August 2010

Building awareness "Ounce by Ounce"

IAMGOLD rewards enterprising staffers with gold

By G. Woodford

Each process in the workshop was specifically designed to take employees through generating, sorting and, finally, recommending the top ideas that had a high-impact outcome but used low resources. Top seven reported to management for consideration.

When IAMGOLD grew from a small holding company of 24 employees in 2005 to a full-fledged mining outfit of 2,800 practically overnight, it needed a way to connect with its new staff - fast.

The company’s communications department devised an ambitious employee education road show, jetting senior executives to all of its sites to give presentations on what IAMGOLD does, including why and how, to give workers a view of the bigger picture. Workshops and brainstorming sessions followed to expose upper management to the finer details. And to get people really motivated, the staffers who came up with the best business ideas at the sessions would win an actual ounce of gold.

“We wanted all our employees to understand the rudiments of the business,” explains Karen Jury, director of communications, who is largely responsible for getting the program, dubbed “Ounce by Ounce,” off the ground. “By teaching employees the basic business drivers in gold mining, and all the ounces of effort required to produce an ounce of gold, we believed employees would become more engaged and enrolled in participating directly as business partners. The objective of Ounce by Ounce was to find a way for employees to contribute in meaningful ways to the success of our business. So the business literacy program was developed to educate and engage employees, thereby establishing an entrepreneurial, business-oriented culture.”

Everyone at IAMGOLD — from miners to accountants to warehouse staff — participated in the initiative. As with most companies, employees knew their own jobs but did not necessarily see how they fit into the larger context.

“IAMGOLD is not vastly different from other companies,” says COO Gord Stothart, who took part in the Ounce by Ounce tour. “People in the trenches are just that — they’ve got their heads down. They sometimes have little appreciation of the underlying business of what they’re doing.” Stothart feels that most companies are missing the opportunity of benefiting from a diversity of people thinking about problems. “If you only have managers working on issues, you’ll only get managers’ solutions,” he says.

Gold 101

Ounce by Ounce really took employees through the entire business process, from the ground up. “We covered basic business drivers such as Finance 101 and Mining 101,” says Jury. Our senior executive team spoke on topics ranging from ‘what’s a strip ratio?’ and ‘what are the cost drivers?’ even if those things didn’t seem immediately relevant to everyone’s job. We wanted to educate and engage all IAMGOLD employees in the business so that they could directly impact and influence their individual sites’ objectives which, consequently, would contribute to the achievement of our corporate objectives.”

Twelve senior executives (including the CEO and COO) were involved, travelling in pairs or trios to all of IAMGOLD’s sites, and gave presentations to small groups in the morning, during which they would explain the company’s business in terms that everyone could grasp. This was not always so easy, says Stothart. Sometimes the corporate people had to step outside their own preconceptions about what others knew. For instance, the seemingly simple exercise of explaining what a share is was much tougher than anyone imagined. “When we finally landed on a conceptual description that worked — well, that was very gratifying,” says Stothart.

On top of that, says Jury, they were working in several different languages and confronting challenges more fundamental than cutting through business jargon. “We went to places where literacy was an issue and where many employees had not met the most senior individuals in the company,” Jury explains. In these instances, presentations were primarily verbal and utilized many visual aids.

In the afternoon, facilitators nominated by mine managers ran workshops with smaller groups. These workshops included brainstorming sessions in which employees would try to come up with ideas that would have a big impact on productivity but that could be implemented at a low cost. Out of the hundreds of ideas generated per workshop group, the team would vote on the best seven ideas, which were subsequently presented to the executive team for consideration towards implementation. These were then scored on a 40-point scale; ideas that scored higher than 30 were sent on to upper management for consideration.

Approximately 20,000 business ideas were generated, with 132 accepted for initial assessment. Over and above these Ounce by Ounce sessions was a contest in which employees were invited to submit additional business plans and, if implemented, they would be awarded an ounce of gold. So far, six individual plans (over and above the workshops) have been implemented and six corresponding ounces of gold have been awarded to the employees who came up with them.

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