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Coal, Cost and Culture: Management Strategies for Improving Mine Performance

Oilfield Technology,

When you schedule a meeting, you usually invite key stakeholders – the people that need to be there the most or the people you include as a courtesy because you know they want to be involved. If you ask the attendees to participate in a new process or follow through on an action item, you hope they have similar priorities so that critical dates are met. But, what if the attendees say nothing when asked to participate and you assume that because they did not object, they must agree? Even worse, what if they verbalise their agreement to participate and fail to follow through?

A failure to act or communicate one’s true intent are both indicators of corporate culture. When managers or employees believe that they have the right to set an expectation that they will participate or follow-through but choose later to not comply:

  • Millions of additional dollars are being spent that could have been saved.
  • Avoidable productivity losses reduce the production you could be reporting.
  • In addition to the hard dollar costs associated with these behaviours, they become hidden barriers to change that will sabotage every improvement effort, regardless of the investment in consultants or dedication of resources.

Mining companies spend millions of dollars procuring the right equipment and facilities in order to maximise production and minimise cost. Projected ROIs are based on design capacity and assumptions about manpower, equipment availability and cost. Systems are installed to track equipment performance and manage business processes. People operate/oversee the operation of equipment and support production. One factor that is NEVER included in feasibility studies, mine plans, budgets, and forecasts is the financial impact of people failing to co-operate with each other to reach a goal.

There is something fascinating about giving people the responsibility for millions of dollars in assets. Senior managers hold people accountable for equipment performance and bottom line results. If a plant has an unexpected breakdown, managers immediately want to know how to prevent a similar event in the future. Managers set and communicate production goals and targets for unit costs. If they fail to meet those targets month after month, they lose credibility and could ultimately be replaced.

There often are no consequences if those same managers choose to not follow procedures, not co-operate with other departments, or make promises to their peers or employees that they do not intend to keep. In fact, these actions may fall into the realm of ‘management discretion’ and may be accepted as ‘part of the culture’ or ‘just the way we work here’. Financial losses are seldom associated with these choices, even though equipment cannot meet production goals, quality of work is poor, each day is filled with surprises, and employee turnover is high, all contributing to higher costs and low morale.

Changing this kind of work environment takes courage and dedication. Awareness must be raised about the cost of uncooperative behaviours. Power must be shifted from those who undermine co-operation. This shift must be made consciously by the offenders as part of the change process. Once power is realigned to facilitate co-operation and honest communications, a strong foundation can be formed for process improvement. Attempting process improvement without this foundation will make change nearly impossible.

Thought for the month:

If the cost of choosing not to co-operate or follow through was calculated and reported, new expectations would be set for every decision manager and employee on the day they were hired. Management effectiveness would be measured in a different way.

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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