03/10/2006 - 22:00

All systems go at BHP Billiton

03/10/2006 - 22:00


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People are the key to business performance, and engaging them from grassroots to management level is critical to achieving growth and improvement.

All systems go at BHP Billiton

People are the key to business performance, and engaging them from grassroots to management level is critical to achieving growth and improvement.

So says Ian Ashby, president and chief operating officer of WA Iron Ore at BHP Billiton.

In an address to the 8th Australian Conference on Culture and Leadership titled “The Road From Good to ‘Oresome’’, Mr Ashby reviewed the past 15 months since an integrated development system was adopted at BHP as part of a broader process of cultural change within the company.

The system is the brainchild of Human Synergistics, a consultancy operating in Australia and New Zealand, and is designed to help individuals change ineffective workplace behaviours.

Mr Ashby said the program had helped BHP become a “pro-people” organisation, with greater staff participation.

“You can have all the processes and systems in place, but if you’re not developing the relationships at all levels of the organisation, you’re not going to get there,” Mr Ashby said.

In the past financial year at BHP, safety improved by 40 per cent and earnings were up a record 72 per cent.

Mr Ashby said this could be partially attributed to the vision and values being implemented within the company, as part of a change process he has been keen to embark on since returning to Perth after 10 years overseas with BHP.

Upon his return, Mr Ashby said he found territorialism reigned within the company, with three fiefdoms (mining, rail and port) lacking any connectivity.

He says there was little workforce planning or standardisation of processes, resulting in a duplication of work.

“We had become very process-driven,” Mr Ashby said.

“We were good at projects, but not as good at the people side of projects.”

Mr Ashby said the company realised it needed to go back and take a long-term view, resulting in the development of a five-year vision, with a series of one-year business plans.

Central to this is an improved leadership function, as contact between managers had traditionally been loosely formal in nature, with no real structure.

Mr Ashby said one of the directives he gave early on was to ensure management spent two or three days per month dedicated to talking about the business, providing valuable “face time”.

Meetings are rotated off-site to Newman and Port Hedland to avoid becoming Perth-focused.

The leadership team is also engaged in a process of observing one another and providing feedback, through formal and informal processes.

“My team is reluctant to provide negative feedback to me, but I encourage it,” Mr Ashby said.

Team summits are held every six months, with the first one in November last year.

There are tangible success stories already, with a program called the “29 million tonne challenge” resulting in record production for the quarter and the best safety performance on record.

Goldsworthy iron ore mine also reached a production target of two million tonnes for the quarter, ahead of schedule and for the first time ever.

The company also hosts workshops, which use a film to communicate the role BHP employees have and generate a sense of connection between Perth, the Pilbara and the company’s consumers in Asia.  

About 3000 people have participated in the workshops so far.


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