According to De Bruin, there are a number of reasons these supervisors are not able to work efficiently. The most common is that employees with strong technical skills are promoted to the role of supervisor, but they are not able to work with people—they are used to drilling and blasting, for example. That is what they are good at. Unfortunately, they cannot lead. Another reason is that there is a massive skills shortage in the country. Someone may list on their CV that they have five years’ experience as a supervisor, but that does not mean he or she is good at it. But the mining companies need to plug their gaps, so they recruit these inefficient supervisors. “We always talk about two types of supervisors,” De Bruin explains. “Those who are willing but not able, so they want to do the job but they should never have been in that role. Then you have the able, but not willing—they have all the tools, they know what to do, but they’re just not willing. Those are the ones you need to have discussions with.”
Only about 20% of supervisors are competent, De Bruin reveals. “But when we coach them, we move them from 20% to 55% competent. We’re not saying we’re going to make every person competent, but if we can just get these guys to execute their day better, that makes a difference.” That is why OIM analyses role execution: “Most supervisors only effectively execute the day 51% of the time. Now we move the dial to 81% and we increase the competency. You can actually coach people to be effective. They don’t have to shoot the lights out; you only need to get them to do what they need to do effectively —and if they can lead their teams better, then that’s even better.”
So in 2018, OIM built a whole new framework from scratch, identifying the competencies needed by supervisors and developing training and coaching programmes. OIM Group was restructured and rebranded as OIM Consulting. Consultants coached the supervisors for 12 to 16 weeks and operational KPIs were measured to see where there had been improvements—both in individuals and in the organisation as a whole. It was a great success, but OIM did not think it would become such a sought-after service in the mining industry. Soon other organisations were approaching OIM Consulting for its supervisory programme, stating that they were also struggling with inefficient and ineffective supervisors who were not operating at the optimal standard.
“That was a game changer for us,” says De Bruin. “We picked up a lot of good clients such as Khumba and Gold Fields’ South Deep.” The latter had a history of 11 years of losses, so OIM left a team behind there in 2020 and helped turn the mine around (see sidebar). In 2021, Anglo American Platinum signed a four-year programme with OIM Consulting to coach all their supervisors throughout their operations.
Like many other sectors in South Africa, the mining industry was severely impacted by the national COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. In line with the measures announced by Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe on 25 March 2020, mining operations—particularly deep-level mining, which is generally considered labour-intensive —were scaled down significantly.
Gold Fields’ South Deep Mine, located on the West Rand, was placed on care and maintenance in April and, in compliance with government regulations, operated well below its full labour complement for the remainder of the lockdown period. Despite this, South Deep continued to show progress on most of its operational measures during the first half of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019, largely due to an organisational culture and capability alignment process.
Since acquiring South Deep in 2006, Gold Fields experienced a number of organisational challenges and setbacks, preventing it from operating as
a modern, bulk, mechanised and profitable mine. To address these challenges, Gold Fields embarked on a strategic transformation journey that included an organisational restructuring exercise, followed by a broader cultural and capability alignment process.
South Deep engaged OIM Consulting to support the cultural and operating aspects of the process. OIM Consulting’s four-pillared process is centred around what it considers to be the beating heart of any organisation: its front-line leaders. “Our process addresses cultural change, the identification and building of new capabilities, and performance assessment, management and improvement —with a pivotal focus on the supervisor as key to sustaining this improvement,” explains De Bruin.
The initial results at South Deep were extremely encouraging, with the mine reporting a profit at the end of the initial 12-month period. More revealingly were the metrics that demonstrated significant operational improvement: the mine saw a 41% increase in gold production when comparing H1 2019 with H2 2019. Its overall productivity in 2019 improved by 30% to 26.7 tonnes per employee, costed from 20.5 tonnes per employee in 2018. The overall efficiencies for development and destress improved to 60m/rig per month in 2019 from 39m/rig per month in 2018—all contributing in turning the net loss made in 2018 to a net profit of over R104 million in 2019. As De Bruin points out, “these results were achieved with approximately 30% less staff and equipment than the year before.”
De Bruin attributes the integration of culture, capabilities and practices as the foundation that underpins all operational improvements. “In order to improve output and efficiencies, one needs to start with changing mindsets, through developing appropriate and relevant skillsets and toolsets.”