Why creating a culture of engagement is essential to Mining 4.0
There is no doubt that the mining industry has been thrown into a massive and accelerated state of flux. It seems all of a sudden, we’ve jumped into the modern world of big data, IoT, system digitization, automation, remote work and the virtual and augmented technologies that make it more effective.
At the same time, our already complex systems are being challenged with growing demands and operating conditions: social and environmental performance expectations, climate change and net zero initiatives for emissions, energy, water and waste, combined with lower grades, greater deposit depths, and generally harder to find resources. Thrown on top of all of this, we have an aging workforce, with much of our collective experience and knowledge retiring from the sector, and the next generation with an extremely limited interest in mining. We really have our work cut out for us.
Luckily, we have started taking steps towards solving these grand challenges, opening the door and asking for help. Every day we hear more stories about engagement of digital experts from other sectors, testing of technology applied outside of mining, and even companies hosting challenges where we’re inviting anyone to bring forth their innovations and creative minds. It is all very exciting.
I’d like to suggest that the most positive movement we’ve initiated – diversity and inclusion – will be the most critical to our success in change. Thankfully, we have embarked on the inclusion of people of different genders and cultures, people working in different sectors and disciplines, including the non-technical realm, and also different generations. Because if we want a real chance to succeed in this rapidly changing world, to fill our workforce demands, and to create new types of roles within our sector, we need to open the doors to new thinking.
But the trick isn’t just opening the door. We need to draw new people in, show them how inviting, interesting and inclusive a space we have. We need to create a culture of engagement, and open and collaborative environments in which we can all contribute, to feel safe at work, to be able to share our ideas and be ourselves without risk. And we need to have the mechanisms and tools in place to support that collaborative, inclusive space.
A great barrier
In mining, unfortunately, we’re really great at creating silos and disengagement – with divided disciplines and specializations, separated business units, and also divisions in rank. People are doing their work, as directed, head down, and checking boxes to show when their work is complete, to demonstrate their productivity.
Generally speaking, we have existing barriers and divisions across any real different ways of thinking, and that is a really tough place to start. We won’t get very far if we can’t come to a common understanding of just what it is that we’re trying to do –
we need to “speak the same language.” And we can’t get on the same page and collaborate if no one is engaged, if no one cares, or if they don’t have the ability to influence anything.
The science: autonomy, relatedness and competence
Psychologically, there are three basic human needs that need to be met, if we ever want to increase motivation, engagement and collaboration. These are autonomy, relatedness, and competence. And what is perhaps most important, is that all three need to be met – without even one, the others will diminish.
Autonomy is… our need to perceive that we have choices, that what we are doing is of our own volition, and that they are the source of our own actions.
Relatedness is… our need for connection to the things we do, and to feel that we are contributing to something greater than ourselves, as well as connection to others without concerns of ulterior motives, our need to care about and be cared about by others.
Competence is… our need and ongoing pursuit of increasing knowledge, to feel effective at meeting everday challenges and opportunities, to demonstrate skill over time, and to feel a sense of growth and flourishing.
What is beneficial about this is that, as a leader, you can create environments for your team where all of these needs can be met. You don’t need to wait for some HR initiative or organizational management strategy to roll out or to gain more training to make some shifts.
If you’re struggling with engagement of your teams, getting people on the same page, or having them work effectively together, these are fundamental:
1. Create a safe space and means for your employees to raise questions, issues and/or improvement suggestions – even if those thoughts are submitted anonymously – and then respond honestly to each and every one of those.
2. Create forums or meetings for open dialogue – to discuss the bigger picture and gain a common understanding of what those goals or objectives really look like, and how each team and individual can contribute to them.
3. Ensure a means for everyone’s participation, including those introverts and quieter voices who are often never heard, on projects, on goal setting, on discussing issues and potential solutions.
4. Keep the dialogue positive, inquisitive – encourage listening when it’s not a person’s turn to speak, and questioning/exploring to understand those different views and ideas.
These can be extremely important, particularly when strategic direction or organizational structure is changing, when new personnel are introduced (particularly with new roles), when there are new initiatives or during major implementations of new technology, software, or operational processes. People are most uncertain during these times, and this openness and inclusiveness can help ease stresses for your people.
Put up a white board, fill a wall with poster paper, or post a virtual whiteboard that anyone can access. Provide loads of colourful, sticky notes and pens, (or provide instruction on how to do the same virtually) and leave it up for a week or two.
Pick a focus area for engagement. Invite people to comment on the things that drive them crazy, the things that hold up their work, the processes or actions they think need to change, the tasks that are redundant, or simply big questions or concerns about an initiative or pending change. You know, all those things you go home and complain about to your partner…
Make sure, of course, that there are clear rules in place and monitor the board to catch notes that break them. Leaving unprofessional comments up can cause frustration, even anger. After all, this is an anonymous wall and we’ve all heard of the broken window syndrome – we don’t want to go down that spiral!
A bit of engagement, and a bit of health and wellness, both tucked into an opportunity for making improvements, and perhaps some increased productivity?
On engagement, you’ve just opened a flood gate for people to have a voice in a secure way – it’s like gold! Most people, when they know it is anonymous, will come forth to speak up.
On wellness, this is a way for people to relieve a bit of stress, to get things off their chest. In my case, this has always made me feel better, and I’m sure it is for others. Haven’t you ever voiced something that has been on your mind for a while? It relieves that burden, and you feel like you can move on.
People with lower stress levels often tend to be more productive and thoughtful, so it does have some project and team benefits too.
On the process side, once complete, you have a whole list of things that you can start to dig into, for dialogue, or simply to make improvements. The more comments on similar themes, the higher priority these topics should receive.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of starting down this path is that all of these things will help you and your teams to start to build trust, and from trust comes more openness to discuss the bigger workplace issues or the complex challenges we need to address. So what are you waiting for?
Karen Chovan is the CEO and founder of Enviro Integration Strategies Inc. (www.envirointegration.com), chair of CIM Environmental and Social Responsibility Society, and an Edumine instructor (https://learn.edumine.com). EIS is focused on reducing risks and creating value in tailings and mine waste management and facilitating the integration of sustainable and circular practices into mining.