Real McCoy: Mines need miners to change brand perceptions
by Sean McCoy (@TheRealMcCoyTRM) Much of the discussion around the role of the internal brand and employee engagement tends toward service-based industries or sectors that are sophisticated in nature, such as financial services or the airline industry as examples. The world of mining, extractive and beneficiation industries and the broader industrial sector is no different, however.
A few days at Mining Indaba 2017 has brought into sharp focus the many and varied challenges and opportunities faced by the mining sector in South Africa. These range from policy uncertainty in the local context, commodity cycles and global demand, investor confidence in our country generally and a myriad social and environmental issues, to name but a few. Central to the social impact is the issue of the communities in which the mines operate, as well as the surrounding communities and regions — ones that are plagued by the triple issues of poverty, inequality and unemployment. In many instances, a typical mine employee also resides in that very community and therein lies the problem that is unique to this sector.
The need to ensure that employees are fully engaged, productive in their output, committed to the organisational journey and operating in a safety and quality conscious environment is key to these sectors. In South Africa, in particular, this happens against the backdrop of a dire need for enhanced productivity, continuously improving safety standards, and deteriorating ore grades and deeper level mining, exacerbating the pressure for automation and mechanisation in an attempt to help pull both these critical levers.
The paradox is huge
The SA mining industry has a history that is intertwined with apartheid and this legacy makes it forever difficult to move ahead. Fast-forward to the present context and the state of the industry demands that all critical stakeholders align, get their houses in order and solve the current-day issues in order to push forward to the benefit of all South Africans.
If this is not done at speed, the industry and, indeed, South Africa Inc, will again miss out on the anticipated commodity-cycle turn and potentially face greater economic woes than it has in recent years.
As one leading industry executive suggested to me recently, perhaps we should shift the narrative in the sector to one in which we try picture a country without a mining industry —a deliberately provocative statement borne out of frustration and exasperation of the need to take a very sober view of the industry at present and act with urgency and cohesion.
Employee as change agent
This has prompted me to ponder the opportunity of the mining industry employee as a potential change agent. This individual sits at the intersection of the community, the mining company and organised labour, and potentially has a pivotal role to play, albeit that it is a huge ask. If we can convincingly win the hearts and minds of mining industry employees and turn them into positive agents of change, they could be the very catalyst that could help mobilise progress and forward movement in the sector.
This is internal brand engagement at its potential best — employees who have a fundamental belief in the purpose of the organisation and the progress that the mining sector can and does deliver in the communities in which it operates.
It requires a leap of faith to equip them as agents for change and enable them to catalyse an improved sense of togetherness — employees, community members and the organised labour movement. This could potentially drive better relationships with mine owners and create a fundamentally better sector overall, with improved investor confidence and a cohesive pressure brought to bear on government to get its ducks in a row and provide the necessary policy and regulatory certainty that the sector so desperately needs.
Ideology and reality
In an industry that already has no shortage of ideological standpoints, my own may be equally biased and potentially utopian — or, some might suggest, even daft in the reality of the situation — and they may be right. It does beg the question, however, of what it will take to make the difference.
Undoubtedly, it needs the commitment and energy of all players in the sector, but I am of the opinion that the engagement of the employee who sits at the intersection of this delicate ecosystem could be just the difference we need. Easier said than done but the progressive players in the sector are actively engaging the communities and the employees who live and work within it.
We do need to see the change, for the benefit of all of us. A prosperous mining sector is undoubtedly good for every South African.
Dr Sean McCoy, MD and founding member of HKLM, is a prominent figure in the branding arena, with his expertise centered on client service, brand strategy and business development. He contributes the regular “The Real McCoy” column focusing upon internal branding to MarkLives.