Mining for managers

Better management is the key to attraction and retention in the tight market for contract services labour. Daniel Hall writes

With contract mining and services companies feeling the pinch of a constrained labour market, the focus of best practice management skills is heating up.

One of Australia’s leading organisational psychologists, HCA Consulting Group’s (HCA) Helen Crossing told Australian Mining that organisations need to create continuity in their workforce and achieve momentum by focussing on mining for managers.

There are currently more than 6,000 job vacancies in the mining and resources industry in Australia (ABS May 2008). In addition, the resources boom has had a significant flow-on effect to the contract services sector, with companies needing to attract and retain the right talent at all levels to meet the growing needs of the industry.

Crossing believes well considered and integrated recruitment, selection, and induction processes help build engagement and increase the likelihood of long-term tenure.

“Selecting people for roles to which they are suited and in which they can succeed is important at any time for businesses,” Crossing said.

“However, the mining and resources industry presents some unique and particularly challenging issues in attracting and retaining the right people.”

Crossing points to the rapid expansion of the contract mining industry for injecting an additional level of complexity in attracting and retaining people.

Outsourcing and employment contracts that underpin a mining company’s success require managers to successfully build and manage relationships through cycles of negotiation and delivery.

Crossing said there are a range of industry specific factors that will help or hinder a manager performing optimally.

This includes the array of problems that are likely to face managers, supervisors, and the large contract workforce usually reporting to them.

“Until you have been on a site, it is difficult to understand the scale and scope of challenges that contract mining and service managers, and their reports, work with on a day-to-day basis,” Crossing said.

“The culture, morale, and long-term success of a contract mining company depends on having the right people in the right jobs.

“Aligning experience, capability, and values to the job role means that people are better able to take up the responsibilities that are inherent in their role.

“Without this alignment you can be setting the person up to fail, which also creates difficulties for others around them as they find ways to compensate for the gaps.”

Selecting managers Crossing identifies five key attributes that determine the success of a manager in the mining and resource industry.

“These include business acumen, interpersonal or influencing skills, service orientation, emotional resilience or toughness, and ethics,” Crossing said.

No manager ever really fits a role 100%, according to Crossing, and given the talent shortage, it is vital to have a thorough understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of a prospective candidate to determine what environment and development they will require to perform at an optimal level.

“Having this information allows managers to make a decision as to whether they can meet their needs and what they are prepared to invest to maximise their chances of succeeding in the role,” she said.

According to Crossing, the first six to 12 months of employment is the critical period during which a manager builds their knowledge of the organisation, the market, and forms trusting relationships both internally and with clients and stakeholders.

“Investment of time and effort during this period goes a long way to increasing a companies chances of retaining a manager,” Crossing said.

According to Crossing, managers must have key personality strengths to suit managerial roles.

“Managers for the mining industry need to form effective relationships with a wide variety of people including the senior management in their own company, their direct reports, front line operators, and importantly, clients,” Crossing said. “A person’s ethics is also fundamental.

The person’s judgment and ability to manage the interests of multiple stakeholders is often put to the test in management roles.

“Managers must care about those working for them, be vigilant in ensuring that safety standards are adhered to and resolve disputes fairly.

“This must be done under the intense scrutiny of clients, staff and colleagues.”

According to Crossing, organisational psychologists can be used to assess a person’s emotional resilience.

“Managers and supervisors must be able to make and enact many decisions throughout the day; some of which are routine, but others might make the difference between life and death,” Crossing said.

“Managers with low emotional resilience become easily frustrated and impatient and dwell on the possibility of things going wrong; they have difficulty making timely and well thought out decisions.”

Integrated approach Crossing advises companies to have a considered and integrated approach to the selection of employees; modifying this process to suit the level of seniority.

“It is accepted practice for com­panies to have a Human Resource Manager, one or more contract recruitment companies, and a senior manager involved in the selection process,” she said.

“It is now more common to use input from an organisational psychologist.

“A tailored assessment and development program can be integrated into the selection process to provide a judgement about the alignment between the set of competencies required and what is being brought to the role, and the dynamics between the potential employee and the company, team and management, as well as company culture and values.”

“Once an employee is in place this approach can help to tailor an induction program, create a shared understanding of individual strengths, limitations, motivations, values, and development needs, and provide guidance in the creation of appropriate training and development experiences.

‘This ensures that an employee can succeed in their current role, smoothly progress to their next role, and can work towards their ultimate career goal.”

Key contact:

Helen Crossing HCA Consulting

02 9223 2611

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