Articles

Addressing An Underground Failure To Communicate

September 18, 2019 - By Stefaan van den Heever, Associate, Bachelor of Science in Business Administration; Professional Certified Coach (International Coach Federation)

In an underground mining operation, a section engineering manager with underground managers reporting to him, made a few Legitimate Leadership changes which resulted in machine availability rates rising by 9% in a few months.

The problem was that there was no communication at shift hand-over between underground managers about machine breakages, problems, etc. Managers would routinely go home from their shifts without having communicated at all to the next shift. Because they were underground where there was no signal, they could not even communicate by radio.

In other words, there were silos between different shifts.

This resulted in shift information being lost and, more importantly, in machine breakages being carried over from one shift to the next. It often took a long time for an engineer to diagnose the reason for a machine fault, but then this information was not handed over at the end of the shift. This often resulted in machines standing unrepaired for days.

To address the problem, the section engineering manager called his team together. He told them that they were giving the company their time, but not making a quality contribution. “Are you here just to get a pay cheque or to be participative and to make a value-adding contribution?” he asked.

In other words, he challenged his managers on their intent and their attitude.

He also clarified his managers’ contribution in this regard and required a new standard. This standard was that they would, before leaving the site at the end of a shift, communicate with the next shift regarding the nature of any breakdown or problem; their assessment of it; what they had done about it; and what they recommended the next steps should be.

The section engineering manager also made some changes in his team, reassigning people to roles where he thought they could contribute – instead of writing them off.

After a few months, the section engineering manager reported that there was continuity between shifts and that communication was consistent.

He then took a further step: he empowered his managers to decide which machines to give priority – which would need to be fixed on a particular day, rather than other ones. This added an element of planning and prioritisation to their duties.

Before these changes, machine availability in the section averaged 74%. Following the changes, machine availability rose to 83% on a skeleton staff (there had been a number of personnel departures, for other reasons). This was a rise of 9% in machine availability.

These actions took place during a Legitimate Leadership intervention. The section engineering manager used the Legitimate Leadership framework particularly in questioning the basic intent of the employees as well as their contribution; then clarifying contribution; and signalling that he would be holding his managers to account.

All this resulted in a new standard being set about shift hand-overs for managers.

Stefaan van den Heever
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