Boosting operational productivity

5th October 2023


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It starts and ends with your first line of defence: your supervisors

By Arjen de Bruin, Managing Director at OIM Consulting

Optimal productivity is not always easy to quantify, and the yardstick differs from industry to industry. In a mining environment, ‘productivity’ tends to be too soft a term – we prefer hard metrics and generally look at two things to measure how efficient a mine is: availability and utilisation.

Our ongoing fight is to improve availability and utilisation, specifically in mechanised mines. If our plant is operating on 60% availability, how do we increase that to 75% - 85% (outside of maintenance shutdowns)? And if we have a delivery vehicle that is available for 80% of the time but is only utilised for 20% of that window, how do we make it more productive? How can we dig out more? How do we make it cost less?

But we do need to consider the softer side, otherwise, we will never deliver on these tangible targets. If we push people too hard, we create burnout, fatigue and stress. If we don’t push hard enough, we start to see complacency rear its head, which, in turn, presents a safety risk. These are all things that compromise our productivity and ultimately our bottom line.

If we want to find the sweet spot, we need to look first at our supervisors. If we want to improve productivity, we need to build their competency, because they’re our first line of defence.  They’re the person who makes everything happen – in effect, the team doesn’t move if the supervisor doesn’t move.

Understanding the supervisor

There are a few things we need to understand about the supervisor. Firstly, a lack of productivity doesn’t mean supervisors are lazy. Rather, we’ve found that supervisors are in a perpetual fire-fighting mode; they enjoy it and feel like they have achieved something. But the issue with this reactive approach is that the focus is on putting out the fires; not on avoiding them in the first place. 

At OIM Consulting we specialise in capacitating supervisors within the mining sector; we have worked with thousands of supervisors over the past decade. At every site we visit, we review operations and identify areas that are negatively impacting output. What we find time and again, is that lack of supervisory performance is the theme with the highest percentage of concern.

We’ve found that at a baseline, only 17% of supervisors have the required competencies for their job and that 91% of them have an unstructured approach to their work. Only around half (42%) of supervisors execute their daily tasks effectively, 40% of supervisors don’t enable their teams well, and 70 - 87% of managers have low confidence in their supervisors’ abilities to plan, execute and review their functions.

Drilling down into these issues, we’ve found that planning & organising, leading & developing teams, along with analysis & problem-solving are the worst competencies. These are all evidenced in this fire-fighter modus operandi.

Where to start? We say to our supervisors: “Come along with us on a journey, and it’s a coaching journey.” We coach on the job, underground, in the pit, on the plant. We show supervisors that if they plan their day better; if they analyse data, and solve problems and obstacles effectively; if they hold more effective team meetings; if they use visual management; and if they engage the shift management books correctly – then they’ll be able to lead and develop their teams more effectively while ramping up productivity.

Coaching for consistent productivity

We do this through OIM’s Coaching to Performance™ model, which is essentially a framework that identifies certain key metrics and provides a yardstick for assessment.

We create a baseline for key capabilities, such as the competency of the individual. To this end, we conduct a developmental needs assessment of each supervisor to see where they are at. Secondly, we look at role execution. How do you execute your day? How mature are you in your approach to your role? And this provides us with a snapshot of their ability to execute. Thirdly, we look at the team targets; be it meters, amount hauled, trammed tons, blasts etc. There are various key performance indicators (KPIs), and these offer us a picture of the individual’s targets.

Once the baseline has been completed, we know 1) how competent is the individual, 2) how he/she executes tasks, and 3) what are the targets and whether they are consistently achieved.

Harnessing the power of the framework

This is followed by 3-5 days of focused training. We’ve moved away from death-by-PowerPoint, but still believe the classroom is a powerful learning environment. We perform two types of training: classroom and line-as-coach training. As part of our classroom sessions, we show supervisors how to manage themselves, manage others, and manage processes; teaching them how to be more effective in their work.

This is followed by safety training, where we gauge the individual risk propensity profile while providing tools to help supervisors develop a safety mindset. We also conduct line-as-coach training, equipping our supervisors’ direct managers to continue the operational coaching, so that the principles of the programme become embedded in the organisation long after we leave the mine.

This brings us to the main focus of the framework: extensive on-the-floor coaching and ongoing measurement. Along with direct managers, we co-create individual coaching plans for each supervisor and follow those plans throughout the 16 weeks of coaching while measuring progress. We monitor the improvement in operational KPIs, role execution, the efficacy of the operational tools we implemented, and the uptick in effectiveness at a site level, via a Benefits Realisation Model.

At the end of the intervention, we do a post-assessment on competency improvement and conduct an audit on the line-as-coach, to ensure that the ongoing coaching by direct managers is carried out correctly and consistently once the programme culminates.

Ultimately, our programme is rooted firmly in the people. By developing their competency, improving their confidence, and changing mindsets and behaviours, we can start to meet those hard targets and  improve productivity consistently. We’ve found that if you want to move the needle on your targets, you need to pay attention to what will move the needle inside your people’s heads and hearts.

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Edited by Creamer Media Reporter



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