Most traditional companies are quite intentional about choosing their mission, often settling on a well-crafted statement that sets market domination and excellence as their target. Sonja and I have been less intentional, and have rather let our mission emerge over the last 12 months – emergence is a key factor in managing complexity after all 🙂
What is our mission then?
It’s not market domination, nor is it service excellence … while those are important factors of our business. Rather, our mission is two-fold:
- Changing the mindsets around the perceived value of water, and
- Transforming the culture of safety on mines
These have emerged out of numerous client engagements in the water and mine safety arenas. Through gathering stories of water management and mine safety incidents, we have become convinced that part of our calling (if you like) is to use our narrative techniques to assist in changing mindsets and transforming the culture associated with water usage and mine safety.
The case for improved mine safety is a well known one in South Africa, and globally. However, we believe that the case for improved water usage and management in South Africa is less understood. In fact, we are of the opinion that South Africa is on the verge of a water crisis. If our sense of the early warning signals (mainly seen through the stories we have gathered from companies, government, research institutions and society) is correct, we believe that the average South African needs to better understand the true value and cost of water.
The predominant mindset is that water is cheap and of low value – it is a resource that is “on tap” … I open my tap and water comes out of it. Simple as that. The reality is that potable (drinking) water is more scarce than we’d like to believe, and hence, the value of water is much higher than most would admit.
Here’s one story to support this argument … gathered in a client engagement:
On a mine, in a semi-desert region of South Africa, many skilled staff are relocated from urban areas with their families to live and work on the mine. The mining activity is water intensive and operating in a water scarce environment, conserving water is important. However, the wives of the staff enjoy having green grass … green grass at home is not uncommon in the urban areas. The wives and family, accustomed to having green grass, now get told they cannot have the green grass because they now live in a desert region and water conservation is key. The result: fairly unhappy wives and children who need to play on sand. This problem is not an engineering issue … it is a mindset issue, and means that engineers need to communicate the value of water to their families in unique ways, while preserving marital and family harmony.
Solving the imminent water crisis is not just an engineering problem, it is also a mindset problem of epic proportions. It is our mission to be involved with projects and institutions that can assist in changing these mindsets and foster an improved valuation of water in society.
On the mine safety culture aspect of our mission, let me say this: there have been drastic improvements in mine safety over the last few years, mainly achieved by improvements in processes, policies and safety management systems. However, the South African mining industry has reached a plateau in achieving zero harm. The previous strategies have been maximised, but will not result in improved safety. The previous strategies have also done very little to address the culture aspect of saving lives – the human elements involved in how people assess risks, and how their values impact on their behaviour.
Through gathering and properly understanding stories about near misses, incidents, fatalities, community life, personal life and stories that uncover the metaphors that drive behaviour, we will be able to assist the mining industry (and any other industry faced with safety problems) in fostering a transformational safety culture framework.
So, watch this space for some exciting developments and projects that address mindsets around the value of water as well as the culture of mine safety.