An overview of a new approach to geology department organisation with a focus on building an engaged and capable team
Tropicana Gold Mine (TGM) is owned by AngloGold Ashanti Australia Ltd (AGAA) (70 per cent and manager) and Joint Venture Partner Independence Group NL (30 per cent) and is a large-scale open pit operation in Western Australia.
The geology department at TGM is a multidiscipline team of some 65 personnel, reaching 72 at its peak. The geology department consists of the following disciplines: mine geology, exploration, survey, hydrogeology, resourcing support, technical (including resource geology and scheduling) and includes an on-site laboratory managed by SGS.
Coinciding with the commencement of mining at TGM, AGAA was implementing a number of improvement strategies including a focus on ‘people are our business’. The geology department adopted the company systems and implemented the department’s organisational design, primarily by way of the general manager placing accountability for organisational design with the line managers.
This paper describes the human resource management (HRM) processes undertaken by the geology department from job analysis and organisational design to organisational development, and reflects on both the benefits and the lessons learnt.
The geology department was known as the mine geology department until 2016 when exploration was integrated and the department was renamed. Throughout this paper the terms ‘mine geology department’ and ‘geology department’ are used accurately for the relevant time period.
In 2011 the mine geology manager established the mine geology department in readiness for the commencement of mining at TGM. This was an opportunity to set not only the organisational structure, but the philosophy around who the mine geology department are and the methods of work.
Based in the regional office in Perth, the initial team of geologists and technicians worked on establishing systems and processes of work. This included the organisational design of the department, determining which roles would be accountable for key pieces of work and how the roles would be supported through organisational development.
The philosophy was to build an engaged and capable team, with the right person for the role doing the right work, operating efficiently within well-defined systems and processes, rather than building a team constrained by swathes of rigid operational procedures. This required line management implementing key HRM processes to develop role clarity and clear lines of reporting and accountability. Importance was placed on making a distinction between responsibility (a self-imposed or assumed concept) and accountability (personal acceptance of responsibility and being called to account), with emphasis on ownership (AngloGold Ashanti Ltd internal material, 2011). Research indicates that role ambiguity, role conflict and work overload have a clear link to job dissatisfaction (Dhurup and Mahomed, 2011) and these were recognised as contrary to the philosophy of an engaged and capable team.
Key HRM processes of job analysis, organisational design and organisational development were undertaken within the department, rather than by HR specialists. While line management implementation of HRM processes is not a revolutionary concept, this approach has proved successful for the geology department and is based on solid academic foundations in the strategic HRM field (eg Gilbert, De Winne and Sles, 2015).
General manager support and company systems
The success of implementing HRM processes is attributed to the ability, motivation and opportunity (AMO) of line managers (Appelbaum et al, 2000).
The mine geology manager’s ability or competency to perform a HR role was supported by company systems such as System for People (AngloGold Ashanti Ltd internal material, 2011). System for People (SP) has a basis in Jaques’s Requisite Organisation theories (Jaques, 2006) and emphasised the importance of the right organisational structure, with the right people in the right roles and effective working relationships. To support the implementation and ensure the sustainability of SP, line management, superintendents and supervisors received training in managerial leadership practices. The geology department leadership group, consisting of superintendents and supervisors, has driven the implementation of role accountabilities.
Motivation to take ownership of HRM processes was understandably high amongst the TGM management team. The rare opportunity to start up an operation, including building a whole new team and way of working, was not lost. Significant effort and importance was placed on the HRM processes of job analysis, organisational design and organisational development.
The general manager was (and is) a driver of the underlying philosophies of an engaged and competent workforce, operating within clearly defined accountabilities, processes and reporting structures. The general manager’s support of line management’s ownership of HRM processes was critical to the success of the model implemented by the mine geology department.
The first step was to understand what the work entailed. A series of task lists was developed, reflecting traditional mine geology roles as well as the vision for a more innovative way of working. The task lists were used for initial conversations and job analysis, providing the first draft understanding of ‘what is the work?’
Process mapping provided another mechanism for identifying tasks and accountabilities. Process mapping was first presented in the 1920s as ‘the first steps for finding the one best way’ (Gilbreth and Gilbreth, 1921). Process mapping has been used in a number of AGAA operations (Chow et al, 2013) and the geology department used process mapping to analyse and manage work processes, identify process steps and tasks and identify accountabilities. A clear understanding of the role outputs, key deliverables, cross-functional relationships and required resources was achieved through process mapping.
Competencies, skills and behaviours specific to each task and process step were identified, without being confined to traditional roles. This provided an objective understanding of the work, and what was required of an individual to successfully undertake that work – regardless of role title or qualifications.
Similar or ‘like’ work and skills requirements were grouped into a draft list of roles and accountabilities. It became apparent that there were opportunities for a new way to distribute work. For example, suitably experienced geological technicians are able to undertake tasks traditionally assigned to mine geologists, such as designing blast movement indicators.
Job analysis became an exercise in ‘expand and simplify’: expand the tasks independently of traditional roles; group similar work tasks together; then simplify into role-specific accountabilities.
With a detailed understanding of the work, and how similar work could be combined into given roles, the organisational structure was then designed. Key to this was grouping like work into teams and identifying the levels of work and reporting structures.
Levels of work and accountabilities were identified with managerial and supervisory role holders having consistent accountabilities for their teams. Roles such as production assistants and specialisations for roles such as geological technicians were designed to provide role holders with an opportunity to develop a broad skill set and role variety. These roles allow for an organisational structure that is relatively lean on the number of roles requiring tertiary qualifications. The outcome has been low turnover and a workforce with a high skill level that supports multiple areas not confined to the geology department.
An example is the work conducted in the on-site lab; the lab workers are accountable to the mine geology manager and are managed by SGS. Geological technicians report to the geology department and run the automated sample preparation process in the on-site laboratory. While undertaking this work, the geological technicians report to the SGS laboratory manager for training, instruction, supervision, allocation of tasks and quality of work.
After job analysis and organisational design were undertaken, detailed role descriptions were developed. Role descriptions include a definition of role purpose and details of cross-functional relationships.
Roles were defined with tasks and accountabilities, from which naturally came an understanding of the training, competencies, skills and behaviours required to fulfil each role. This was the foundation of a traditional training needs analysis (TNA).
The TNA provided a road map for immediate role requirements and role-specific training plans, and appropriate materials were developed. Consistent with the philosophy of engagement rather than prescriptive procedures, a component of organisational development is coaching and mentoring.
More strategic than the TNA was the ability to design career progression and specialisation pathways. A clear understanding of the similarities between role requirements is a foundation for talent pool management and succession planning by highlighting the ‘short hops’ from one role to another. For example, pathways exist for geological technicians to specialise in sample preparation in the lab or geotechnical support; geologists can transition to and from open pit production and exploration; leading hands can be Emergency Response Team captains; administration assistants can be safety reps; geologists can be schedulers or hydrogeologists. There is even a pathway for a geological technician to move all the way to department manager.
Flexibility of organisational structure
A well-structured organisational design with clearly defined roles, accountabilities and reporting, supported by role-specific organisational development, has produced a high level of flexibility in the organisational structure. This approach allows for skills transfer and flexibility for role holders and also allows the department to respond in an agile way to changes in the operation. Small transfers of accountabilities from one role to another can be achieved relatively easily. For example, an expansion of the mining fleet has not resulted in additional mine geologists or mine surveyors, but the scope for geological technicians providing support has increased.
A tier of superintendents was introduced to the organisational structure. Superintendents have managerial accountabilities, including building organisational capability within their teams. Superintendents are accountable for role descriptions, training requirements, career development, succession planning and organisational structure.
The organisational structure has evolved and gone through several iterations.
The discipline of hydrogeology was created to reflect the fact that the volume of work was unsustainable as a specialisation for a mine geologist, but was in itself a unique role. Geotechnical engineering was incorporated into the mine geology department for approximately one year, in part because of the similarities in the nature of the work. Exploration was merged with mine geology to become the TGM geology department in 2016 and the disciplines of resource support, scheduling and resource development were created. Data management was incorporated into the survey discipline, based on grouping like work and processes of spatial data management. In 2017, a technical discipline was created and incorporates resource modelling and scheduling.
Each change in the organisational structure has been met with a minimum of fuss, and a conversation around ‘what is the work?’, what the accountabilities are and what opportunities there are to develop personnel.
The evolution of the organisational structure reflects the flexibility afforded by a detailed understanding of the work, roles and accountabilities, as well as the endurance of the philosophy of a capable and engaged workforce.
Avoid the silo effect
The organisational design of the geology department has been successful and productive, but has not been developed in isolation of specialist service groups or the overall company strategies. Collaborative relationships have been built with the HR, training and business improvement departments so that approaches are consistent and aligned, and the geology department is able to utilise the technical expertise of, and share Iearnings with, these specialist service groups. Company systems have been used to support the organisational design.
Induction to role
Inducting new personnel to their role and the philosophy behind the organisational design of the geology department is critical to its ongoing success. Without initial familiarisation to the way it works and how the department is structured, the benefits of the organisational design simply can’t be realised and a new role holder is not set up for success.
Maintenance of role descriptions, TNA and organisational structure has to occur for the organisational design to remain relevant. Role scope creep can easily lead to role ambiguity and erode role clarity. A newly created role not supported by a role description, TNA and a place in the organisational structure is contrary to the whole philosophy of how the geology department operates. Maintenance and review is simply part of the way the geology department works and it has the ability, motivation and opportunity to sustain its organisational design.
Operationalising HRM processes has benefited the geology department with clearly defined roles and accountabilities; role flexibility; career progression and specialisation pathways; and a flexible organisational design that can respond rapidly and rationally to operational changes.
The geology department was best placed as the technical experts to undertake the HRM processes of job analysis, organisational design and organisational development, and has embedded these processes as part of the way it works. The requirement for detailed analysis and design means that this approach requires sufficient resources in the design, implementation, maintenance and improvement phases, including induction to role. However, this approach produces a detailed, applicable and immediately relevant organisational design.
The support of the general manager, utilisation of company systems and collaboration with specialist service groups has been critical to the success of this model of HRM accountability being assigned to line managers.
The authors would like to thank AngloGold Ashanti Australia Ltd for permission to publish and present this work.
The authors acknowledge Duncan Gibbs, former General Manager TGM for continued support of the geology department organisational design; the AGAA TGM geology department for ongoing contribution to the organisational design; AGAA HR, training and business improvement functions; and James Woodward, Senior Resource Geologist for editing.
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