Is your house in order?

It is 2017 already – hard to believe for many I am sure!

Another year lies ahead. What happens this year depends to a very great extent on our own approach to life, to the world, to our company, and to the challenges that inevitably already exist and will come our way.

It is an excellent idea to give deep consideration to what it is that we wish to achieve in the year ahead. The year will either manage us or we can grab it by the scruff of the neck and make it our own!

The place to start is to consider what we would like to achieve; what standards we would like our business to set in 2017.

These are big questions! But there is little point in only tinkering with the chairs on the deck of the Titanic! If we really wish to make a difference, we have to start with our own mind-sets. There has been a growing propensity in South Africa to seek to do the minimum to comply with the plethora of laws, charters and regulations that beset business in our country. This compliance mind-set is definitely not the right place to start if we really mean to make this year different!

Aspiring to achieve compliance in essence means setting our performance bar at the lowest possible common denominator. No laws are enacted to be aspirational; they are written at the lowest socially and politically acceptable level. This means if we only comply we are actually only just one step ahead of the law. If we fail we are in danger of being criminals!

So what approach should we adopt to make 2017 an extraordinary success?

Anyone aspiring to win the Olympic 100 metres cannot afford to aim only at making his national team for the Olympics. If he did this he would comply with all the rules, but have no hope of winning Olympic Gold. In order to be sure of having the best possible chance of winning he needs to focus on running the fastest 100 metres ever. This will mean that anyone wishing to beat him will have to pull something special out of the hat. A by-product of running the fastest 100 metres ever will then be Olympic Gold!

The same principle should apply in our businesses. The benchmark for every aspect of the business can only be the best in the world. If you operate at this level all the other stuff will be achieved as a by-product of being the best in class. Compliance will be an automatic achievement.

This will also mean that risk will be managed at the best possible level. Risk should never be managed separately from the main focus of the business – it should be part and parcel of every element of the business.

Globalisation is a reality. Mining is fundamentally a global business. Prices for all mined commodities are quoted in global currencies, almost inevitably in US Dollars. This means that in Southern Africa and elsewhere mines and mining companies are price takers; they have no control over the prices they can achieve for their product. The only thing they have real control over is the cost at which they produce their product. This means efficiency is crucial.

Technology can of course make a significant contribution to improving and managing costs. But a much bigger factor is the willingness and commitment of every soul and at every level that works on the mine.

People make things happen. People are capable of getting the best out of technology. Technology cannot do it on its own. It can be an amazing aid to human performance but people must want to make this the case.

In every age, every century, every decade, great advances have come from human endeavour, human ingenuity, human creativity and human determination. Technology has never invented anything new. It has always been a person that has created the breakthrough.

Therefore the focus must be to attempt to get every single person in the business thinking about how to improve their part of the enterprise a little bit every day. Just imagine what a difference it would make to the business if every person made a little improvement every single day. Imagine how different your business will be after 365 days of this happening at every level!!

Finally, for over a century mining has underpinned the economy of our country and fuelled its social and economic growth. It continues to be a massively influential part of the reality and the psyche of our country. It now needs to think beyond its narrow parochial needs and challenges for a number of reasons.

Mines can never be fully and properly sustainable since they are busy themselves with extracting minerals and metals from an ever-decreasing, more difficult to mine and process resource. However, they can and do have the capacity to transform their businesses into another dimension. 3M did this a century ago. There are many other examples of businesses that have morphed into something completely different by applying clever creativity and by progressively moving from one industry into another.

Mining managers are adept at managing large numbers of people and big budgets. In South Africa mines own large tracts of land. Land is becoming more and more of an issue. Food security and water management are of increasing importance. Here is opportunity for mining companies to start thinking inventively about how they can optimally deploy and utilise all their resources to transform their businesses, contribute to the growth and development of social cohesion, add to the abundance of food resources, reduce poverty, deal with the land issue and remove some of the unfair pressure that comes their way based on old practices and skewed perceptions. This is merely one example.


2017, therefore, should be seen as a watershed year; one in which the abundant creativity and energy of all the people is harnessed for the good of all and the development of the country which we hold so dear.

By Tony Frost (CEO Sirocco Strategy Management)

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