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Coal, Cost and Culture: Superintendents and their links to improvement

Oilfield Technology,

Mine and plant superintendents are 'caught in the middle'. Expectations from above put all the responsibility for equipment performance and cost control on their shoulders. Expectations from below (from supervisors and the workforce) make them accountable for training and development, plant management team effectiveness, operating and maintenance plans, safety of the people, etc. On top of all this responsibility comes the expectation that he or she will make things better than they were last year – fewer safety incidents, more tons, and lower costs.

Making things better can be a challenge, especially when day to day events make it difficult or impossible to achieve the daily plan. In the mining industry, we tend to look to our equipment to solve our problems when it comes to meeting improvement goals. We buy bigger equipment or equipment with a lower operating cost, rather than address behaviors that will negatively impact equipment performance, no matter what the up-front investment.

If equipment is in good condition and has the design capacity to meet production goals, then a superintendent’s chance to improve performance lies in understanding the root causes of the events that interrupt normal planned activities (almost always caused by behaviors that steal production and increase costs). HAVING THE COURAGE to address these issues may be the biggest barrier that superintendents face when starting down the improvement path.

If you are a superintendent, how many times have:

  • Poor communications within a crew caused a maintenance job to take longer than intended?
  • Your people done a good job planning for a maintenance job, only to have the warehouse not follow through when parts were supposed to be ordered?
  • Operations and maintenance supervisors not communicated properly about a job, making it start late because operations did not have adequate notice to prepare for the downtime?
  • Supervisors refused to work together well because of something that happened 5 years ago?
  • Communications been clear, but follow-through (i.e., actions taken after the course forward were communicated) went in a different direction?

Sometimes the barriers that prevent improvement unintentionally start with the superintendent. Do superintendents at your mine or plant:

  • Show no interest in working with other superintendents to “find common ground” to solve a problem or optimise production?
  • Set expectations for supervisors that cannot be met, given the information or training available to supervisors during their shift?
  • Point the finger at another department when a breakdown or other unplanned event occurs that may have been caused by his/her department?
  • Expect perfection and make their departments feel inadequate and “never good enough” because they cannot achieve such high goals?
  • Make assumptions about the causes of problems, rather than pursue the truth before taking action?
  • Ask supervisors to take no action on their own to solve a problem?
  • Think that improvement is everyone else’s job?

If a superintendent displays these any of these behaviors, he or she is creating a reactive culture in the mine or plant. Until these behaviors are seen as barriers to improvement by a superintendent AND until a superintendent chooses new behaviors that promote a proactive culture, other efforts to improve performance will have little or no impact on results.

Thought for the month:

Like it or not, A SUPERINTENDENT LEADS ALL IMPROVEMENT through the daily attitude, words and actions he/she uses as he works with his people. A plant culture cannot be changed from reactive to proactive without a superintendent first choosing to be the culture he/she wants.

Author: Kay Sever CMC, CQIA, Sustainable Improvement Consultant and Coach. Kay Sever is a leader in sustainable improvement for mines and plants. She combines 29 years of mining experience with a common sense approach to improvement that raises awareness about lost opportunity and hidden barriers that prevent improvement success.

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