In Search of Excellence – Introduction – Part 4
It’s now Part 4 and the final article on the introduction to “In Search of Excellence”. I have tried to give you enough information for you to be able to understand that Excellence is as much about the process, as it is about the outcomes. And that Excellence is about constantly searching for opportunity to do things in a better way. And the best time to start is now.
Previous articles on the introduction to “In Search of Excellence” (Part 1), (Part 2) and (Part 3) all gave my definition of culture: “The way things are done around here. It’s who we are, it’s what we believe, it’s what we stand for and at the end of the day, it’s the way we operate.” And in summary, parts 1, 2 and 3 showed examples of a culture of Excellence at the Explorer level, at the Feasibility Study Developer level and at the Commissioning Manager level, so let’s look at a culture of Excellence at the Board level.
Situation Four: Chairman. How do you progress from Junior Explorer through Feasibility, through commissioning and operations, trying to ensure that a culture of excellence is being developed and maintained?
Excellence as a strategy at Board level is not a common one. Most strategy is set around budgets, operating costs, legal compliance and other more governance type issues. But excellence? Should it even be a Board issue to strategize about? Well, I for one believe that a Board should be looking to differentiate itself from the pack. It should be at the forefront of governance issues, be they now or into the future. Why? I have spent many years in the resources area and have seen a progressive and possibly accelerating trend towards resources companies losing their social licence. Their respect and trust from investors, regulators and general public. We cannot keep doing what we have always done. We must use all tools available. And Excellence can be one of those tools. Since “Excellence” per se is not a common strategy let’s look at what processes should a Board be focussing on so that a culture of Excellence can be created and maintained.
For an exploration company, or any mineral resource focussed company your most valuable asset is? Well, it is obviously the ground you have and also the resources in the ground, but is it an asset if the data is faulty, or if the access to the data is problematic? How can you be sure of the quality of the data and any future data to be added? Can you simply trust the “declaration” by the competent person who manages the exploration process and the associated analysis and data inclusion into the data base of exploration data? Well, most Boards do. And they do so with considerable risk. Let’s look at the financial data a company generates in comparison. It is governed by a risk committee independent of management and overseen by an independent audit process. Why? Because the stock market regulator says this level of governance over financial affairs is needed to provide assurance to the market and the company’s stakeholders. Fine! But wouldn’t a higher level of governance over the resource data be also of importance to the governance standards provided by the Board? I would have thought so. But what does enhanced governance of the resource data look like? Just imagine processes developed to assess the effectiveness of each stage of the exploration process, the sampling process, the analysis process and the data transfer and interpretation processes. And with these processes comes a transparency, a governance process that can be understood by the Board and can be acknowledged by the stakeholders. And managed by the risk committee if you wish. Now that’s a move towards Excellence.
And there’s also the governance of safety and environmental performance. Now I’m not looking here at the issue of legal compliance. I’m looking at Safety and Environmental performance as a differentiator across the resources sector. An aside. I was once tasked with a hypothetical planning exercise to mine inside a National Park. I was asked to think about how this could occur; what factors would need to be thought about; and what time frames are involved. There are many issues that I won’t go into here but of prime importance to the decision process by the owner of the resource (and the National Park) was the Safety and Environmental credentials of the exploration company. These credentials would need to be way past legal compliance. Probably out past best-in-class. You would need to be seen and acknowledged as the exploration company that no-one would question was the best company out there to do the exploration work inside that National Park. You would be seen as the Excellence leader! So how do you get there? By the Board totally committing to best practice in everything Safety and Environment. And all the other factors that have to be considered.
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Now what about in the Design and Operations phases. What additional strategy will the Board be introducing to ensure that Excellence is being nurtured? Well, it’s not so much additional strategy here because enabling Excellence is very much a management issue. It’s what does the Board do about the issue. Simple – be seen to be involved. Act as leaders in the Safety program, or the Environmental program or the Quality program. Be seen. But do not take over the role of the CEO or the General Managers who have very important roles to play. I once designed a program where each Board member was trained in an area of importance re the Excellence strategy. Be that Data governance, safety, environment, customer relationships, quality and many other possible areas. They were then assigned a simple task. Be seen and talk about the importance of Excellence on each and every trip to the field or plant or customer premise. That way everyone can see the importance of the Excellence program. From the leadership of the Board, through the enactment by management, through the improvement teams to the shop floor.
Developing a culture that strives for Excellence. It takes work and dedication. But just think that in 20 years or so when more of the poor performers have been weeded out from our industry, that you may still be there. Developing new resources and shining the light for our industry.
Stay safe and well.
Mr Mackowski is a qualified engineer in mineral processing with over 30 years technical and operational experience in rare earths, uranium, industrial minerals, nickel, kaolin ... <Read more about Steve Mackowski>