Yet in 2019, the first green shoots of change started to emerge. And despite operating well below its full labour complement following the pandemic-triggered national lockdown in March 2020, South Deep continued to show progress on most of its operational measures that following year as well.
The metrics reflected a deep operational transformation. The mine saw a 41% increase in gold pro-duction in H1 2019 versus H2 2019; 30% increase to 26.7 tonnes per employee in 2019, up from 20.5 tonnes per employee in 2018; and a climb in development and destress from 39m/rig per month in 2018 to 60m/rig per month in 2019.
All of this contributed to turning the net loss made in 2018 into a net profit of over R104 million in 2019 – the first time in years that South Deep was able to show a positive bottom line.
At the time, Gold Fields attributed this sharp uptick to a broader cultural and capability alignment process, crediting OIM Consulting – specialists in building front-line leader capability – as having played a significant role in its drastic about-turn.
Said Executive Vice President at Gold Fields Martin Preece at the time, “We’ve seen a remarkable improvement in most production metrics during 2019, resulting from a culmination of initiatives centred around our people, including organisational culture, processes, systems and technical im-provements; a process supported by OIM.”
More revealing is that these changes are not of the fly-by-night variety: after two years these figures continue to improve, if Gold Fields 2021 results are anything to go by.
While 2019 had seen an initial huge jump in tonnes per rig/employee/month (from 6708 in 2018 to 11966 in 2019), this improvement continued in 2020 with a further 8% increase, and again in 2021 with an 11% increase (14 345).
The annual amount of gold produced had initially climbed by almost 33% from 2018 to 2019, yet this positive upswing continued in the years that followed. A further 3% improvement was recorded in 2020, followed by another big jump in 2021 (28%).
Development and destress was yet another area where encouraging productivity trends continued. Between 2019 to 2020 there was a 20% increase in rigs per month, while 2021 saw a further 18% growth.
Since 2019, the free cash flow of the mine has also remained positive and steadily continued to im-prove, with a whopping 549% increase recorded in 2021.
Arjen de Bruin, Managing Director at OIM Consulting, says that there is no silver bullet to boosting performance, but rather continuous application of core principles. After our programme’s initial im-plementation and roll-out, Gold Fields “adopted it and made it their ‘business as usual’; integrating these principles into the very DNA and fabric of their organisation.