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Joburg Indaba 2013 seen from inside: Holding onto hope

05 November 2013
Written by Tracey Swanepoel

I’m a lover not a fighter. In fact it’s a running joke among my nearest and dearest that I am the UN Peacekeeping force in most (domestic) situations. Which makes what I do for a living interesting: in a nutshell my team and I facilitate honest, blunt and often confrontational strategic conversations for companies (with the aim of creating understanding among all stakeholders).

Often this feels like popping a pimple, opening a wound, draining an abscess – you get the picture. It’s messy, it’s challenging it’s not nice (at the time). But there’s no question that once it’s done it creates an environment of healing, of potential and of hope.

My most recent experience of this, the Joburg (Mining) Indaba, is a case in point. When Paula Munsie from Resources 4 Africa approached us for input I was at first bemused.  What did we know about conferencing? (Easy…zilcho!). But Paula’s vision was further reaching: she wanted us to collaborate with her in creating the environment for an honest conversation: by the industry and for the industry. THIS we could work with. We’re all about creating a shared understanding (albeit usually about corporate strategy). An industry wide “conversation” via presentations and panel discussions that inspired honest and solution oriented opinions rather than rear view mirror whining was a challenge indeed – and yet a conversation that the mining industry was in desperate need of. The result was last week’s Joburg Indaba. The feedback has been a tidal wave of positive response: from CEO’s, to fund managers, a notoriously cynical audience appreciated and saw value in what happened over those 2 days.

People have said it was…”different, real, honest, blunt.” An “authentic tone and atmosphere that catapulted people out of their comfort zones”. Old Mutual Gold Fund Manager, Mike Schroder’s passion in expressing his total disgust with executive remuneration, in the most colourful of ALL languages, which got him quoted in a few newspapers, was completely appropriate because of its sincerity. Bluntness is contagious, and in the same way that we have seen participants in corporate strategy sessions get passionate and emotional (expletives and fist banging are not foreign to us) so it was at the Indaba.

There really is no other way (believe me – my peace loving nature has led me to explore most other alternatives).  For a strategy (be it for an industry or a company) to have a hope in hell of getting understood and therefore implemented, it has to reek of authenticity… and that starts at the top.  In corporate strategy conversations we often confront the group with this question: “What is it that you know now, that you will find out in a year?” The inference being…what are you guys too afraid of/polite/insecure to face now? It leaves nowhere to hide and gets people to face their real issues. It’s the pimple popping conversation that is painful at the time but necessary.

Various angles of the Joburg Indaba conversation dominated the headlines: the trust deficit among stakeholders; the gatvolness of everyone concerning executive remuneration; the Friedland showstopper. But of course those are snapshots of a much more comprehensive conversation. Everyone who attended will have their own takeouts: the point is that they were “there” when the conversation began. (It’s interesting that the conversation has stretched beyond the actual 2 day event with Mark Cutifani being drawn into it a few days later).

A shared and inclusive starting point, covering all the “points of pain” from all stakeholders’ perspectives is invaluable but without a focus on the future it’s little more than wheel spinning: the mud splatters everyone and you don’t get particularly far. Focusing on the future forces solution-oriented thinking, and naturally identifies areas of overlap rather than division. At THINKspiration we often talk about creating a shared mental picture of the future – and we take this one step further by turning words into pictures.  This picture shows some key points defining the future of SA Mining Inc.  in 2018 from various quarters.

holding on to hope

A picture is worth a thousand words, it’s said.  A well-crafted “picture of the future you want to create” is a much more powerful tool for motivation, productivity and action than the wordy strategy tomes that gather dust in the corner office.

Sounds like we had it all in hand doesn’t it? Not quite. As much as one can design and structure behind the scenes, nothing prepared us for Bobby Godsell’s presentation, which opened Day 2 of the Indaba. Perfect timing and perfect pitch. Not so much Godsell, as GodSent I think ! Alec wrote a magnificent piece about this, but in the overall context of the conversation it created a sense of hope, of optimism and most importantly reminded us that each one of us can choose to become active in changing society and the industry.

As stirring as the conversation over the 2 days may have been, let’s not forget that it’s still just….well, talk!  Just like an inspired corporate strategy, it comes to naught unless there is action. And just like in the corporate space this action needs to be driven by the CEO and the rest of line management.

A conversation where the mining industry sounds like it is serious about being relevant again has started. Hope will “float” for a while. But not forever. Action, and follow through can’t be outsourced. Now its over to the Leader, the CEO of SA Mining Inc.….that’s you, Ms Minister!


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