There are various trends reshaping the leadership landscape in an Industry 4.0 world: the emergence of nontraditional teams, the creation of exponential roles, the proliferation of data, and the imperative to embrace greater diversity and inclusion. Mining companies that want to strengthen their competitive advantage and create an adaptive and responsive culture should commit to upskilling their leaders now.
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In the mining sector, as in most other industries, the future of work is expected to look very different than it does today. Automation, analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI) are not simply reallocating work between humans and machines. They are also generating greater insights into employee productivity and efficiency.
For many companies, these insights are helping to drive decisions around workforce design. For management, they are raising questions about what leadership should look like in an Industry 4.0 world—managing continually evolving cross-functional teams, where traditional mechanisms for defining roles and responsibilities and measuring performance are no longer appropriate.
The style of management question is particularly pertinent for a sector that has typically relied on hierarchical, authoritative leadership. It’s a question that must be answered given the trends reshaping the leadership landscape. Deep, data-driven insights and enhanced transparency across the full value chain call for leadership that, among many other attributes, employs deep emotional intelligence to foster trust—without which mines could fail to derive the value that digital promises to bring to the industry.
As the mining industry moves toward integrated operations, workflows throughout the mine are being reimagined. Already, automation enables people to work remotely and companies to rely more heavily on contingent workers, resulting in teams composed of both full-time employees and occasional workers who may be sitting in different geographic locations. The imperative to achieve gender parity across the industry is also giving rise to greater diversity among team members—not only along gender lines, but across various dimensions of diversity.
“Taken together, this means leaders will increasingly have to manage individuals with disparate backgrounds located in diverse geographies as well as an integrated robotic workforce, such as artificial intelligence (AI) assistants, many of which are potentially not subject to the reward and management disciplines associated with some traditional forms of leadership,” explains Julie Harrison, Partner, Consulting, Deloitte Australia. “This will likely require a new type of leadership style, one that emphasizes collaboration and influence rather than command and control.” Linked to this new style of leadership is also a requirement to standardize ways of working across the disciplines, enabling higher levels of coordination across multiple functions to be able to deliver at a faster rate of change while managing critical risks. And leaders will also have to manage robotic workers, such AI assistants.
As adoption of AI and analytics picks up, mining companies are gaining the capacity to use new insights to drive strategic workforce planning. As a result, miners are beginning to define the exponential roles that may be required in the future.
Take the “nerve center data scientist” role as an example. As the critical link between digitized operations (including operational technology, assets, process flows, etc.), life-of-mine plan, and the business strategy, nerve center scientists would use their core analytical insight and operational experience to align mining operations with strategic intent through key performance indicator (KPI) dashboard visualization, develop advanced analytics algorithms, supervise machine learning, and audit cognitive automation decision paths. Examples include predictive asset management algorithms, predictive safety algorithms, and optimized production flows, as suggested through the integrated value chain visualization.
One of the hallmarks of these roles of the future is that they’ll likely draw on familiar components of work but put them together in new ways to create a job that’s never been done before. Which raises a critical leadership challenge—how can leaders put together teams composed of people with the right component skills if they don’t understand the current-state capabilities of their existing staff? To address this challenge, leaders will likely need much more granular visibility into not only their people’s stated skill sets, but also their less tangible native competencies.
Thanks to analytics dashboards and AI visualizations, mining companies have access to considerably more data than in the past. Before they can effectively use those insights to uncover emerging opportunities, however, leaders should be trained to both understand that data and rely on it to drive their business decisions. While this will likely draw on traditional leadership skills—such as strategic thinking and problem solving—it would require leaders to apply those skills in ways that may initially feel uncomfortable or counterintuitive.
That’s especially true in the mining industry where many on-site managers currently base their decisions on decades of hands-on experience. If these leaders are suddenly being asked to resolve challenges through the analysis of large sets of data, rather than by relying on their personal knowledge, they may hesitate. “As these technologies emerge, leaders are being asked to trust the data enough to act on it,” says Janine Nel, Partner, Consulting, Deloitte Canada. “That’s why making this transition will likely require not only retraining, but also time and patience.”
This isn’t the only leadership challenge that data proliferation presents. Consider, for instance, the impact on mine site managers who are used to a very hands-on management style. As they gain access to real-time and predictive information, the need to spend time in the field fighting fires should diminish. “On the plus side, this can allow managers to respond to situations proactively rather than reactively,” notes Nel. “At the same time, however, it changes their traditional behaviors—calling into question what the hallmarks of a ‘good boss’ should now be.”
A third issue revolves around how leaders use the employee performance data now at their fingertips. With real-time insight into their workers’ performance, leaders could arguably penalize staff for not meeting their targets rather than using that data to improve workflows. The danger? Workers could refuse to support the new technologies, unions could intervene, and corporate investments in analytics wouldn’t live up to their potential. To avoid these outcomes, the leaders of the future will need patience, superior communication skills, and high levels of emotional intelligence so that they can allay employee concerns that performance data will be used against them.
Research shows that diverse and inclusive companies significantly outperform their peers and could be better positioned to thrive into the future. For example, organizations with more inclusive cultures are:
An increase in diversity is even correlated to an improvement in safety and operational efficiency.2
Thanks to these drivers and more, many mining companies have been increasing their spending on more expansive diversity and inclusion initiatives. Some companies are introducing diversity standards for camps, creating targeted development programs and setting metrics around concepts like “respectful behavior.”
Ultimately, however, most organizations will likely need to transform their culture to become fully inclusive. As a starting point, companies can broaden the narrative to diversity of thinking and inclusion so they can create shared purpose and meaning. It also often requires the development of committed and capable leaders with the skills needed to gain buy-in to this vision, enforce corporate values around diversity and inclusion, and create truly diverse and inclusive teams.
These trends typically call for a new set of leadership competencies. To leverage emerging data insights, for instance, leaders will likely need digital fluency, data visualization skills, and an understanding of cognitive and AI-driven technologies. To manage nontraditional teams and support corporate inclusion initiatives, they’ll likely need emotional intelligence, a collaborative style, and the capacity for creative problem solving. And to fill the roles of the future, they should have a flexible mindset and an understanding of how to create collaborative diverse teams that achieve their target outcomes, regardless of who does the work. Paradoxically to the above flexibility they will likely also need to facilitate and develop shared disciplines across teams that drive standardized ways of working that enable rapid collaboration across these new networked and multidisciplinary teams.
So how can mining companies cultivate these skills? As with every change initiative, it typically starts with the tone from the top. Executive leadership must demonstrate the behaviors they expect to cascade through all levels of the organization. Miners should aim to uncover the pockets of excellence that exist across the enterprise, where leaders are already exhibiting aspirational attitudes, competencies, and cognitive abilities. Through active programs, such as supervisory interventions, these corporate champions can help share their skills down to leaders throughout the company.
“Making this transition will take time, but organizations that commit to upskilling their leaders now can create not only a competitive advantage, but also an innovative, adaptive, and agile cultural environment,” stresses Harrison.