Rio Tinto: How managers can drive workplace change

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Australia can lead the world in creating a more flexible, inclusive and diverse workforce, but change must start at the top, Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief ex...

Australia can lead the world in creating a more flexible, inclusive and diverse workforce, but change must start at the top, Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Andrew Harding said.

Speaking at a Women in Leadership lunch hosted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, Andrew said all levels of leadership across an organization must be aligned and committed to fostering workplace flexibility. And while systems and processes to achieve change were important, they could only take an organization so far.

• Related content: Rio Tinto goes solar at Weipa mine in Australia

“Where I think the challenge lies is actually getting all the levels of leadership aligned and committed around the change that’s needed,” Andrew said.

This could be achieved by fostering change in three areas of leadership – communication, inclusion and role modeling. For example, communication about inclusion and diversity usually focused on the benefits it brought to a business at a very high level, he said. However this would not drive change for leaders at lower levels, who need to see the benefits that change could bring to them.

“The discussion needs to move from what happens to the organization to what happens to the team,” Andrew said.

“If you are the leader of a high-performing team, you’re going to do well. If you’re the leader of a high-performing team that is diverse, more resilient and has fewer blind spots in its decision-making, you’re going to do well over a longer period of time.

“We need to communicate what the value is to the people who are going to be pushing the agenda.”

In the case of inclusion, leaders needed to focus on building social cohesion. This meant teaching team leaders and team members how to manage their relationships and the way they worked together. To improve team-based processes across its business, Iron Ore has created High Value Initiatives.

 • Related content: Q&A: Rio Tinto’s Warrick Ranson, Head of Productivity Development, Technology and Innovation

“Our High Value Initiatives are about driving team-based process into the business; in a sense each is a small experiment in inclusiveness,” Andrew said.

Under the program, diverse teams are set up and given a complex, technical problem to solve, which would bring huge value to the business. By working together and finding solutions, the teams had generated millions of dollars in savings.

Iron Ore recently set up a High Value Initiative around workplace flexibility and already it was delivering a fundamental change in thinking. Change driven by leadership occurred 20 years ago with safety where a shift in thinking was experienced at all levels.

“Safety is not the responsibility of a safety officer, safety is the responsibility of the line leader,” Andrew said. “Responsibility for workplace flexibility, diversity and inclusiveness of an organization is not the responsibility of the human resources manager, it’s the responsibility of the leader. Change starts at the top.”

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