CHALLENGE 1: Major Project Turnaround

The initial challenge involved a $1.5 billion underground mine project that was in jeopardy of losing its funding from the parent corporation. Work was behind schedule, costs were running over budget, and safety had become a concern, all prompting headquarters to issue a directive: turn the project around in three months or lose the allocated budget altogether. Headquarters had also replaced the unit’s top senior leaders, all of whom had been well-respected by other key leaders on the project. There was unresolved resentment at the organization’s highest tiers of leadership and beyond. Along with the challenges at hand, there was also great potential opportunity, with an active and improving market for the kind of valuable assets that would be extracted from the mine.

JMW was engaged to support the senior team in turning the situation around. The new leadership team could see that this would require reaching closure on events to date in a way that would enable them to more powerfully focus on current and future challenges. At the same time, there was a pressing need to design a plan and galvanize and align the team around it. This would help equip them to deliver on their chief immediate objective of delivering a business case to the corporation’s executives within three months, demonstrating the project’s viability and the leadership team’s capacity to move forward and successfully, safely, and cost-effectively complete the project. 

The work began with interviews with all key leaders and influencers working on the project, followed by analysis and diagnostic review. Then JMW led a two-day leadership foundation and alignment workshop designed on the output of the diagnostics. Throughout this process, the consultants worked closely with the project director accountable for the turnaround. The effort was in part an intervention designed to help the team agree on certain learnings from the past, then effectively shift focus to a clear and aligned agreement on what their collective future success would look like. The workshop also involved intensive consulting and coaching to help the team break through existing obstacles and articulate how exactly they would approach the aggressive work schedule required to deliver the mine over the next two and a half years.

Before the three-month deadline, the senior team delivered a presentation to headquarters that resulted in the continuation of funding for the project. Corporate executives were swayed by: 

  • An action plan drawn up around the establishment of a high-performance team and new standards for the results that to be delivered; 
  • A safety component of that plan which addressed key concerns and effective ways to move forward; 
  • A priority of cascading the vision for the mine to the rest of the organization, including front-line managers and their teams; 
  • An aspiration that reached beyond delivering on the business case, setting new industry benchmarks for the specialized type of block cave mining they would employ to deliver on the project; and 
  • The conviction, commitment, and integrity of the leadership team’s thinking was demonstrated by the way they communicated their visions not as an idea, but as a solid promise.

CHALLENGE 2: Adapting in a Market Downturn

With funding secured, the senior team began to put their approved plan into action. A top priority would be compelling basis for the future and the work ahead and winning over the “hearts and minds” of leaders on the front line, as well as their teams. Senior leaders engaged JMW and participated in a customized “Leader as Coach” program as they built a high-performing organization of employees and contractors with a new focus on safety, cost containment, and on-time delivery. The culture was shifting from a top-down “command and control” model to one of “leadership at all levels.” Then came something unexpected. Nine months into their solid establishment as a high-performing project, market conditions changed dramatically. The global financial crisis had begun, and the removal of credit shut down the entire global market for the stones being mined—in a matter of weeks. A decision was made at headquarters to shelve the project and close the mine until the marketplace improved.

The senior leadership team brought in JMW as they searched for possible alternatives to decommissioning the mine. JMW designed a workshop to help them assess possible options and agree to a new vision under grim economic realities. The work focused on identifying the next key actions and interventions required to ensure the preservation of the vision these leaders had developed together, despite the unexpected turn of events. The JMW program, consulting, and coaching also involved a focus on leadership development, as being able to somehow prevent closure of the mine would require the increased effectiveness of each senior leader involved, and the capacity to powerfully enroll teams and delegate tasks.

The senior team decided they would not allow the mine to be shut down. They developed and presented a plan to headquarters for a “low-cost continuation” approach that would enable the facility to remain open and minimally operational. Corporate executives approved the plan, persuaded by a demonstration that keeping the mine operational at low levels would be more cost-effective than a complete decommission of the mine, combined with the eventual additional costs of re-opening and becoming operational again. After careful planning in a series of sessions with JMW, the team: 

  • Carried out the daunting task of laying off 80% of the mine’s workforce; 
  • Held a workshop for those leaving to help provide context for the decision made, to acknowledge their contributions, help them find new roles inside and outside the company, and evoke buy-in to the possibility of returning when the mine’s activity ramped up again; 
  • Implemented strict new cost control systems that effectively kept the project within severely reduced budget; 
  • Ensured there was no compromise in safety, with zero lost-time injuries throughout the phase, and the safety manager being selected to share best practices with other mining operations in the group; 
  • Maintained high-end equipment and strengthened facilities without exceeding limited budget; and
  • Developed a new set of best practices and maintained the motivation and morale of the individuals and teams that had remained onsite, delivering on the work required to keep the mine “live.”

CHALLENGE 3: Rapid Ramp-Up in a Market Upswing

After roughly a year of operating at minimal levels, the market for the valuable stones being mined saw a sudden upswing. The senior team received word from headquarters that the mine should become fully operational again as soon as possible. This required rapid expansion of resources and the involvement of many new key leaders, front-line employees, and consultants, as many of those formerly employed at the mine had moved on to other work. The challenge was to deliver on the ramp-up of activity without losing the gains made during the downturn in terms of high performance, safety, cost controls, and overall employee engagement.

Facing the kind of challenges anticipated by the low-cost continuation work, senior leaders were determined to maintain their previous gains while moving forward decisively. They had established a smart, lean way of operating that needed to be carried forward in order to keep margins in line. They worked with JMW to conduct a comprehensive, integrated planning session involving senior leadership, the second tier of leadership, and key front-line supervisors and foremen. The session was designed to be highly interactive, and to result in a plan that “everyone designed,” and that therefore, everyone owned.

At the conclusion of the integrated work session, all involved agreed to a vision of what would define success for the organization, and to specifics with regard to workplace best practices, safety criteria, and how teams, managers, and leaders would all contribute to the high performance required. Together, they launched implementation of the plan, and as result of their efforts: 

  • New hires and contractor engagements were made rapidly, but within agreed-upon criteria to support full functioning of the mine, with overall staffing returning to fully operational levels; 
  • The mine’s new operations maintained safety levels that made their record one of the best with the broader multinational corporation; 
  • Front-line leaders worked in new ways to ensure continued alignment with the organization’s strategic and operational objectives; and 
  • As a result of successfully minimizing, then quickly accelerating, activity at the mine—rather than decommissioning and subsequently reopening—the organization was able to ramp up activity faster than others in the marketplace, delivering a significant competitive edge to the company.