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Transforming Mining Culture: Navigating Accessibility and Cultural Barriers

June 10, 2024

The mining industry has long been a vital component of the global economy, providing the raw materials that power our modern world. However, as with any industry, the mining sector faces its own unique set of challenges when it comes to improving organisational culture and ensuring the safety and well-being of its workforce.

One of the most significant challenges faced by leadership consultants working in the mining industry is accessibility. As Mark Stephen, an experienced consultant within the field, points out, getting access to the people working underground can be a major pain point. According to a study by the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME), limited access to underground workings is one of the top challenges faced by safety professionals in the mining industry (Brnich et al., 2017). This lack of accessibility underground can make it difficult for consultants to engage with the workforce and support the necessary changes to improve organisational culture.

Another challenge that consultants face is the cultural barriers that exist within the mining industry. In South Africa, for example, these barriers can be related to National culture as well as Organisational culture and language. Research has shown that cultural differences, including language barriers and perceptions of authority, can significantly impact the effectiveness of safety training and communication in the mining industry (Masia & Pienaar, 2011). When workers see a consultant from out with the sector travelling from overseas, they may put up barriers because they feel like they are being policed. Overcoming these cultural barriers requires consultants to engage openly with the workforce, develop an environment of psychological safety, and demonstrate that they are there to enable and support, not to spy or police.

Language can also be a significant barrier in the mining industry. In some South African mines, there are 11 languages spoken underground. To overcome this challenge, consultants may need to work with local talent who can act as translators and help build credibility with the workforce.

Despite these challenges, leadership consultants can make a significant impact in the mining industry by focusing on changing behaviours and mindsets rather than simply forcing production or cutting corners. As Stephen explains, production is crucial, but meeting targets should not come at the expense of safety. Instead of cutting corners, consultants should focus on changing behaviour and mindsets to create a safer, more productive work environment.

By helping mining organisations to become purpose-led, values-driven, and high-performing, consultants can bridge the gap between "work as imagined" and "work as done." This means ensuring that the processes, procedures, and systems that are in place on paper are actually being followed in practice by the workforce.

To achieve this, consultants need to bring a different perspective to the industry. Rather than simply relying on a background in safety or mining, consultants who are skilled in dealing with cultural differences, behavioural change, and values-driven leadership can make a real difference. Seeing your people as the solution to improved performance and not the problem that needs to be micromanaged is fundamental to unlocking innovation, the best ideas, and to using the client’s domain knowledge and culture as its competitive advantage.  Mark Stephen emphasises that the strength of their consultants lies in their ability to work in parallel with the teams on the ground, discovering together what needs to be done to improve organisational culture.

In conclusion, transforming organisational culture in the mining industry is no easy task. Leadership consultants face significant challenges in terms of accessibility, cultural barriers, and language. However, by focusing on building trust, influencing mindsets and changing behaviours while, building credibility with the workforce, and bringing a fresh perspective to the industry, consultants can help mining organisations to become safer, more productive, and more values driven. As the industry continues to evolve, the role of leadership consultants in driving positive change will only become more important.

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- Brnich, M. J., Mallett, L., Vaught, C., & Peters, R. H. (2017). Challenges in improving self-escape in underground coal mines. Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration.

- Masia, U., & Pienaar, J. (2011). Unravelling safety compliance in the mining industry: examining the role of work stress, job insecurity, satisfaction and commitment as antecedents. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, 37(1), 1-10.

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