people, planet and profit (as part of our triple bottom line approach).

A keen understanding of our customers’ needs and priorities is essential for improving our services and growing our business. Our UK CEO John Scanlon emphasised at our Continuous Improvement Conference that ‘customer intimacy’ – like innovation – is another differentiator for SUEZ. And both help us create more value for our customers and become the trusted provider of circular solutions.

We challenge our people at all levels of the organisation to be the champions of continuous improvement – in terms of personal and professional development as well as increasing the effectiveness of the business.

Such proactive and constant problem-solving is challenging, but it’s also empowering. Any and every employee can help transform how we do things and hence, the business. I urge everyone to ‘be bold’, ‘break down boundaries’ and ‘believe’. Regarding the latter, I ask that they believe in themselves –that they have a valuable contribution to make, that they hold the answers to persistent problems, and that they are our champions of change.

Eliminating waste – whether it’s material resources, carbon emissions or those eight types of waste – is not child’s play, even when scoring points in our bespoke board game. But we can learn from the curious and open mind of developing children by asking ‘why’ more often and coming up with new answers to the persistent or emerging problems facing our customers, business and the world.