Why I Go To Work Late Every Day

clockMy role involves managing department managers, each of whom have various staff and craft workers reporting to them.  It used to be that I would arrive at work promptly at 6 a.m. just like everyone else.  I was involved in meetings, being consulted and making decisions.  After a while though, I realized that this practice was counter-productive, inefficient and stifled creativity.

It turns out that if I’m there contributing to getting things going first thing in the morning, people have a tendency to focus on what I do rather than on the (possibly more important) things that they would be if I weren’t present.  Its disruptive for getting crews lined out and for supervisors, staff and department heads to plan their day.  In my presence, employees also tend to alter their tone and are less willing to have honest, raw discussion about problems and solutions than when I am absent.  Why?  Because everyone becomes a politician with the boss around.

For example, say we had a production disruption or minor incident the previous night and the results of the initial investigation were just coming out first thing in the morning.  Most initial reports are lacking in detail and often contain inaccuracies that need further investigation and correction once management gets involved.  The problem is that the responsible department head is hearing the details at the same time as me and did not have time to refine his or her followup response before they were answering my questions and deferring to me on how to proceed.  What follows is an inefficient circular communication and a classic case of too many cooks in the kitchen.

So at some point I decided to come in later and stay later and have found that to be more productive for both my employees and myself.  I still get updates on the important things when I arrive at 7 a.m.  Often though, they are more composed and more of the facts are known and sorted out so the communication is much more efficient.  I find that I am also more focused on the big picture and strategy than on the day-to-day, as I should be.  I still come in early when I need to but overall I’ve found that it’s a much more productive arrangement than before.  What are your thoughts?  Please leave a comment.

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When it Comes to Project Management, Experience Matters

I was once told that I was “known and respected around the company for my tenacity.”  This was a bittersweet endorsement.  At the time I managed major construction projects for a mining company.  One of my projects was severely over budget and we were headed toward a legal battle with the contractor, who had abandoned the job before it was complete.  I believe the word “tenacity” was a polite way of saying that despite my inability to salvage the budget and schedule, I was doggedly pulling the pieces together to at least finish it so that it was usable by the operation.

I learned a lot on that project.  I learned about the importance of a good contract, choosing contractors, and dealing with subcontractors.  I learned that payment schedules need to be tied to tangible deliverables, corporate lawyers don’t always have the experience or expertise necessary to execute a proper construction project contract and that most mining project contracts put the owner at a severe disadvantage.  Perhaps most significantly, I learned that project management is incredibly complex and fast paced, requiring great attention to detail, patience and a thick skin.

coal tippleSince then, I have managed dozens of large and small projects, most successfully, but this one will forever stand out as a painful lesson from the school of hard knocks.  The point is, you can study project management and even receive a PMP certification but as with many things in life, there are no substitutes for real experience.  You just need to jump in and give it a try.  At some point things won’t turn out like you hoped, but you will have learned some lessons and you will know what to expect the next time.  What are your thoughts?  Do you have a project management experience you’d like to share?  Please leave a comment.

(Image credit: shutterstock.com)

Operations Experience for Technical Employees

mining engineerEarlier in my career I needed a break from mining engineering and worked for a few years in mine operations as a front-line supervisor.  I experienced rotating shifts, implementing good and bad engineering plans, equipment breakdowns, bad weather, serious injuries, unexpected and bizarre situations and many other leadership lessons first-hand.  It was invaluable experience and formed the foundation I needed to later manage multiple departments at a business level.  I’m glad I did it and feel that all aspiring leaders should have a similar experience.  Since I worked for a large company at the time, they had enough people to allow their engineers to rotate through operations like I did.  Today, most large companies have formal programs to provide their future leaders with experience in operations, maintenance and other aspects of the mining business.  These are great programs.

However, the smaller company that I work for now traditionally took the stance that it did do not have the resources to provide the same types of opportunities.  It took some time and internal marketing, but with the support of my boss and the rest of the senior leadership team we made a commitment to develop a sustainable program for career development for our engineers.  We settled on a framework that included shorter rotations through multiple departments, along with longer-term operational experience for our most promising young leaders.  This necessitated adding an engineering position to backfill whoever was in an operations rotation at any given time.  We also provide our engineers and future managers with the same multi-course training regimen that we provide to our permanent front-line supervisors and higher-level operations leadership, in addition to the requisite technical continuing education that all engineers need.

The program has been very successful.  All of our engineers complete periodic rotations through operations and other departments where they shadow front-line supervisors and get to run production or maintenance crews.  A typical stint is one to three months, depending on the department.  We have one engineer that just completed a one- year assignment as a front-line supervisor and is now leading the mine planners as a senior engineer.  We also have a senior level engineers and metallurgists in training to eventually take over managerial roles.

All of this has come at a cost of course but we are training our technical people to be even better in their current role and eventually take over management positions, which enables us to recruit from within more than at any time in the past.  This has increased morale and virtually eliminated turnover in the technical departments.  I consider this one of my most successful and beneficial career achievements.  What thoughts can you add?  How can we better equip the leaders of tomorrow with career advancing opportunity?  Please leave a comment.

(Image credit: shutterstock.com)

The Dos and Don’ts of Managing by Walking Around

mining workersCommon sense tells us that it is good for senior managers to periodically be out and about with employees, listening to their thoughts and opinions, checking on their work, providing feedback and generally demonstrating that you are involved and interested in the work going on around you.  This concept, popularly known as “managing by walking around,” definitely has proven benefits.  Below are some tips for MBWA as well as mistakes to avoid.

When and how to be out among the workforce:

  • When things are running smoothly and they can afford the distraction. If they need to be able to focus on something, let them.
  • Gather information about a particular problem you’ve been hearing about. If an issue keeps coming up in meetings, go look at it.  You will get the real story and understand the problem much better.
  • Observe and discuss the dynamics of a particularly high performing team. If you want to know how to transfer that exceptional performance to others, learn from the experts.
  • Bring one or two others with you. Partner with the crew front-line supervisor and someone from another area.  e., if you’re going to the maintenance shop, bring the operations manager. This is an excellent opportunity to be a mentor and get an additional perspective.
  • Have a plan. Random interactions are sometimes good too, but a little preparation usually goes a long way.
  • Make it a point to bring up a safety topic. Even if safety isn’t the focus of your visit, no discussion with employees should be bereft of some sort of safety interaction.
  • Ask questions. They already know that you aren’t the expert on their particular job but its good to acknowledge that you also know it and that you value their knowledge and opinions.

What not to do.  Some of these are just common sense, but it is always surprising how some managers miss the point.  Don’t:

  • Hunt for problems or issues to correct. That is what audits are for.  Your job is to identify and solve the root of things, not the symptoms.  If something needs correcting, especially an unsafe situation, by all means correct it, but don’t make it a focus.
  • Publically admonish employees or supervisors. If something needs said, make it a private discussion.
  • Promise something that you aren’t willing to follow through on. During these informal discussions with employees it is easy to make a commitment that you wouldn’t otherwise make.  If you commit to something, even if it is small, make sure you do it.
  • Fill the discussion with corporate terminology and buzzwords. You are there to talk with people, not at them.
  • Be disrespectful of people’s time and willingness to open up. A simple discussion shouldn’t turn into 30 minute gossip session, or an uncomfortable interrogation.
  • Send the wrong signal with your words or body language. If you aren’t able to be pleasant and courteous, go another time.

Done right, managing by walking around is a great way to improve your relationship with your employees.  Keep it simple, be consistent, avoid common mistakes and be prepared to learn.  What do you think?  What ideas to you have about MBWA?  Please leave a comment.

Why Your Employees Need Basic Financial Literacy

When you mention the company Balance Sheet or latest Income Statement to your non-accounting employees, do you get a blank stare?  Most professionalsCash Flow, even many managers, do not have even a basic understanding of financial reports, or whether (or not) the company was profitable last year.  While you may understand your firm’s financial position inside and out, not everyone shares your knowledge, or even cares.

So why is it important for your department managers, engineers, shift supervisors and network administrators to be aware of the company’s finances?  They’re the ones spending the money, that’s why.  Many of them are the ones earning it as well.  It is difficult for anyone to understand the financial effects of their actions without a working knowledge of how the decisions they make every day impact the bottom line.  Most, in fact, don’t really think that it does.  There is no sense of personal connection that translates the important work they are doing every day into the numbers published to the market, let alone the salary or wages that they earn.  A vague admonishment to “watch your costs” or “treat the company’s money as if it were your own,” simply has no personal connection and is not motivating for most employees.

However, if you provide those same people with basic financial literacy, you can help them make that personal connection.  You may be thinking that your company’s financial statements are complicated and truly not relevant to most employees.  You might be right.  So, take it a step further.  In addition to basic training, create simple, tailored reports, and review them with your employees.  Help them understand that their work does make a difference and show them how.  In the end, you will have smarter employees and, more importantly, they will have an intimate understanding of how their work influences the financial performance of the company.

Training your employees to understand the bigger picture will help increase loyalty, teamwork, quality and efficiency.  In short, they will be better employees and you will be a better leader.  What are your thoughts?  Please leave a comment.

Leading Mining Safety (2/2)

How do you lead your mining operation to higher safety performance?  In my last post, Leading Mining Safety, I presented points 1-3 of a 6-point framework to achieve world-class safety performance.  They were: Choose the right people; People need to be empowered; Policies matter.  Here are the final 3 points:

  • Coalesce around your programs – Almost every relevant company has unique and specialized safety programs and processes. The actual programs matter less than making sure that all employees and management are supportive and actively contributing.  This creates the sense of shared duty and team effort and provides peer pressure to those that tend to want to distance themselves from your collective work.  This must be accompanied by prolific communication and recognition of effort.  Your people won’t participate in something that they don’t know or understand.  Consistency is also key because it is frustrating and confusing to your employees when you switch programs frequently.  You want your people focused on their contributions to the programs, not whether or not it will be worth their time.
  • Train your people – Just as any high performing team must train to achieve greatness, so must yours. They must train to work as a team, to use the tools available to them, to recognize hazards, to know the policies, to understand their responsibilities, to complete the paperwork and reporting, and above all, to be aware of the workplace around them.  Training should be both repetitive and cumulative.  Of course, all of this training means that you also need a robust and comprehensive curriculum and good trainers to teach it.  Ideally, your employees will conduct much of this training themselves.  Empowering them to participate and contribute meaningfully to your shared effort will greatly contribute to your safety culture.
  • Gather lots of data, analyze it and use it to correct issues – Safety is both repetitive and iterative. It is surprising how many organizations can’t or don’t look back on what works and what doesn’t. You need to take the time to record things like incidents and the details leading up to them, close call situations, hazards that were identified and corrected and other important and relevant information.  Once you have all of that data, it must be organized and analyzed to identify patterns and systemic issues.  From this, you can draw data-driven conclusions that you can use to make improvements.

Above all, keep your approach simple and consistent.  Don’t over-complicate your processes and if you experience a setback, learn from it.  You owe it to your employees to provide them with the best and safest possible place to work, where they can feel comfortable and confident that they will be leaving at the end of their shift in the same condition that they started.  If you do, they will reward you with an operation that is both safe and productive.  What do you think?  Leave a comment.

Leading Mining Safety

Safety photoHow do you lead your mining operation to higher safety performance?  In my last post I discussed the  difference between compliance and culture and how both are a necessary part of a safety program.  This is the first of a two-part post that will discuss the role of management in enabling the necessary components of world-class safety performance.  What works?  Why are some operations so successful while others can’t quite seem to break the incident cycle?

I advocate a 6-point framework.  The first 3 are discussed below.  Some of these are well-known, simple and may even be cliché, however, that does not lessen their importance.  The science of safety is easy to over-complicate with buzz words, programs and statistics.  In the end, though, what matters is results and these elements help you get them.

  • Choose the right people – Executives, middle managers, front-line supervisors and employees. Safety starts at the top, but it doesn’t end there.  Every single person in the line plays an important role and one bad actor can ruin it for everyone else.  It is interesting how easily this can be downplayed or overlooked.  People, and their actions and attitudes are, after all, the biggest variable in the processes that affect safety.
  • People need to be empowered – Especially craft employees and front-line supervisors. As a leader, you must proclaim it loudly and often that your employees and the supervisors you’ve hired to lead them have your full support to stop unsafe work, remedy unsafe conditions and correct unsafe behavior.  This needs to be both spoken and demonstrated.   They also need to be as involved as they possibly can be in policymaking, inspections, and resolution of both simple and complicated issues.  This lays the groundwork for the ownership that your employees need to feel in the process.
  • Policies matter – And so does following them. It is important that employees and management alike understand and follow your policies.  It is not acceptable for anyone to bend or break the rules or for anyone (especially those in leadership) to walk by ignoring such behavior.  This does not mean that violations must always be accompanied by disciplinary action.  In fact, I would advocate just the opposite, as usually a simple correction with a commitment to work safely in the future is more effective in developing a culture of shared responsibility and duty to both follow the rules and ensure that those around you are also.  Letting this slide is a sure way to demonstrate that working safely really isn’t that important to you.

As you think about these points and your role as a leader in your operation’s performance, it is important to keep in mind that safety is a strategic process, and one that may take months or, more likely, years to perfect.  No operation is immune to incidents, but with consistency, planning and effort, it is possible to achieve world-class safety performance.

Please leave a comment and watch for my next blog post where I present the final points in my 6-point framework.