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Coal, Cost and Culture: Drop the Baggage to Improve Execution and Performance

World Coal,

Most mining companies face the same improvement challenges and barriers - departments that do not work well together, sabotage from within as some supervisors and employees found reasons to not support the program, department managers and superintendents that have different agendas or conflicting goals…we could go on.

All of these issues tear down trust within a management team. It takes months to build trust within a team and only a day to tear it down. Unresolved trust issues also interfere with the ability of supervisors to execute their duties consistently and work together effectively during a shift. Poor execution (i.e., follow-through) can affect several areas, including safety, planning, parts availability, training and communications.

Seniority is a double-edged sword. Supervisors that have worked at a site for many years have played a role in solving many problems. They can be a great resource when they have great attitudes that match their years of service. However, some supervisors carry grudges about unresolved conflicts with other supervisors from years past. These grudges become baggage to prevent process improvements from being implemented or sustained. Depending on the shift rotation schedule, the friction caused by this baggage can be so bad that being at work feels more like a soap opera than a mining operation. This “baggage” is a barrier to forming a strong team, so raising awareness about the damage that baggage can do to teamwork and culture is very important.

The same baggage also affects the ability of supervisors to make consistent choices - choices that would have prevented problems instead of creating them and choices made during a shift that help form the culture (good or bad, proactive or reactive). Inconsistency during even one shift can create many long-term problems with morale, management credibility, and maintenance and operating practices. Ramifications of choices made at “2:00pm on a Tuesday afternoon” can linger for months because crews and supervisors start to NOT trust each other. These choices and their associated accountabilities will determine what language and behaviors are acceptable and, conversely, when a line has been crossed.

When people understand the impact of their choices on the entire team’s success, it is easier to make better choices that intentionally create the culture desired. After conducting “baggage” training with a management team, I personally witnessed supervisors choosing to let go of the past and reach agreement so they could have a successful shift. The very next day they apologised to each other and found common ground to work as a team in the future. This choice took courage for both men and set a great example for other supervisors at the plant.

This session did not resolve all the problems at this operation, but it did make it OK to openly discuss everyone’s progress in letting go of the past so they could meet today’s and tomorrow’s performance goals. It also allowed them to make a giant leap towards a proactive culture, which was a long-term goal of their improvement program. Working with less conflict and confusion was a new experience for this team. In future weeks and months, they continued to reinforce their cultural foundation so they could sustain performance improvements.

Thought for the month:
When supervisors and superintendents make reactive choices about taking responsibility, communications, execution, and other supervisor responsibilities, the culture will be reactive. Making different choices and letting go of “baggage” will move the culture from reactive to proactive.

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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