By Debra Evans, Kepner-Tregoe Partner

A Practical Approach to Transforming Strategic Vision into Reality                                              

President and CEO of Rio Tinto Minerals (RTM), Dean Gehring encourages transformational thinking in the way organizations –specifically in the mining industry – conduct business in the future. For example, to achieve world-class performance, he and his executive team created a portfolio of transformational cost reduction and revenue generation initiatives. He understood that even with the executive leadership onboard and ready to move forward, challenges lay ahead and “cultural inertia” had to be overcome to achieve and sustain superior performance.

In a recent Profile Magazine article, Dean Gehring explained. “To me, developing an effective business culture is not an initiative. An initiative sounds too much like a project that has a start and a stop, and something you can complete. Building a company culture is really a journey. It will change and morph over time.”

This ongoing focus on building a company culture is evident in RTM’s approach to safety. “I constantly tell our employees that there isn’t anything we do that’s worth somebody taking a risk where they can get hurt,” Gehring explains. In 2015 alone, RTM, with operations in the US, Europe, and Asia, completed its safest year in more than one hundred years of the company’s history.

The transformational journey that RTM has planned around cost reduction and revenue generation began with a series of strategic projects and a passionate goal of transforming the RTM culture. While the statistics on how organizations fail to execute their strategies can be daunting, Dean was determined to leave little to chance. Kepner-Tregoe has worked with RTM and other Rio Tinto divisions around the world to provide training and consulting services and had the privilege of being invited on this challenging journey.

I met with Dean after last year’s Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration (SME) conference, where he was a keynote speaker and expressed his interest in transformational thinking. At the conference and in later meetings we discussed working with the RTM Senior Leadership Team to define and plan strategic projects and to support their execution. Since the RTM executive leaders charged with leading the initiatives had varying levels of project management skills and experiences, we launched a “Learn and Do” initiative for the executive team and members of their groups assigned to these critical strategic projects.

This flexible approach provided the right amount of training and support needed by each individual as we all worked together to define and plan the projects.  A series of project management objectives provided guidance for our interactions with the team and thoughtful measures and standards ensured that everyone moved ahead in concert while achieving these objectives. As part of this focus on good project definition and planning, we worked with RTM to develop effective communications among stakeholders, project managers, and project teams. In addition, to minimize redundancy in project work, we helped RTM to align the program, project, and governance work with current project management practices.

The Learn and Do approach to leadership capability development at RTM underlines the transformational thinking of corporate leaders like Dean Gehring. For effective corporate leaders, it is not enough to set strategy and assume that changes will follow. Everything from training, employee involvement, safety, and the financial bottom line are integral factors that must be addressed within a holistic approach to transformational, world-class performance. 

As Dean states, “You have to be intentional in how you will build that culture by examining, supporting, and changing the system, symbols, and behaviors that create your culture.” At Kepner-Tregoe, we agree, and since we were founded, it has been the focus of our process approach as we enthusiastically promote the development of thinking organizations

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