There seems to be a misperception that, if South Africa mechanises and/or digitalises its mines, all the country’s problems will disappear, says business management consultant company OIM Consulting.
But this is not the case, states OIM Consulting MD Arjen de Bruin, whose company has been acknowledged by gold mining major Gold Fields for the significant role it played in South Deep’s turnaround following “a remarkable improvement in most production metrics during 2019”, resulting in a net profit of more than R104-million.
South Deep had struggled to achieve a sustainable profit since Gold Fields took ownership in 2006, despite significant investment. A failure to meet production expectations was forcing downward revisions in its yearly projections while operating costs continued to climb.
Gold Fields’ shift from conventional to mechanised mining was extremely challenging, with enormous obstacles that needed to be overcome.
“In our experience, these challenges are a fairly common occurrence when mines change their operating model. In addition, all stakeholders needed to be aligned with and focused on the new strategy – again, another common factor with any change in management,” says De Bruin.
At the time of OIM’s being onboarded in 2019, South Deep needed to resolve several issues, including union-management conflicts, which were contributing to lower productivity.
“Prior to working with Gold Fields, we worked with several mechanised openpit mines. South Deep was our first underground mine experience but the same challenges experienced at South Deep are experienced across the entire local mining environment.
“We see a disengaged workforce, no shared purpose, poor supervisory capabilities and siloed thinking, which all result in substandard efficiencies.”
When implementing its programme, OIM’s biggest challenge was “moving a few thousand people in the same direction after years of struggle”, says De Bruin.
“Our first priority was to get everyone aligned to the ‘new’ South Deep. Changing mindsets was the most critical thing we needed to do. Yet, translating this on the floor meant a deep coaching focus on the new way of working with frontline operational leaders daily.”
He adds that this provided the skills sets needed to effectively plan and execute their tasks.
Many ‘tools’ were in place at South Deep, including daily meetings, visual management and shift management books, but with varying levels of effectiveness.
“No effective cross-functional meeting was held, creating a disjointed view of daily operations,” says De Bruin, noting that South Deep needed a strong partner to execute and integrate “all the moving parts”.
OIM’s strategy involves creating a winning culture and integrating it into a company’s operations, allowing for effective operations through daily face-to-face coaching of frontline leaders (equating to 80% of its effort), coaching senior leaders and aligning all operations through establishing a daily war room to ensure smooth production.
“Training leaders to ensure that these new practices and behaviours become entrenched in their workforce was critical,” says De Bruin.
A two-pronged approach was adopted, whereby all direct managers were coached to become coaches and the business improvement team was involved in the implementation.
“This enables the organisation to continue its upward trajectory after our exit. The sustained success of this approach would not have been possible without the complete commitment and adoption of the programme by the mine’s leadership team and workers,” he highlights.
With the South African gold industry experiencing tough operating conditions, especially as costs, such as fuel, continue to rise, the biggest shift of OIM’s programme at South Deep was to ensure that all workers were focused on the mine’s success.
“This mindset change has ensured that every individual now understands how unnecessary costs and their effectiveness impact on or benefit them. During our culture workshops, we demonstrated how global and local events impact on the business.”
With this insight, it was easier to drive success by ensuring that everyone understood their role in working towards a common goal. A strategic alignment map was designed so that every person knew how their actions contributed to the overall strategy.