By Gys Kappers
In today’s digital era – where the need for information is instant – mobile phones have become a key driver in instant information consumption and on-the-go-productivity. Africa is at the forefront of the mobile generation, but as an emerging market, the continent presents unique and specific needs when compared to other more established markets.
As a result, communication across different platforms and devices is necessary – especially as we move to an age of engagement. So, what does this mean for businesses that have a mass workforce – the majority of which still use feature phones and/or don’t have access to free connectivity?
Essentially it means that businesses need to re-look their communication channels to ensure that they are engaging with the entire workforce and not just a select few. Not all workers sit in front of a PC all day – some are on the road, in the mines or on the workshop floor – so ensuring that they are being reached needs to be a key consideration. And traditional communication channels just don’t work.
Take the mining industry as a prime example. A sector that, although more upbeat after this year’s Mining Indaba in Cape Town, still has a long way to go to avert constant crisis mode. Failure to get the policy, legislative, administrative and operating environment right is being compounded by a decline in resource demand and resulting excess capacity, weakening prices and increasing volatility. Many also need to mine deeper to reach new deposits, which is resulting in a significant increase in the cost of extraction and these costs are forcing mining companies to make difficult decisions to sustain short-term operations, while still adhering to long term objectives. What’s more, advanced technologies are severely impacting the broader industry albeit in a seeming unrelated way. Emerging products and services require new materials which is changing the mix in the demand for minerals and metals and this is expected to continue. This of course has long term implications for the demand for primary resources. And for the foreseeable future, this state is the ‘new normal’. To cope with this ‘new normal’ the mining industry will have to embrace this disruption as both a constraint and as an enabler – and getting employees on the same page will be critical.
New research points directly to a link between the level of employee engagement and business profitability and financial performance – and mines need to see engagement strategies as a priority if they are to weather the storm and industry disruption. We believe one of the best places to start is to bring back trust and open up the dialogue. Powerful shifts are occurring in workplace dynamics towards networks and a more inclusive style of working, creating a shared vision and better relationships based on transparency and improved productivity. Mining companies in particular are being called on for greater transparency and engagement and have an amazing opportunity to rise up to the challenge of inclusivity and growth considering their vast network of stakeholders. We are optimistic that this positive engagement will occur, and when it does, will achieve the operational and systemic stability required to bring about a turnaround in investment sentiment and herald the return of the sector’s leading contribution to the South African economy.
In essence, if we consider the mine of the future, it is evident that change in every respect is required for survival and at the heart of this change, is people. If mining companies are to succeed, they will require a deeper understanding of the shifting community to improve the social divide. Too often, relationships with stakeholders are adversarial instead of collaborative – leaving little room for engagement and collective efforts where everyone is working together towards a common purpose. While the Social and Labour Plan framework and even the Mine Charter for example, occupy a large part of the industry mindshare and conversation, as they give the sector avenues to engage on development-related issues, currently, there is no specific avenue or framework that allows for broader community engagement, and this is exactly what is needed.
In fact, innovative thinking needs to influence the way mining companies engage with workers, their surrounding communities and those from their labour sending areas. New technologies and ways of connecting have a potential to influence a different outcome for the broader community, one that makes the mining house and community share the responsibility for a changing landscape with divergent future scenarios.
What’s more, innovation should drive more than cost reduction – it should help mitigate and manage risk, strengthen business models and foster more effective relations. Mining companies need to prepare to shift traditional entrenched models, plan for future scenarios where collaboration is at the centre of a lean operation and use digitalisation to enable and drive the industry forward.
This of course requires bold leadership and careful consideration of the diverse range of stakeholders involved, but if we truly connect with employees, and speak as much as we listen, I believe the impact will be felt right where it counts, in healthy workforce relations and on the bottom line.
Gys Kappers is the CEO of Wyzetalk