Who the company are

Rabobank is a full range international financial services provider which operates on the basis of cooperative principles. Its origins lie in local loan cooperatives founded in the Netherlands over 115 years ago by enterprising individuals who had no access to the capital market.

Rabobank was established in Ireland in August 1994. Rabobank Dublin is a branch of Coöperatieve Rabobank U.A and whose primary activities are in wholesale banking. Rabobank Dublin’s wholesale offering consists primarily of Corporate Banking, Global Client Solutions and Asset Based Finance. As with the rest of the organisation, it focuses primarily on food and agribusiness.

The wholesale side of the business also includes the European Service Centre Dublin (ESC) which provides Operations, Finance and IT services to seven Rabobank offices throughout Europe. The ESC was the subject of this project.


The ESC has had a Continuous Improvement (CI) programme in place since 2011. Along with a significant focus on service management, the CI programme has been responsible for considerable improvements in service quality and customer satisfaction in the intervening period

Company Name
Cooperatieve Rabobank UA (Rabobank Dublin)


George’s Dock House, 2 George’s Dock, IFSC, Dublin 1 D01 H2T6, Ireland




SA Partners

LeanPlus Project Objectives

In the spirit of continuously improving our CI, the ESC embarked on a Shingo-focussed programme of work in early 2017. The overall aim of this programme is to work towards Enterprise Excellence – that is, sustainably excellent business results that are underpinned by great, principles-led behaviours. This work has been led from within the ESC and supported by external consultants, SA Partners.


The stated objective of the project was, “To support the Rabobank European Service Centre Dublin in the next stage of their operational excellence journey by bringing the systems and thinking within the ESC to a point where they are recognized by Shingo Enterprise Excellence”.


For this first project, more detailed objectives included:

  • Introducing and familiarising management with the Shingo model (including running Shingo ‘Discover Excellence’ training)
  • Conducting an external benchmark (PROBE) and an internal assessment of current CI systems and practices against the Shingo model
  • Improvement of key systems of work and the system of improvement

Identification of a set of Ideal behaviours, and improving leaders’ skills and behaviours through coaching so that they can effectively support and improve the systems of work

Key Challenges

Some challenges were encountered during this project, but these were relatively minor. Management Team support for the project was consistent, positive, and visible, which significantly helped to overcome any challenges faced.


One challenge encountered was some resistance to change and improvement for familiar CI tools / elements (such as stand-ups and visual management). Possibly because the ESC had been using some CI tools and techniques for several years, some staff found it hard to envisage a different approach to their use, and the concept that a standard approach (i.e. standard visual management content and meeting agendas) was a good idea. This was overcome through the involvement of many influential members of staff, including departmental CI ‘Champions’ in the working group on Visual Management.


A key challenge during the project was working with the Extended Management Team to help them introduce a coaching style of leadership. For some MT members, this was not a natural or familiar style, and learning the ‘hard’ skills (and then applying them with staff who were unused to this approach) formed a learning curve for all. However, all of the EMT were very open to the concept of a coaching style and were very open to feedback from peers and consultants.


A challenge for the overall LeanPlus Champion was also to move from a fairly directive style of CI leadership to a coaching one. While the LeanPlus Champion is the local Subject Matter Expert on technical CI tools and techniques, this project required a significant element of behavioural and leadership style change, and the Champion also faced a challenge in learning about using a coaching style to lead. She was supported in this by the consultants and, as part of a longer-term commitment, has committed to completing a coaching qualification to improve her workplace coaching skills.

Key Changes

Following the Discover Excellence workshop, 5 key focus areas were chosen and each was run as a ‘workstream’, led by a member of the ESC Management Team. Volunteers from the ESC were sought for the workstreams; in total, 25 members of the ESC (around 38% of the ESC population) were actively involved in the workstreams in for the project. The workstreams were:


  1. Strategy Deployment
  2. Visual Management and Daily Stand-ups
  3. Ideal Behaviours
  4. Leadership Development
  5. Shingo Communications




  1. Strategy Deployment

We identified at the outset of this programme that there were inconsistencies in the ESC and department-level strategies and objectives for 2017, which had a knock-on impact on our ability to clearly prioritise and measure key activities, and manage these effectively through visual management.  A consistent approach to strategy design and deployment was developed and deployed for 2018, which included a clear set of Critical Success Factors (CSFs), creation of a very visual ‘House of Measures’ that clearly depicts monthly results and performance for the each department and the ESC as a whole, and a comprehensive alignment and communication process which included full integration into our visual management system. These improvements ensured staff understood the CSFs and were able to easily align their own roles and objectives  – and their team’s targets and results – with the ESC strategy. The House of Measures received a lot of positive feedback and has been a very useful, visual reference point for our performance and progress during 2018.


  1. Visual Management and daily stand-ups

Our visual management system (incorporating daily stand-ups) was comprehensively overhauled during 2017 and early 2018. This involved upskilling of managers and team members in facilitation, re-examining the role and structure of a stand-up to ensure it drove results, redesigning visual management ensuring clear alignment to strategy and objectives, and creating supportive structures such as Management Team Gemba (‘go look see’) walks to support the process. Clear improvements in both staff engagement and the quality of the stand-ups followed these changes, and key business metrics (such as quality measures) have improved due to the focus, on a daily basis, on leading indicators rather than lagging ones.


  1. Ideal behaviours

A set of Ideal behaviours, consistent both with the 10 Shingo Principles and Rabobank Group’s core values, were developed by staff during 2017 and socialised using a novel approach (for the ESC) – World Café conversations. The behaviours were well received; all ESC teams now self-assess against the behaviours on a regular basis and aim to take action where they feel improvements are needed. A number of positive benefits have been observed, including improved adherence to deadlines, a clearer and more consistent focus on implementing preventative as well as corrective actions, and an increase in the use of feedback (positive and constructive) to improve working relationships at all levels in the ESC.


  1. Leadership Development

Training and support was given to the extended Management team (EMT) to help them drive and support the improvements to the systems. Leader Standard Work (a set of standard habits for leaders that encompasses coaching and root cause problem solving, amongst other elements) was launched, and practical coaching and facilitation training was provided. The Management Team now run their own daily stand-up, as well as coaching individuals and teams on the systems implemented. There is clear evidence of the EMT using coaching techniques more effectively and staff have noticed and welcomed this change.


  1. Shingo communications

A number of new two-way communications tools and techniques were researched and trialled as part of the programme in 2017, resulting in the development of a communications toolkit and a team of communications champions across the ESC. The tools (particularly World café conversations) were very well received by staff. In an internal staff survey in September 2017, 94% of respondents agreed that communications had improved in the ESC in the previous 6 months.


Ultimately, the aim of any Enterprise Excellence programme is to have a sustainably positive impact on business results, as measured through key business metrics. It was recognised in the ESC early in 2017 that we needed to focus initially on strengthening our core management and improvement systems themselves, and most of the effort to date (from a formal Shingo programme perspective) has gone into achieving this goal, through the 5 workstreams.

That said, it is clear that the impact of the Shingo programme is being felt throughout the business as it manages the core work. The expected deliverables have been met and this is outlined below:


Increased Right First time Measure. Quality is a key metric for the ESC and there was a very strong focus on improving the quality of the outputs in 2017 and early 2018. The manner in which quality issues (e.g. errors) have been investigated and addressed has improved, with an increased focus on robust root cause analysis and implementing preventative actions. Equally, improvements in visual management (designed by team members) have helped to improve the general understanding and communication of quality issues, trends, and their root causes.  The core quality metric – our Right First Time Rate –  increased throughout the latter months of 2017, reaching our target level of 99.6%, and that increase was largely sustained through until the end of this project (April 2018). Additionally, the RFT target was increased in October 2017 (mid-way through this grant programme) from 99.0% to 99.6% – consistent with our approach to continuously challenge ourselves. It is believed that the increases in quality, as measured by the RFT rate, are at least in part due to the focus brought by the Shingo programme.


Increase in productivity and reduction in costs. The business model in the ESC is that staff costs are recharged to European branches of Rabobank; productivity gains tend to result in reduced recharges to branches, although in some cases the ESC has used capacity created to take on extra work at no additional charge to branches. In 2017, the ESC achieved an 8% decrease in the service management fee to the branches we support. Productivity gains from our CI programme contributed to these results; more than 180 staff-generated improvement ideas were implemented in 2017, freeing up more than 240 hours per month of time across the ESC. From January to April 2018, a further 73 improvement ideas were implemented, freeing up a further 156 hours per month.


A number of other clear benefits have emerged from the work done to date in this programme. These include:


Branch customer satisfaction ratings. These ratings (measured monthly) have trended steadily upward for several months since mid-2017. Up until December 2017, this rating had always been based purely on customer sentiment – that is, asking our customers, on a monthly basis, for a rating from 1 to 10. Over time, we observed that the ratings given by different branches were inconsistent, even when the level of service / quality was equivalent. Consistent with our ideal behaviour on making fact-based decisions, we redesigned our customer satisfaction rating system for 2018. For this new system, customer sentiment is still collected, and contributes 50% of an overall satisfaction score. The remaining 50% comes from objective measures of performance (i.e. Right First Time, levels of IT system availability, etc). This recalculation has allowed us to look more objectively at our performance and continually improve the dialogue with our customers (branches of Rabobank) to improve our service.

When we put this new system in place in January 2018, we achieved an overall rating of 8.7, which exceeded our target of 7.75 and is the highest rating ever achieved. We continued to stay above our target for the remainder of period of this grant (end April 2018). This sustained increase in satisfaction is attributable to the improvements in quality, issue resolution and communication that have been driven by the Shingo programme.


4.  Staff satisfaction and empowerment. A staff survey that was carried out in late Q3 2017 provided a good snapshot of the current ‘temperature’ in the ESC, and the results were overwhelmingly positive – there was an overall staff satisfaction rate of 85%. Absence and attrition rates in the ESC remained low in 2017 and early 2018, and compared favourably to industry averages. Additionally, an increasing sense of empowerment of staff was observed across all teams – there was (and continues to be) clear evidence of team members taking more initiative (for example, proactively tackling larger business problems, and volunteering to facilitate stand-ups) and becoming more involved in the design and implementation of our CI systems. Staff at all levels are now more open to receiving and giving positive recognition and constructive feedback and many have commented on the positive effect the Shingo programme has had on their day to day work and sense of engagement.


“The strategy of pursuing enterprise Excellence using the Shingo model has led to improvement across the board in the ESC. Building on the solid foundations put down in previous years, we now have a high performance culture which shows significant improvement in communications, engagement and results delivery. Within Rabobank Group, the ESC is recognised for the quality of its service, expertise in key areas such as Service Management and Continuous Improvement and the positive attitude and engagement of staff. We are committed to continuing this journey as we improve our services in Ireland and support the transformation of Operations practices across Rabobank globally”

Maurice Chadwick, Chief Operations Officer, Rabobank Dublin


“It is a great credit to Maurice and Nuala that they have led the CI programme at Rabobank Dublin through a difficult period of change and uncertainty within the wider Rabobank network.  The focus on behavioural and core systems has resulted in the development of structures and a culture that will be the basis for ongoing improvement.  The work done to date has been noticed by the wider Rabobank network and we would expect the Dublin site to become the benchmark for sustainable CI culture within Rabobank.” 

John Quirke Director & Partner, S A Partners