Winner of the 2018 award for Excellence in the Management of Systems, category for large enterprises

Our adjudicator Ann Naicker shares with us their experience of De Beers Group Technology

Even ‘trivial’ details matter with systems thinking

In most workplace settings, the swing of the doors is probably not a particularly important parameter. That changes dramatically in confined spaces such as ships, aircraft and underground mines where a door with a large swing can be a serious and expensive drawback.

“In isolation, the door swing is not a big deal, but when space is at a premium, it becomes really important and can add significantly to your capital costs. From a systems perspective, we have learnt not to underestimate even the most trivial parameter,” says Gordon Taylor, Operations Manager, at De Beers Group Technology.

Understanding the bigger picture and the detail of how everything fits together is what systems thinking means at De Beers Group Technology, which designs and produces specialised mining equipment such as sorting machines.

It’s this kind of thinking that the organisation strives to encourage among its employees through programmes such as the internal innovation system, known as Boost.

The idea behind Boost (named after the first staff-inspired innovation to receive a boost) is to encourage employees to think and contribute beyond their immediate jobs. “If you have an idea in your head, use Boost to translate it into something practical,” Gordon says. The organisation provides seed funding of say R3 000 or R4 000, and time is set aside to experiment towards translating that idea into something tangible.

A substantial amount of time and effort has gone into fine-tuning Boost so that it produces real results and doesn’t just fizzle out. The reason is that it’s important to generate new ideas internally. “The innovation industry is a multibillion-rand industry and we know we can go outside (for innovation services) but we want ideas created internally and we want to do this at a grassroots level,” says Gordon.

This means everyone in the organisation is encouraged to be involved in idea generation, from artisans and tradespeople to administrative staff and engineers, cutting across all age groups. “You must have diversity and inquisitiveness to succeed, and you need to get out of the siloes,” he says. “People should be willing to try things that are out of the ordinary and management should make it clear this is okay. Employees shouldn’t think, ‘Don’t worry, the management team will take care of this’. That stifles innovation.”

The message behind all this is that nothing happens in isolation. Everyone has a part to play in making an organisation work better and no detail is too trivial – including the door swing.

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