Mine safety: action saturation

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I’m pretty sure business leaders have different levels of awareness regarding the complex problems afflicting their businesses. Some see these problems as being more simple than they are, while others are very aware of the complexity of their problem but deal with it ways that are not aligned to the nature of said problem.

One example of the latter is the problem the mining industry faces in South Africa (and in many other places in the world): safety-related mine deaths. Such high levels of problem awareness have resulted in an action saturation that does very little in shifting the problem.

There is a plethora of mine safety initiatives and interventions here in South Africa. The average mine manager is inundated with head office initiatives aimed at addressing safety. Never mind their own actions plans they’ve developed. This situation is pervasive and has resulted in a saturation of sorts – an action saturation.

The action saturation has left the industry feeling a little schizophrenic with interventions coming out of their ears. In one mine we found a list of 12 concurrent safety interventions on the go.

This being said, all the action does not seem to be greatly improving the prevalence of mine deaths. This is either because the nature of the solutions is misaligned to the nature of the problem, or because mines are unable to implement initiatives with any level of depth due to the sheer number of interventions being mandated. There is also likely a mixture of both occurring.

How does one advise a company who is facing such a monumentally complex problem, who is also not short on implementing action to address the problem?

We have found that the most useful approach in an action saturated context is to use sensemaking as a focus-aligner. What I mean by this is that we ultimately help mine management focus their efforts in the right places i.e. align the nature of their solutions to the nature of the safety problems.

There is very little tolerance in an action saturated environment for new interventions, so the best thing to do is help them focus their attentions. The ability to focus current action is a vital in this context. It does however mean that as a consultant/advisor, we need to let go of our deep, deep desire to dream up new projects in a client engagement.