Competing Priorities: Project – Corporate – Operations

pathforwardUp until 2008 I my career was corporate. In addition to performing corporate duties, I was often conjuring up ideas on how to “add value” at our operations, with customers, workers or local stakeholders. As any good manager would do, I tried to generate buy in for my initiatives from above and in the field (normally the operation’s leader).

What I didn’t do was take pause and think about how “another corporate program” would be received by the workers in the field. Every corporate initiative rolled out is really another deliverable for workers in the field and as a result, should be written into their role descriptions. The reality is these “initiatives” are seen as one more thing workers need to worry about, in addition to their actual jobs.

After transitioning over to operations in 2009, it became abundantly clear to me that corporate initiatives are not always well received for a variety of reasons:

  1. workers already have a full time job;
  2. this may be just one of multiple initiatives being pushed down;
  3. the importance of the initiative hasn’t been properly communicated;
  4. workers don’t receive adequate training, support or follow up; or
  5. workers never see or understand the benefits being derived

Everyone has “deliverables” in their roles upon which they are measured. What seems to be missing is the realization that initiatives are competing for finite resources, and when push comes to shove, operators are going to perform the tasks upon which they will be judged. Thus potentially leaving corporate initiatives only partially implemented or abandoned.

The situation becomes more complex when you add in a Project team (and its contractors). They too will have deliverables that need the support of an operations team and/or corporate office. In a mining company you could easily have three separate groups all competing for resources to deliver their “priorities”. More often than not, it is the worker at the end of the line who is burdened with delivering all of these initiatives.

I have seen many project area superintendents (whose role it is to be in the field overseeing activities) spend entire days sitting in front of computer screens to fulfill corporate reporting initiatives.

So, how do you address this predicament where different groups are competing for finite resources? I would suggest the following:

  1. Understand the business case behind an initiative – is it truly driving value?
  2. Build into a field worker’s role description the delivery of these initiatives.
  3. Within the corporate office, have leaders that understand and appreciate the realities of field operations
  4. Assure that the people required to implement have the required skills and knowledge
  5. Communicate, and follow up – many corporate initiatives never deliver the desired results because the entire life cycle of an initiative is not contemplated

Michael Minnes


Human Resources – Cost or Profit Centre?

DSCN1339 copyFifteen years ago if you asked me how important is the HR department to the overall success of a company, I would have said it seems to be more an “administrative” cost centre than a strategic, value-add department. At times, during a recruiting drive they may or may not identify a great candidate, but really it would be the responsibility of the hiring manager to identify true value.  What they typically did well was deal with administrative issues and deliver “strategic” company culture presentations that were more often than not disconnected from how senior management actually acted.

Fast forward fifteen years and I now realize that HR should be the most important department in your company. If you don’t have the right people in the right roles, guided by clearly defined responsibilities and reporting structures, how can you possible expect them to succeed.  To achieve this clarity you need not only a senior management team that understands the HR value proposition and is prepared to invest in creating clarity within the organization, but also a capable and competent HR team that has the capacity to develop, implement, monitor and report on their organizational design efforts.

Building your team is similar to building a project – there is a process. Success requires clearly defined end goals (role outcomes) and sufficient work up front to identify the “variables” and support systems (business tools/systems) required to deliver success outcomes. I don’t think there is a manger out there that would disagree with the premise that time and effort invested up front to de-risk a project will typically lead to better results.

The further up the organizational pyramid you travel, the more complicated it is to assess fit, and in turn guarantee success.  I would say that once you start looking to fill roles at and above the Superintendent level (thinking project/operational mine site), the need for EQ (leadership, management skills, strategic acumen and communication skills) is as important as IQ (knowledge, skills and experience to deliver the identified outcomes). I have seen first hand in operations and on projects how technically competent managers that are given more responsibility (call it a promotion) struggle to deliver results. More often than not it is because the new role they occupy requires different skill sets (most likely more EQ than IQ).   It is not their fault that they cannot succeed, it is the responsibility of the HR department for they may have elevated the wrong person into a role which requires different “skills”.

Ultimately, to hire a great candidate you need follow a process. Over simplifying it I would say 1) senior management needs to understand how important the organizational design/hiring process is; 2) your HR department needs to be capable and competent; 3) time is needed during the role development process to create “clarity”; and, 4)managers need to be competent and capable of understanding their real business needs and assessing talent.

So back to the initial question? I see the Human Resource department as a profit centre….but not in the literal sense. Successful companies understand what is required to be succeed and do their best to put the right people in the right roles. Additionally they then support these roles with the right tools to deliver clearly defined objects. More often than not this is easier said than done!

In the industries I have touched over the course of my career, particularly at operations,  I would say there are great strides to be made in this area. That said there are companies and leaders out there that get it and it shows in their results.

Mexico’s Clean Energy Auction

mexico mapThe recently completed Clean Energy Auction has sent a message that solar is the renewable energy option of choice for Mexico, as it garnered 74% of all the contracts available (with wind taking second place with 26%).  Should be interesting to see how these companies move forward in this relatively new market.

It will be interesting to see if the PPA pricing awarded translates into the expected returns for the companies that were awarded contracts.  Project execution in Mexico can be challenging on a number of fronts so now it will be time to see if these companies can execute.

Interesting article here on the auction: