Mining’s ongoing Culture Challenge and how it affects your output

By Arjen de Bruin, Managing Director at OIM Consulting

It was the late Peter Drucker – one of the most revered thinkers on management and leadership – who succinctly said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Drucker, who maintained that business leaders need to wholeheartedly embrace a spirit of performance, was a strong proponent of the link between organisational culture, leadership style and workplace productivity. And certainly, in our experience as a consultancy that specialises in front-line leader capability within the mining sector, the impact that leadership has on culture – and ultimately on output – becomes evident the minute you step foot inside a mine. 

This theory is reiterated and reinforced by countless human resource research studies. In the South African mining sector specifically, one paper on the impact of organisational culture on gold mining activities in the Free State region concluded that an organisation’s culture has a crucial impact on its overall performance. Culture determines which human behaviours will be reinforced, the extent to which people work positively or constructively together, and the way in which decisions are made. It also affects the manner in which an organisation processes information, the way it responds to external demands and constraints, and the motivation of its employees.”

It should come as no surprise that culture is largely driven by leadership, which filters down into just about every aspect of a company. Another study published by the South African Journal of Human Resource Management that looked at organisational culture, frontline supervisory engagement and accountability in a platinum mine determined one of the key drivers of employee engagement to be an environment where an employee has agency over the decisions he makes and takes accountability for these actions. “Employees who experience high levels of micromanagement exhibit active disengagement and an attitude of ‘I just do what I’m told, and it is not my fault if anything goes wrong.’

It goes on to state that “In South Africa, mining organisations are still very hierarchical, authoritative and autocratic, and as such, it is likely that employees, particularly supervision and frontline workers, experience micromanagement during their daily routines.”

In the mines we work with, we find that this autocratic leadership style that seems to go hand-in-hand with the sector breeds a state of fear, distrust, uncertainty and general inconsistency. This results in a ‘blaming’ mindset, where staff members avoid accountability for failure or error by shifting responsibility to another party. This leads to what we call a constant state of ‘fire-fighting’, where a significant portion of potentially productive hours is spent trying to resolve issues, rather than proactively preventing them from occurring in the first place.

So how do we solve what we call mining’s ‘Culture Challenge’ by teaching our leaders how to embrace and cultivate a culture that inspires trust, buy-in and supports productivity?

Ultimately, we can measure leadership by three things: output, productivity and employee engagement. OIM Consulting’s ’flywheel’ culture and leadership model is based on more than four decades worth of experience and study, while each spoke in the wheel is anchored in the ideals of inspiring trust and honouring people; foundational elements of elite performance.

The flywheel model itself is a five-step process that acts as a roadmap for organisations, with each step following the other in a logical progression, with a focus on strategy and direction; stakeholder alignment to create buy-in and clarity; leadership benchmark-setting; execution; and finally process excellence, which includes ongoing review and refinement.

Once results are achieved, we maintain that the next time is even simpler. In short, with each rotation around the flywheel, it gets easier to inspire trust, clarify purpose, create direction, drive alignment, build vitality, execute with excellence and produce extraordinary results – momentum built from that wheel-turning effect!

In conclusion, I always look to another famous Drucker quote, “Only three things happen naturally in organisations: friction, confusion and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.” In other words, we can expect that things will go wrong – but it is up to us as leaders to foster an environment that breeds excellence.